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Coping with a Football Blackout

I want to point everybody's attention to a brilliantly written article by Mike Tanier at Football Outsiders. It was even featured in our very own Nuggets recently. As David pointed out there, the first sentence of the piece says it all, "Aldon Smith committed the worst possible NFL crime on Saturday: he was involved in a violent incident during a slow news period."

What follows in the article is a frenetic clashing of all possible reactions to the news story as well as other events taking place at the time. It's a brilliant cacophony that perfectly demonstrates what the phrase "form is content" actually means. His style conveys the sheer lunacy of much of sports media during the droll offseason. The style embodies, and thus furthers, it.

Follow me after the jump.

The article got me thinking, though. We shouldn't have to cope with a Football blackout, as my article title suggests. Yes, it does lead to some seriously good stuff, like Mr. Tanier's article. But I cannot fathom why the standards by which certain people evaluate athletes have to take a change for the dramatic during July.

Can such a style really drive readers and viewers to their respective media with a greater rate than the more level-headed reporting we see during the regular season? Because we do. As Tanier points out in his piece that "the Smith incident ... would merit little attention any time of the year, but it got undue play in the NFL press because there is nothing else to talk about right now."

I don't think all the evil media types actually try to whip up ratings during the offseason by being more salacious. Maybe that's naïve of me. Perhaps each reporter has an editor with numbers breathing down her neck, expounding upon the virtues of scandal and its effect on increased page views. It's totally plausible.

But I think that is a touch unlikely. Rather, I think the standards of evaluating athletes change in the offseason because the offseason is a time for reporters to shape a greater narrative about each team and the NFL. Writing during the offseason is always long-term in its orientation. How will the draft affect each team? What contributions will Free Agents make? These types of questions build a narrative that anticipates an upcoming season months away, and the notion of future seasons are always hidden in them too.

So, when Aldon Smith is at the center of a controversy, reporters (writers and talking heads alike) no longer see it as an incident involving a man - a man who ought to be judged when the facts have all emerged. Now, they conceptualize any incident as a plot point in the narrative. How will this affect the team? Will this diminish Aldon's starting potential? Etc.

During the season, these questions are answered every week - usually on a Sunday. We can see how the team responds to many different things based upon their play. But during the offseason, when the impulse is to construct narratives in anticipation of the season, the questions remain unanswered and the temptation to take incidents out of context grows.