Sports talk as a space for bad amateur sociology

Sports talk is a popular genre yet it often involves broad statements about society grounded in very little evidence. Here, Colin Cowherd is singled out for his particular brand of amateur sociology:

It is Cowherd’s job, his peculiar burden and gift, to generate outrage, using only recycled news items and his own slapdash sociology, every weekday morning. But the myopia of his July 29 diatribe, in particular, was monumental. Without meaning to, it crystallized the cognitive dissonance that haunts America’s vast Football Industrial Complex (FIC) at this historic moment.

Which is to say: Those who pose as the industry’s critics have to pretend awfully hard that they hate violence and misogyny and greed and homophobia while at the same time promoting a game that is, objectively speaking, violent, misogynistic, mercenary, and homophobic.

The top-tier talkers manage to sound utterly convincing, even as they craft arguments of dazzling fraudulence and obdurate illogic. It appears never to have occurred to Cowherd that football might be a culprit in America’s cult of violence. No, that crisis can be pinned on brutes from the lower castes hopped up on sadistic fictions. It is the feral inclinations of such men — and not, say, the fact that football is vicious enough to cause brain damage among its players — that keeps Cowherd from taking his son to a game. The poor lad might be subjected to a brawl in the stands.

What marks Cowherd as a true pro is his ability to tap into the meta-narrative of grievance that undergirds all punditry. It turns out the Rice case really isn’t about football at all — it’s about governmental negligence and corporate greed! Fortunately, there are intrepid voices inside the FIC willing to speak truth to power.

Cowherd may have his own style but this sort of explanation could apply to lots of sports talk hosts (as well as many other talk radio hosts). The genre works because people like arguments and opinions as well as the ability to be a part of the endless conversation about sports. Yet, the arguments tend to involve little evidence and a lot of opinion and anecdotes. Some of this can be quite engaging but it often requires making broad statements about individuals, teams, fans, cities, and society that are not always thought through. Granted, erudite conversations about sports don’t exactly fit this genre yet it is too much to ask that sports talk hosts think a little bit more about the big picture in addition to their personal opinions?

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