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Athletes and society; two worlds collide
The leader in Hollywood journalism launches an all new show spotlighting the lives of athletes. (Photo courtesy of TMZ Facebook)

Athletes and society; two worlds collide

Ever since the beginning, we were told that sports were an essential and important aspect to American society, and that was a good thing.

Sports, whether team-based or individual, are a great activity for children that illuminate many benefits other than physical activity. The spirit of athletics offer many character-building qualities, ranging from fostering the development of social skills such as teamwork, cooperation and leadership to teaching personals skills like self-discipline, work ethic and coping with disappointment.

Often times parents can be guilty of taking it too far when it comes to pushing their child,  but generally we continue to step onto the playing field believing that we are competing for something fundamentally decent, win or lose.

Sports draw us in for many reasons; the gracefulness, sheer-competitiveness, the history and our identification with great athleticism. The whole point of games is that they lie outside of our ordinary life. Our fascination with sport belongs to the world of imagination. Behind all of the that are the secrets sports has hidden underneath.

As we’ve grown older, this essential part to American society has grown more complex, and sports have started to reflect some of the societal problems we previously had swept aside from our own lives. In a world where we see celebrities breaking down constantly and other areas of entertainment losing its legitimacy; professional sports are slowing creeping in that direction.

What happens when the harsh reality of scandals or increased media presence off the field start to invade our games? It is starting to become more transparent as leagues are held more accountable when it comes to punishing their players making it less possible to sweep incidents under the rug.

Athletes as celebrities and scandals away from the field are nothing new, but the popularity of surrounding these stories is primarily due to that increase in media exposure which allows today’s athletes less room to hide then in recent years. “TMZ Hollywood Sports” is a prime example of how the world of sports is becoming a microcosm of life and the lines between celebrity and athlete are becoming more and more blurred.

“Years ago you wouldn’t hear about these things because teams could cover it up,” LA Times sports columnist, Helene Elliott, said. “There weren’t people walking around with cell phone cameras, people taking video of athletes or security footage. Teams could maybe massage a few palms and pay people off to not report on player’s say drunk driving arrest. Today it is just so difficult to escape notice.”

The news of this is bad for leagues presently but potentially good news for the future. The idea that sports stars are offering a more realistic reflection of society, one in which powerful people have often times taken advantage of the weak and expected few consequences, means the magic of the game could slowly be losing its meaning.

Just as we are watching a game and see our favorite sports star score the winning point, so too do we learn that that same athlete who was just our hero is now all over the news for committing abusive actions or some other reckless crime.

The series of audio tapes released between V. Stiviano, an alleged mistress of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and Sterling himself brought this sports figure to the front of celebrity news over night. It was no news that Sterling was a racist, yet the audio was incredibly shocking for the year 2014. The news inside this news however, was the source that broke it. Hollywood’s number one source for celebrity news, TMZ, was the first to obtain the tapes.

The elevator video of Ray Rice throwing the knockout punch of the year that left his fiancee (and now wife) unconscious brought even more awareness to the world of sports and how their athletes behave off the field. Who was behind that release? Again, none other than TMZ.

Not only did this disturbing footage change the way the NFL – as well as other leagues – looked at the conduct of their players and how the team disciplined them, but TMZ used this as an opportunity to expand their coverage area to the wide world of sports and all its glory, away from the playing field.

“TMZ Hollywood Sports”, which first aired September 29, 2014, set out to put sports on our television sets without the scores. The daily highlights are not about last nights top plays, but rather what happens when athletes and celebrity culture collide off the field. Whether these athletes are partying, partnering up with A-list movie stars to break into film or are behaving badly – which TMZ has done a great job of keeping tabs on – this platform for Hollywood journalism will dive right into that mix.

So has todays athletes completely derailed and seen themselves in more trouble than ever before?

Author and Chair in Broadcasting at The University of Alabama doesn’t believe the notion that things are getting so much worse in the fact that celebrities and athletes are getting in trouble and arrested more than ever.

“I don’t know if that’s the case, I don’t know that they’re any more deviant than they were before,” Billings said. “I think more it is simply that we are constantly watching every move they make and recording it on mobile devices and almost becoming our own reporters. I think that has changed the ball game for these athletes.”

So why does “TMZ” and the content they receive for the show matter?

Off-field instances are becoming more difficult to cover-up, lifting the blinders so many have had in previous years. It’s short-sighted to say this kind of media attention off the field can tarnish an image of a league or athlete, but it is also not far-fetched.

Take Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson.

When news broke that the Vikings running back was charged with a felony in Texas for excessively “disciplining” his four-year-old son with a wooden switch, it was another set back for a league trying to preserve the image of their athletes.

Preserving an image may sound a bit like a broken record, but in this present day where media is everywhere that’s exactly what needs to be done. With player endorsements and team sponsorship, the potential for pullout after even the most minor run-in with the law can carry an immeasurable weight on an athletes career.

Why is this so important?

Because in a society that sees sports as such an essential part of our world, even if media are glorifying their lives more and more, it needs to be instilled that everyone works and nobody is truly above the rules. While the media presence off the field has increased, leading to more coverage of athletes and their lives, that leaves no excuse for violent actions to go without consequences, especially coming from those we like to call our ‘heroes’.

“In the 1980’s they ran a survey that said ‘Who are your heroes?’,” Billings said. “The top three answers were Michael Jackson, Spider Man, and God. In the late 1990’s, they asked that same question and the answers were Tiger Woods, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan. If you ran that same survey today I think you would see the same sports, sports and sports. That’s an indication just who we put on a pedal stool in our life.”

In the end, the game and its stars often times touch us in a way our ordinary life cannot. But the hope here is that we can find that our triumphant heroes, who thrill us on the court, can coexist in our real world. And thanks to shows like “TMZ Hollywood Sports” and the sometimes awful news they break, it’s becoming more clear that even an essential part of our society can sometimes break our heart.








About Kacy Hintz

Kacy Hintz is a broadcast journalism major whose career goal is working in sports and particularly loves hockey.

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