The cultural relevance of Emmitt Smith

So Doctor Dribbles tells me he's going to get into it with the Realests. Yeah, good luck with that.

Me, I'm taking the high road and not going to touch that mess. If anything, I want to give a "shoutout" to Selena Roberts of the NY Times for some pretty solid opinion-ating today.

For those who don't have Times Select or a copy of today's paper, Ms. Roberts uses her column to make a few connections, starting with the...

1) Slipping TV ratings for top sporting events like the World Series, prime time football, and basketball playoffs. Although in the case of the NBA Finals, I think not watching was a case of self-defense. By tuning out, the nation just saved our hospitals a plague of bleeding eyeballs.

Pundit-types have long said falling ratings for televised sports reflect "too much competition for viewer eyeballs," "too many sporting options to choose from," or even "a dip in quality of the play." Sometimes, they sort of say all three.

But Ms. Roberts then points out...

2) Strong TV ratings for reality shows like "American Idol" and various dancing shows, which offer live drama and talent-based competitions that basically double for sporting events. Ms. Roberts thinks their popularity reflects a cultural shift: these shows play better in an increasingly diverse workforce. In a male-driven office 15 years ago, maybe you stood around the water cooler and talked about Emmitt Smith's game-changing run. Now you talk about his cha-cha on Dancing with the Stars. This isn't some hypothetical; when my coworkers, all smart people with diverse interests, sit around waiting for a meeting to start, the biggest constant is reality TV...but that's another story.

As an example of how interests have changed, Ms. Roberts cites...

3) Apolo Anton Ohno, who recently won "Dancing with the Stars." I generally remembered Ohno from his short-track speed skating Olympic medals, in part because he's pretty camera-friendly. Apparently, though, I was in the minority; even Ohno feels he was just "another Olympic athlete" to most Americans (and that is definitely another post). According to Ms. Roberts, Dancing with the Stars has taken Ohno from "that guy" status--the Bill Rancics and Lark Voorhies of the world--to a star who's stopped by folks walking down the street.

I wanted to try something but Google Trends doesn't really have data on Ohno, since he won Dancing with the Stars just last month. The website did have data on someone else, however...

The Google Trends graphic above tracks both how many searches there were for "Emmitt Smith" (the top chart) against how many news stories were written about "Emmitt Smith" (the bottom chart). Note that there are two spikes--"B," when Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader and one of its greatest players ever, retired--and "D," when he won a kitschy made-for-TV event. Both events sparked an equal amount of press coverage--if anything, the media devoted more attention to Smith when he retired, as journalists tried to put him in context of the greatest players of all-time. But Dancing with the Stars resonated far stronger, as well as longer, with the public.


Given these shifting tastes, Ms. Roberts thinks Ohno just did the Olympics a favor by becoming more of a public face--in 2010, a good number of folks will tune in only to watch him. And in an era where pop culture reigns supreme, maybe other sports should push their own marketable stars onto reality shows and into blogs and YouTube clips, she concludes.

And why not? It's already worked for Gilbert.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 16:48,


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