Two sports-fan subcultures collided last week, and it wasn't pretty, though it all ended up well enough.
ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd used some material off a Michigan football fan blog, presenting joke questions from a Wonderlic test on his show Wednesday without attribution, as though it were original material. When e-mails started flooding in objecting to the theft, Cowherd fired off a series of rude, taunting responses calling those with complaints whiners.
Almost certainly at the urging of his bosses at ESPN, Cowherd offered a sincere-sounding apology on the air Monday, five days after the incident.
Oddly, this case of radio plagiarism happened the same week conservative Washington Post blogger Ben Domenech's print and online plagiarism created a firestorm in political and media circles. Yet beyond the blogs, the Cowherd affair created nary a ripple.
A letter about the incident headlined "What about radio journalism?" was posted on Jim Romenesko's blog at Poynter.org and gained no traction with the media pros who haunt that site.
The creators of the M Zone, the aggrieved football site, had declared themselves "pissed" last week at Cowherd's not giving them credit for their work, which was a satire on news reports about Texas quarterback Vince Young having done poorly on a Wonderlic test at the NFL Scouting combine.
The M Zone authors accepted Cowherd's apology Monday, writing, "It's over."
"We felt powerless," wrote Yost, one of the M Zone's founders, in an e-mail to me. "An almost-6-month-old blog against 'the Worldwide Leader in Sports.' But we were mad."
So Yost and his M Zone partner, Benny, who both wish to remain anonymous because they don't want co-workers to wonder if they spend more time on their blog than they do on their real jobs, asked readers to write to Cowherd and, at the suggestion of a reader, to ESPN ombudsman George Solomon.
A procedural note: I've made some minor trims to Yost's e-mail comments.
"We had no idea the response would be so overwhelmingly positive and the sheer numbers would be so staggering," Yost writes. "It really seemed to have struck a nerve, not only among the online sports community, but bloggers in general."
Cowherd fueled the outrage when, according to the M Zone and not disputed by ESPN, he responded to e-mails about the theft with replies such as, "WE WERE SENT IT ... WE HAD NO IDEA ... BUT THE INCESSANT WHINING ... MEANS I WON'T GIVE YOU CREDIT NOW ... GET OVER IT
"Those e-mails were inappropriate," ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said Friday, "and we've spoken to Colin about them and he admitted he overreacted." Krulewitz said Cowherd would not be available for an interview, and a call to Cowherd's producer went unreturned.
Cowherd made an oblique reference to those e-mails in his on-air apology, saying, "I got upset. I took it very personally, because again I take great pride in being unique."
Cowherd accepted blame for not checking on the origins of the fake Wonderlic test he says a listener sent in without attribution. "I just didn't do a good enough job checking a hysterical e-mail," he said, then heaped praise on the M Zone, saying, "It's very funny. They're still absolutely killing me, and that's funny. My bosses made me look at that this morning. They said, 'You've got to see what these guys are doing to you. It's really good.' And it is."
I've worked online since the days when seeing a URL on a billboard was a noteworthy event -- run, kids, Grandpa's telling war stories again! -- and I'm still interested in the ways the Web interacts and clashes with other media and other cultures.
"Benny, who works in finance, and I were talking and he brought up an interesting point," Yosts writes. "Benny said, 'I don't think the two audiences [sports radio and sports blogs] overlap. With so many choices, sports fans are finding their niche as to where to get their sports info. If they get it online, there is no need to tune into MSM [mainstream media] for the same info -- info they don't control or have feedback on.'"
Case in point: Yost says that the M Zone got a bigger boost in hits Thursday, when sports blogs such as Deadspin and EDSBS.com took up its cause, than it got Monday, when a nationally syndicated radio host spent four and a half minutes talking about how funny the M Zone is.
On the other hand -- and cautioning that both he and Benny are fairly new amateur bloggers, not experts -- Yost writes that he thinks sports blogs and the mainstream media are "merging in a way" as the mainstream becomes more personality-driven.
