Is quality sports analysis dead? As popular television sports reporters such as Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, and countless others rattle off bewildering matter-of-fact statements supported by flimsy evidence, one may be led to believe that hot takes have ruined sports journalism.
I’m here to assure you that this is not the case. Let’s start by defining the notion of a ‘hot take’: an opinion on a topic that typically draws grand conclusions from limited information, and is often phrased in an intentionally polarizing manner for the purpose of capturing the attention of a large audience.
These headlines and opinions are akin to clickbait, as they seek to do very little other than try to grab a reader’s attention. Sports broadcasting companies employ personalities to deliver these often wildly uninformed hot takes on a daily basis, because they achieve high ratings, which in turn generate revenue.
While it’s believed that hot takes are a new phenomenon, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Hot takes in newspapers span as far back as the 1920s, and were even written by the likes of Grantland Rice, one of the most iconic figures in the history of sports journalism. Rice would describe players as “serial dopers” or “cockroaches” — hotter takes than anything we are likely to see on national television in 2018.
Even in the shift to “straight reporting” in the ’60s and ’70s, another iconic journalist, Dick Young, had his own hot takes on the sexuality of players, even sometimes comparing players to terrorists.
Realistically, I believe that hot takes were, are, and will always be a part of sports. As long as there are topics to speak on, someone will have an outrageous opinion on them.
However, hot takes seem to be more prevalent in our current era because we are in the age of information, in which we are constantly bombarded with headlines as companies vie for our attention in order to maximize profits.
The problem with hot takes arises when both players and audiences alike have trouble discerning the truth from the lies. A story as seemingly harmless as ‘X player is strongly considering a trade from team Y,’ when not properly substantiated, can have countless real world repercussions for fans and teammates who fail to consider the sources of this information.
There is a certain level of media literacy required for deciphering news from hype, and I believe that sports fans are already evolving in this sense.
For example, in the NBA, hot takes are often unsubstantiated until they are confirmed by veteran insider sources, such as Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charania, and fans will generally leave news on the backburner until they are adequately substantiated.
Although the greater distribution of information has led to hot takes becoming more prevalent, this new era of reporting has also given sports fans advanced metrics and other fact-based insights into the ability of players, which helps to debunk hot takes and offers fans a calibre of sports reporting that has never been seen before.
The beauty of our current age of information is that there is something for everyone. Those who thirst for drama can search out hot takes, while those who prefer statistical analyses are free to scour advanced metrics.
It’s clear that sports journalism has actually remained the same over the course of the last century or so, and I expect this trend to continue for as long as sports journalism exists. My hot take? Sports journalism will be just fine.