When I decided to write this column I knew I had to do two things. First, be very careful about what I said, as a number of Atlanta’s marquee sports reporters do read my work from time to time. Second, be truthful and be sure to include myself in the conversation of the problem.
The problem is this…
Atlanta has one of the worst reputations in the country in regards to sports and sports fans. Sports Illustrated, Forbes, and an endless stream of commentators from ESPN have all chimed in on this subject at one time or another. And while it’s easy for me as an Atlantan to jump to the defense of my city, it’s hard to admit that every reputation is gained for a reason.
I had no idea how far this reputation carried or to what degree it was believed until I was recently interviewed by Chris Sullivan of MYNorthwest.com. It was then that I found out even fans in Seattle (who have much more reason to be disinterested in their teams than Atlanta) know about and make fun of Atlanta’s perceived lack of support for their teams.
There is lot of truth to the contention that Atlanta–and the State of Georgia in general–has had much more failure than success when it comes to sports. The Atlanta Braves were the laughing stock of MLB for many years; the Atlanta Hawks have yet to ever advance beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs and are constantly ridiculed for poor trades and management decisions; the Atlanta Falcons couldn’t string together consecutive winning seasons for over 40 years, and two different NHL teams have started in Atlanta and then bolted for north of the border.
It’s no wonder fans are jaded, right?
While limited success on the field, court or diamond may have a lot to do with the reason Atlanta fans don’t seemingly support their teams, some of the blame needs to fall on the local sports media.
Come to Atlanta and tune into one of the many choices for sports talk radio, and you’ll primarily hear doom and gloom – announcers, analysts and guests constantly painting the blackest possible picture and taking as many pot-shots as they can.
Do I think that the local media needs to paint a perfect rosy picture all the time? Absolutely not. But without a doubt, the coverage could be much more balanced in the way of pointing out both the deficiencies and the strengths of a given team, and (yes) being a little more rah-rah-cheerleaderish too.
The local sports media in any city has a responsibility for not only reporting the facts, but also playing a large part in getting the fans behind the teams, and drumming up as much support as possible. If the “experts” aren’t predicting anything positive at all, or are constantly lambasting the coaches and management, why in the world would fans want to get behind the teams?
Now obviously I’m lumping a lot of people together here, and truth be told, there are some local sports reporters in Atlanta who do a great job of being supportive and showing that happy face even in the worst times. But those folks are the minority in this city. By and large, even the “homers” have a tendency to want to pick apart the most minute flaw and blow it way out of proportion. I’ve frequently found myself guilty of this.
A perfect example of the general lack of civic sports pride came last January. When former ESPN hate-monger and sideshow Rob Parker wrote his article calling Atlanta the “Worst Sports Town in America”, there was very little in the way of outrage or even retaliation from the local media. Even if some of the homegrown reporters didn’t (or wouldn’t) respond, I know ESPN has writers who cover Atlanta teams on their payroll…where was their response?
Oh sure, there were some indignant tweets and messages thrown about, but not much in the way of columns or articles saying “Hey Rob Parker, as usual, you are dead wrong, so put a sock in it!”
Most of the problems revolving around fans supporting Atlanta’s teams aren’t going to be solved until the teams themselves start showing some consistent success (like the Braves have), or at least the illusion of trying to be successful. But with a little more positive vibe coming from the Atlanta sports media, the city’s ugly reputation can start to fade into the sunset.