"With 'Best Damn Sports Show' and 'SportsCenter' being sold as entertainment instead of journalism, the guy at his computer and the six-figure ESPN anchor are the same guy," he writes.
And one more point by Benny, as told to Yost: "There is resentment among some sports bloggers of this whole sportstainment culture in the MSM. Many of those fans wants scores and highlights and not schtick."
I've written a lot about TV networks forsaking hardcore sports fans, who the networks know will watch games and sports news shows no matter what nonsense they have to fight through, to focus instead on attracting more non-sports fans.
But I hadn't thought about the parallel dynamic Benny brings up. The mainstream sports media, I think, is also becoming more gimmicky, more schtickified, if you will, as it tries to react to and keep up with the looser, more iconoclastic culture of the sports blogs.
It's impossible not to overgeneralize when talking about "the media," but I think there's something to this. The mainstream media, afraid of looking like stick-in-the-muds in comparison with the no-holds-barred world of the blogs, rolls out more and more "edgy" stuff, as they say in TV. More Budweiser Hot Seats and newspaper columnists yelling at each other and in-depth reports about the five most-played songs on Reggie Bush's iPod.
And the iconoclastic, new-media-savvy, blog-reading hardcore sports fan looks up from his laptop just long enough to say, "Did I miss the Pistons-Sixers highlights?"
Or, as in the Cowherd case, the mainstream media ignores the fusty old staid rules of ethics because, hey, dude, information wants to be free, right? Or the ostensible excuse: "Hey, someone sent us an e-mail. What are we supposed to do, check everything?"
And all the "amateurs" in blogland, the ones who have supposedly turned their back on the MSM and its creaky ways, rise up as one to harrumph, "It's customary and proper to give credit where credit is due, sir."
And that's funnier than a fake Wonderlic test.
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Women's Tournament [PERMALINK]
Here's ESPN studio host Trey Wingo talking to NCAA women's Tournament analysts Kara Lawson and Stacey Dales-Schuman in the opening segment of Monday night's Albuquerque regional final between Maryland and Utah:
"Guys, there's a little bit of a stomach flu going around the Maryland squad, including their point guard, Kristi Toliver. How much do you think that's going to affect how Maryland plays tonight?"
Lawson: "Well, I think it's just going to help Maryland stay loose."
And they say vaudeville's dead!
Toliver pulled herself together for a Michael Jordan-like, starring-while-sick performance, leading the No. 2 Terps to the Final Four by hitting six three-pointers and scoring a career-high 28 points in a 75-65 overtime win over the 5-seed Utes.
Maryland will play the winner of Tuesday night's Cleveland regional final between No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Tennessee.
In the San Antonio final Monday, top-seed LSU held off No. 3 Stanford 62-59, the key play at the end a charging foul by Stanford star Candice Wiggins -- drawn by LSU star Seimone Augustus.
With LSU leading 60-59 in the final seconds, Wiggins drove down the right side of the key. Gambling that Wiggins wouldn't see her as she eyed teammate Krista Rappahahn spotting up for a three-pointer on the right wing, Augustus came off of Rappahahn and planted herself in Wiggins' path.
She was right. Wiggins plowed into Augustus a split second after dishing to Rappahahn, who nailed the three -- which didn't count.
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More Final Fours [PERMALINK]
So in the last couple of days I've gotten a few e-mails about "the other NCAA Tournament." Oh, here we go, I think, figuring the e-mail will be a scold about not writing about women's basketball enough.
And the e-mails have all been about the Frozen Four! It's really hard to keep up with everything these days.
Wisconsin will play Maine and North Dakota will take on Boston College in the hockey semifinals in Milwaukee April 6. Wisconsin won the women's title with a 3-0 win over Minnesota in the championship game Monday.
Prediction: I'm about to get at least one e-mail about wrestling.
Previous column: Best Tournament ever?
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