Friday, May 29, 2015

Ban Press Conferences, Not Court Stormings

When Steph Curry brought his daughter Riley to his press conference after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, quite a few sportswriters were displeased. Brett Friedlander of the Wilmington Star News started the fun with a now-deleted tweet:

The most notable name to firmly back up Friendlander was Brian Windhorst, one of ESPN's most well-known NBA reporters. Windhorst hit all corners of the WWL to defend his point, including First Take with Skip Bayless and Zach Lowe's podcast. For some reason, Bayless and Windhorst seemed to think that everybody was mad at their viewpoint because they didn't want somebody to bash children:
No, nobody thinks you hate children. We just think press conferences are stupid. Ah, Windhorst retorts, but press conferences are crucial to learn important things about players:
And as he often does, Colin Cowherd took the stupid to its logical conclusion: If you support children at press conferences, you want to crash passenger jets:
So what is this crucial information that we learn at press conferences? What are these "very important quotes" that the players are giving to reporters? Let's look at Brian Windhorst's very next game story, which he wrote a day later, after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. JR Smith, a streaky shooter his entire career, happened to get hot and have a big game (8-for-12 on threes and 28 total points). Windhorst's angle? Lebron James cured him. You see, JR Smith was a "high-risk move":
In reality, Smith was actually a salary throw-in. The Knicks gave up Iman Shumpert to the Cavaliers in order to dump JR Smith's salary, since they were in the process of tanking and didn't need Smith's attitude. But never mind, Smith's attitude was cured! How? Lebron James said, "I got this."
Is that really what Lebron said? Of course not. Lebron is just feeding the narrative that the sportswriters at the press conference have already decided on and is giving them the quote they want to hear. Even if Lebron did sit down with JR at some point about his attitude, plenty of people have had plenty of conversations with JR Smith about his attitude. And if Lebron managed to fix JR, how come it only came in the form of hot shooting one game? You see, in Game 2 he ended up scoring just 9 points in 32 minutes, including 1-for-3 shooting on threes. Anybody who has followed JR Smith's career knows that this is what he does. You can go back six years ago to find him scoring 24 points in a conference finals game and following it up one game later with a 1-for-10 three-point shooting performance.

Well, so Windhorst led with a dumb over-played sports media narrative. So what? Maybe he got insight from JR Smith himself!
BREAKING: JR Smith doesn't like it when he gets criticized, and he likes his mom. Earth shaking revelations. But I'm sure Windhorst closed his game piece with a really poignant or meaningful quote, and not just a coach babbling about how a player who had a good game contributed to the team:

Quick: Name the last time you got a meaningful piece of information from a postgame press conference. Name the last quote you can even remember from a press conference that wasn't Allen Iverson or Dennis Green melting down. You can't, because press conferences are stupid. The sportswriters have all decided on their postgame narrative before the press conference starts, and the players are all trained to give them the information-free fluff quotes that the media wants.

But press conferences aren't the only area where sportswriters whine. What they seem to despise isn't press conference hijinx itself, but really just fun of any kind. Football end zone celebrations? Putting yourself ahead of the team. Having fun on a baseball diamond? Sportswriters have plenty of angry adjectives for that nonsense. Daring to be seen in public while rehabbing a season-ending injury? It's time to grow up. You could be studying tape right now!

But if there's one form of fun that old, cantankerous sportswriters hate the most, it's students who rush the court after a big win in college basketball. Court storming is deadly dangerous, you see, and it has to stop. Every major journalism outlet hates court storming. The Big 12 just announced yesterday that they're taking a strong stand.

Of course, there hasn't actually been a serious injury during a court storming in college basketball in many years (if ever), so the example that will always get cited is Joe Kay, who was paralyzed during a high school basketball court storm more than a decade ago.

"Why risk it?" goes the argument. "If just one kid is seriously injured, isn't that one too many?" Sure. Joe Kay's story is horrible. But alcohol kills over 1000 college students per year. Hundreds of kids drown in pools every year. More than 700 bicyclists are killed in accidents each year. Hell, 4500 Americans are killed every year crossing the street. Shit happens.

The common retort is:
Yeah, transportation is necesssary, but backyard pools aren't. Neither are trampolines, which send around 100,000 Americans to the emergency room every year. Neither are peanuts, which kill around 100 allergic Americans every year.

The only way you aren't getting hurt is if you stay at home and do nothing but sleep on your couch. Actually, I take that back, you might get hit by a meteorite.

It's easy, morally, to take the "one serious injury is one serious injury too many" stance, but nobody actually believes that. If you're worried about crowds, why not ban musical concerts? Mosh pits kill far more people than court stormings. And what do sportswriters think college students are going to do if they leave the basketball game early? Drinking, sex, drugs, and crossing the street at night are all activities far more dangerous than rushing the court. Let's ban them all, too.

One serious injury is too many, right? How can you allow so many young students to die each year from crossing the street at night? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?

Why allow court stormings? Because they're fun. Ask any sports-interested person what their five favorite moments in college were, and most of them will tell you that one was getting to storm a court. Ask most players their favorite college moments, and most of them will list the time their fellow students rushed the court and celebrated a big win with them. It's a lot of fun, and it's unique to college basketball.

Should we be cavalier with safety during court storms? Of course not. There are simple protocols that most schools have put in place to make court storming safe. Basically: Make it easy to get onto the court. When serious incidents happen in crowds at sporting events, it tends to be because the crowd was penned in (here and here, for example). The reason court stormings have become so safe over the last decade at major sporting events is specifically because of the lessons from past incidents.

But seriously, let kids have fun. A lot of Americans will die every year from doing unnecessary but fun activities. The answer to that isn't to ban fun, it's to simply make it safer to have that fun. Make trampolines safer, make pools safer, and make court stormings safer. But don't ban something just because it's fun. If we do that, all we'll be left with are press conferences.

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