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Bill Dwyre

Too Much Too Soon Might Be Too Bad

July 29, 2006|Bill Dwyre

Many of the people who have been bringing you the news of a young basketball player named Kevin Love ought to be ashamed of themselves.

That includes websites, radio, TV and newspapers. A pox on their houses.

Love just finished his junior year of high school in Oregon. By all accounts, he is a wonderful player. He is several months away from the start of his senior season, but he had a news conference Tuesday to announce that he would play at UCLA.

That won't begin until the winter of 2007. His announcement is known as a "non-binding oral commitment."

In other words, until he signs a sheet of paper in November, he is bound to nothing and by nothing. Yet, by the reaction in many news outlets, it was time for UCLA to put another deck on Pauley Pavilion.

One newspaper even made it a top headline on the front of sports. And it was by no means the only practitioner of misguided excess. Websites waggled, broadcasts cackled and journalistic judgment gave way to lost perspective.

Yes, this was news. Yes, UCLA fans, and college basketball fans in general, had a right to know. And no, it was not worth more than the three paragraphs this paper gave it.

There is great danger in the excess. It validates the already slimy practice of recruiting teenage athletes into a world where they are more tools of marketers than students and players. It creates a climate where few even blink when a junior football recruit calls a news conference in South Bend, Ind., and shows up in a Hummer limo. Or when a website reports, without a hint of skepticism: "Kevin Love was noncommittal about which day he will announce his decision, but both his father, Stan, and Chris Rivers of Reebok, said ... "

Chris Rivers of Reebok?

No less than John Wooden finds this climate scary in the sport he loves and helped make into the giant it is today.

"This has been a concern of mine for the last number of years," he said. "We have youngsters truly being exploited. So many of them have a false sense of who they really are.

"There is an adage: too much, too soon. I know youngsters are very impressionable, but I really am not sure where to assess the blame for all this."

The NCAA and its coaches get some -- just how many more season tickets get sold on the backs of teenagers who won't even be in school for more than a year? But at least the NCAA and its coaches operate by rules that say a prospect cannot sign before a certain date and a coach cannot comment before that time.

The shoe companies ought to be tarred and feathered, but that's old news.

Moms and dads, and the players themselves, certainly may love the limelight more than is healthy and bask in it more than they should.

But each group has an obvious agenda -- the NCAA and the schools to have good programs and make money; the shoe companies to make money; moms and dads and the players, well, in most cases, to eventually make money.

The media's agenda should be different. It should be to help their audiences determine relevance and perspective.

Instead, all too often, we get mindless, unfiltered typing on the Internet, air-filling babble on broadcasts and oversized headlines that incorrectly puff up importance.

It is not the fault of fans who get overly excited about news on their teams. It is the fault of us, the media.

Ben Howland, the UCLA coach who probably will benefit from Love's eventual presence and who obviously is happy about the oral commitment but can't say so by NCAA rules, can say that he shares some of the concerns of his legendary predecessor, Wooden.

"These days, the media are part of everything," he said. "It used to be, they would report the news. Now, lots of the time, they are creating it."

Here's hoping that Kevin Love does come to UCLA, plays well and even stays longer than the one year now mandatory before he can leave for the NBA and its large dollars.

And here's hoping that, once he gets here, the media will wait to treat him like a star until he actually plays like one.

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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