Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Frozen Four gets frigid reception in most sports departments


The University of Wisconsin just captured its second straight NCAA women’s ice hockey championship. But you wouldn’t know it by reading newspapers across the country, especially if the coverage offered in USA Today and a regional newspaper are definitive.

Goalie Jessie Vetter was amazing, knocking away 32 shots in the 3-0 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. (This was her second shutout of the weekend. She had already shut down St. Lawrence 1-0 in the semifinals of the Frozen Four two days earlier.)

Too often, women’s sports get shafted when it comes to coverage. Certainly, this final is not going to receive the same recognition as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (very few events can), but a national championship in an (arguably) major sport deserves more than five paragraphs online and a story buried on page 10 in USA Today’s sports section. Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel failed to cover the game with a staffer, based on its posting online where an AP story and picture were published.

For the record, Wisconsin finished the season 36-1-4, not 36-4-1 as cited in the Associated Press story. Or 35-1-4 as USA Today reported. How does a team that loses one game out of 41 receive such scant coverage?

Sports editors certainly need to consider what readers want, but, too often, that argument goes as deep as citing generalities about sports. Readers care more about NCAA basketball than hockey, they argue, and fans care more about major-league baseball than college volleyball. That is probably correct, but readers also want good stories, especially those that are written and reported well. Find them. Write them. NPR’s “It’s Only A Game” regularly reveals these stories – covering anything from the Super Bowl to dodge ball (“If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball”). This show will also reveal new ways of thinking about sports reporting.

The Wisconsin State-Journal did cover this hockey championship. Here’s the lead:

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- His fondest wish surfaced in the course of addressing a light-hearted question about his celebrated past. Mark Johnson used the query to embrace the moment at hand.

Asked if he could sense the ghosts of 1980, when Johnson came to this picturesque village and helped create an Olympic miracle, the University of Wisconsin women's hockey coach said he couldn't help but gaze around Herb Brooks Rink and its wintry exterior and smile.


It’s a pretty solid gamer. Sports reporters should report on more than the big three of basketball, football and baseball. There’s a lot of compelling stories out there waiting to be found.

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