Collectively, sports is a billion dollar a year industry. Much of this revenue is thanks to the massive media apparatus surrounding sports; magazines, cable channels, books, websites, apps and movies all feeding the insatiable appetites of a loyal fan base. Everything from Basketball to Curling has some kind of outlet for interested viewers with money to spend. Sports media is an unstoppable money juggernaut. When it comes to funding for institutes of higher learning, tuition paid by students is rivaled only by athletic royalties and revenue from cable and television rights to Football games
Thus, it should surprise no one that the sports media, and sports journalists in particular, have become complacent in their profession. No recent event is more telling of this fact than the Manti Te’o hoax. Ubiquitously, sports journalists and news organizations devoted to covering sports failed to do rudimentary fact-checking on the Notre Dame linebacker’s purportedly deceased (and real) girlfriend.
The breaking of the Manti Te’o story was quite the coup for "Deadspin", who only investigated further after being urged by an anonymous tipster. It is alarming that "Sports Illustrated", the crème de la crème of sports journalism, ran a cover story on Te’o without checking the facts on his fake girlfriend at all. Pete Thamel, the journalist who wrote the story now tries to cover himself by saying there were “small red flags” in Te’o’s story, but that he simply “[wrote] around it”. Who would expect a seasoned writer such as Thamel to fail to perform such fundamental journalistic duties?
This spoon-feeding the public whatever athletes say without even an afterthought of scrutiny needs to come to an end. Certainty the whole sordid affair is an embarrassment for Notre Dame, and humiliating for Manti Te’o. But it reflects most poorly on the sports journalism community.
The sports media should take this as a hard lesson. Compliance can no longer be the status quo in sports reporting. And in turn we, the audience, should expect more than verbatim transcripts of whatever athletic organizations feed the media. Journalists may be the ones who are getting too comfortable, but it is the readers and viewers who got them to that point. If it’s going to change, then it needs to change from the bottom up. Now that we know of the Manti Te’o hoax and how easily it fooled journalists and news organizations whose supposed job it is to scrutinize sports, how can we trust the change to them alone?