Media promotion of Mo’ne Davis shameless

Media promotion of Mo’ne Davis shameless

Wlliam C. Kashatus
Philadelphia Daily News
August 27, 2014

Not long ago the media focused attention on professional athletes. Sometimes there was adulation, more often, criticism. That’s acceptable considering that pro athletes earn handsome salaries, and the best ones, millions of dollars.  They are also adult entertainers who are paid to play sports.

But over the last few decades, the media has also placed college and high school athletes in the fishbowl. Coverage goes beyond their performance on the playing field, too. Off-field behavior, personal life and legal issues are also fair game, though the negative coverage of these adolescents is questionable because they are still considered amateur athletes.

With their shameless promotion of Mo’ne Davis, however, the media has crossed the line into irresponsible journalism.  It is treating Taney’s 13-year-old pitching ace like a pro athlete and, in the process, placing the burden of high expectations on her and polluting the spirit of Little League Baseball.   To be sure, Miss Davis is not just another Little Leaguer.  She is only one of 12 girls who’ve ever competed in the Little League World Series, and the only one to throw a shut-out.  She’s an exceptional pitcher with a 70 m.p.h. fast ball and a delivery, baseball acumen and poise reminiscent of major league hurlers. But she is still a child who plays the game for sheer enjoyment; not a salary.

Since Taney captured the Mid-Atlantic Regional title on August 10, though, Davis has garnered constant media attention.  She’s appeared on the front page of most daily newspapers across the nation.  ESPN and several other TV outlets have interviewed her countless times.

She’s been tweeted by the First Lady, several celebrities and even the head coach of the University of Connecticut’s Women’s Basketball team — once he learned of her ambition is to play at his school – and been credited with giving Philadelphia sports fans something to cheer about in the midst of the Phillies’ pathetic losing season, and with “uplifting” the nation in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., riots.

But the most shameless press occurred when Sports Illustrated placed the youngster on the cover of its August 25 issue with the title:  “MO’NE, REMEMBER HER NAME.”  Those are tremendous expectations to place on a 13-year-old girl, or boy, for that matter.  She has enough pressure on her competing on an international stage, where we’ve already seen kids break down and cry in pressure situations.  Miss Davis certainly didn’t need a national magazine to predict a remarkable future for her.

Those kinds of senseless predictions don’t take into account the physical maturation or physiological and psychological changes that take place in adolescence.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of kids who played in the Little League World Series do not go on to careers in Major League Baseball, either because they lose interest or the ability to compete at a higher level.

Some of those kids who do pursue a pro sports career crash when they realize they can no longer compete because they never bothered to explore other interests.  So, no one knows for sure what will happen in Mo’ne’s future.

By focusing almost exclusively on Miss Davis, the media has also polluted the spirit of Little League Baseball, which emphasizes teamwork; not individual performance. There are 200,000 Little League teams around the globe.  Only 16 of them reach South Williamsport. All sixteen deserve special attention as they represent the very best teams worldwide.

Taney’s story is especially fascinating. Granted a Little League charter just two years ago, the 12 youngsters hail from different social and economic circumstances.  Some were part of the Anderson Monarch’s team that traveled across the nation a few years ago playing other teams and learning about the history of Negro League Baseball.  As a team they represent what all of us – white and black – would want for our own children. Even Mo’ne realizes that.

After defeating Nashville, Tennessee, 4-0, in the first round, sportswriters smothered her with questions about individual performance.  “It’s not just about me,” she said with a maturity beyond her 13 years. “It’s about the whole team.”

Perhaps that’s Mo’ne’s saving grace – she’s a pretty grounded kid with many interests. Nor do her future plans include baseball; basketball is her game.

Too bad the media doesn’t exercise the same kind of wisdom when they cover exceptionally-talented youth.

Shame on them.