Social media, reality TV usher in new era for sports fans

Jake Faber | Sports Editor

Growing up with a former college hockey player for a father, the only sport I ever watched on television as a kid was Canada’s pastime.

Some kids have incredible memories of watching Adam Vinateri’s last-second 48-yard field goal against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, or watching Randy Johnson pitch in game seven against the Yankees back in 2001. I don’t remember watching any of these things as a kid. And there’s a simple reason for that–because I didn’t.

I simply didn’t care enough about sports when I was young to pay attention to them on television. The only memories I have of watching historic live sporting events as a kid are via the Stanley Cup Finals. Back then, if you wanted to hear how Scotty Bowman and the Red Wings won back-to-back championships in ’97 and ’98, I was your guy. Anything else sports-related, I’ve had to catch up on in recent years.

My point is that when it comes to sports like baseball, basketball and football, I don’t have the classic attachments to teams that other kids got as they grew up. But recently, I have been able to feel more connected, and get a lot more involved in those sports that I missed out on as a child–and I have social media sources like Twitter, Facebook and yes, even reality TV to thank for it.

Players in the NFL like Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Hank Baskett, who have dipped their toes into the reality TV market, are part of the new generation of athletes when it comes to their connection with their fans and the general public.

Gone are the days when fans had to wonder what was on the mind of Wayne Gretzky or Bart Starr, because nowadays players like Ochocinco send a tweet every time they use the bathroom.

Ochocinco, along with T.O., has taken an incredible amount of criticism for his antics on and off the field, but the fact is that what he does on television and posts on Twitter draws fans in–I’m living proof of that.

Ever since getting to know these players from watching their lives on TV and hearing about their offseason activities via Twitter, I’ll tune in to their respective games to see them on the field.

Take Lamar Odom, for example, reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year for the Los Angeles Lakers and current newcomer to the reality television scene. Odom, who first appeared on Keeping Up with the Kardashians after his spontaneous marriage to Khloe Kardashian, now stars in his own spinoff show following him and Khloe’s life.

Now, don’t get too judgmental, but I may or may not have tuned into his show a couple of times­­–wrestling for the remote with my surprisingly strong sister, I was bound to lose every once in a while.

Ever since then, after getting to see a look into Odom’s personal life and get a sense of what kind of person he is off of the court, I’m much more interested in what he does on it.

This is true on Twitter as well, and it isn’t used as much as it should be in the sports world. Not only do media outlets like ESPN pay close attention to what athletes like LeBron James and Michael Vick post on their accounts, it gives fans of all ages a chance to connect to any athlete they choose.

This may be the end of the age where professional athletes are put on such a giant pedestal that they seem superhuman, but maybe that’s the way it should be.

Personally, I’ve found watching sports exponentially more interesting now that I can see the athletes as more than just players on my television set.


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