Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Part of the Word "Voluntary" Does ESPN Not Understand?

Various ESPN platforms--ESPN.com, SportsCenter, the Bottom Line, etc.--breathlessly informed the world on Monday that newly acquired Buffalo Bills wide receiver Terrell Owens "misses start of program," as the ESPN.com headline clumsily put it--the headline is clumsy because it sensationalizes the situation and stigmatizes Owens rather than simply conveying information in a concise manner; without reading the story, you don't know if Owens did not read the opening pages of a game program, if he did not attend a school play or if he failed to show up when the federal government began a new program to fix the economy.

It turns out that the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader" activated all of its platforms to Def-Con 1 because--brace yourself for impact--Owens did not show up for a voluntary offseason conditioning program. In case you have not been paying attention or forgot, this is the same player whose yoked physique appears to consist of approximately .0002% body fat and who purportedly runs faster at the age of 35 than he ever did before. You can take shots at Owens for a lot of things--as ESPN has done and no doubt will continue to do--but questioning his dedication to conditioning simply is not one of them. Considering that the Bills have been stuttering 7-9 records for three straight years, there are no doubt plenty of players on their roster who would be well advised to report to any and all conditioning programs but it is safe to assume that whatever Owens is up to at the moment he is most assuredly not getting out of shape.

"Voluntary" means optional, in case the headline writers, reporters and columnists at ESPN don't have a dictionary handy. If the league, teams and union agree to make these offseason programs mandatory then by all means it would be newsworthy to report about players who do not show up. Until that happens, surely there are better uses of ESPN's vast resources than this kind of drivel--or, if ESPN's editors really think that this is a big story, then they should take a league-wide survey and find out exactly how many players show up for voluntary programs. Of course, whether that number turns out to be 10% or 90% it still does not mean that someone is wrong to not do something that he is not required to do.

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