Overreacting to Jason Collins

If you follow sports this week – in particular the NBA – you may have heard in passing that Jason Collins came out.

In the current cultural environment, Collins’s admission is big but not Earth-shattering.  There haven’t been any active openly gay athletes before – and there might not be now, since Collins is a free agent – but most people probably assumed the operative word there was “openly.”  (To hear the enlightened, cosmopolitan Bostonians tell it, the Yankees have fielded a team of 25 fornicating homosexuals each year since 1946.  So brave.)

Now begins the overreaction.

From the right, Peter Roff imagines a double standard, opining that Tim Tebow was punished because of his overt Christian faith, while Collins’s sexual preference is lauded by the media.

Said Roff: “When he arrived at the Meadowlands he was treated more like a circus freak than the guy who helped Denver make the playoffs the previous year and might just be the thing to get the Jets offense in line.”

It’s true, and it’s because Tebow is a circus freak.  Denver’s push to the second round of the 2011 playoffs had as much to do with luck as anything else.  At this point in his career, Tebow can’t throw the ball with enough strength and accuracy to be a viable NFL quarterback, which is why he spent all his time on the bench last year.

(Heck, Ray Lewis talks about God all the time, and the media overlooks a lot of negatives about him.  Two in particular come to mind.)

On the other side – and even worse – is MoveOn.org, which is apparently still around.  The erstwhile leading organization of the American left is demanding a suspension of ESPN’s Chris Broussard over his reaction to Collins’s announcement.  (Well, at least they are demanding it as much as one can demand anything with an online petition.)

MoveOn either didn’t listen to or didn’t care what Broussard actually said.  The short version: Broussard doesn’t condone sex outside of traditional marriage, doesn’t live his life that way, but doesn’t judge others who do.  It’s a calm, reasoned explanation that could be a good start to civil discourse.

Or, it could be a flash point for some bottom feeding organization to glom onto a much-discussed topic, bump up their search results, raise some money, and be marginally relevant.

The Rutgers Mess: 1,000 words x 24 frames per second

Rutgers fired their abusive basketball coach for, as Deadspin notes, being a public embarrassment rather than a private one.

The cynics are right on this one: there’s no doubt that Mike Rice’s firing came only because the video of him verbally and physically intimidating his players was on ESPN.  But that does up the ante for the scandal.  Describing what Rice did to his players might be damning, but having a clickable, watchable, shareable video takes it to another level.

Any players Rice would have recruited in the future would have seen that video, and it would have been the first question any parent asked during those all-important living room conversations with a prospective coach.  Rutgers is already in a tough media market, would Rice have managed to be a darling of WFAN?

As another Rutgers alum knows well, video tells a story like no other medium can.  In this case, it blew up what Rutgers had clearly hoped would be a private affair.

LeBron James owns the message

Politicians are clamming up, Politico says, because they’re worried about becoming the next YouTube sensation.  Candidates are refusing to talk to camera-wielding activist journalists.  With more communications channels than ever, politicians are opting not to use them:

“The irony is that in an political environment in which voters are demanding authenticity, candidates find themselves in a technological environment that exploits authenticity,” lamented Mark McKinnon, a longtime political strategist and top adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain. “So rather than show more of themselves as voters want, candidates are showing less of themselves for fear of revealing too much.”

This is probably better than speaking off the cuff and apologizing for gaffes, but it isn’t a winning strategy.   These would-be-elected-officials would do well to take their advice from a monarch: King LeBron James, the most popular man in sports, and the subject of a much-criticized special on ESPN in a couple hours.

When James’ decision on where to play next year is finally revealed tonight, a new chapter will start in his professional life – not only as the signature star of the NBA, but as a player expected to win a championship.  Joel Sherman of the New York Post likens James’ situation to that of Alex Rodriguez, who used to be the best player ever to not win a championship. He’ll have plenty of questions, and will be the closest thing the sports world has to a politician for a week.

That’s why the ESPN special is a fantastic idea.

James is announcing his signing in an hour long special, and according to ESPN radio this morning, the big news will come in the first 15 minutes.  That means there will be 45 minutes where James will discuss his decision in the controlled, traditional, and respectful environment of ESPN.  That discussion will fuel tomorrow’s bloggers and drive-time hosts, and will extend into weekend coverage.

And most of it will echo the things James wants out there.  He’s answering demand by engaging in media overload.  In doing so, the King will rule over the message.

Now, if only LeBron would take control of the Knicks in the same way…