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Draft Coverage Teeters Between Information, Voyeurism

Penn State via Flickr

  In football, players are taught to keep the activity going until the whistle blows. But when the echo of the whistle ceases, what’s supposed to happen then, beyond the next play, that is?

What are you allowed to know about the people on the other side of the whistle? Are they merely nameless, faceless gladiators on a field or on a TV screen or are you entitled to peer into their lives?


Once upon a time, all you knew about an athlete was what he or she was willing to share and that wasn’t much.

The revelation of Mickey Mantle’s drinking habits, for instance, might have crushed the hopes and dreams of millions 

And maybe it was better that way. The explosion of reality television, social media and cinema verite type productions have turned us alternately into exhibitionists and voyeurs with hardly a limit on what we believe we’re entitled to see and what we’re entitled to know.

All of that came to mind last weekend during the telecast of the NFL draft, when a player named Tee Higgins from Oak Ridge, Tenn., was taken as the first pick of the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Higgins, a wide receiver who played collegiately at Clemson, was a star basketball player in high school, and received scholarship offers from Louisville, Tennessee and Auburn. His sister, Keke, played basketball at Middle Tennessee State.

You would have known that from the infographic panel on the screen on ESPN and the NFL Network that flashed as Higgins was drafted. 

You would also have discovered from that same graphic that Higgins’ mother, Camilla, fought a drug addiction for 16 years.

Higgins apparently had no issue with the home viewer knowing all those details about his life and about his mother’s journey. Indeed, he tweeted out how proud he was for the world to see what a fighter his mom is and how hard she had worked to turn her life around for her children.

Higgins may not have been bothered, but it didn’t take long for the world of social media and other media to wonder just what Camilla Higgins’ previous struggles had to do with her son’s professional life.

There is something to be said for portraying athletes in a light that presents them not as caricatures, but as fully formed three-dimensional flesh and blood people, with virtues and flaws, just like the rest of us.

And, sometimes, that light may expose the less than savory parts of sports figures. No less an icon than Michael Jordan threw himself on the mercy of the public to explain that the image that he has so carefully nurtured over the years would be damaged by the presentation of a new documentary that takes viewers behind the scenes of his championship runs of the 1990s.   

But there are limits, especially if, in Tee Higgins’ case, that light burns innocent bystanders.

ESPN, which was in charge of the production of the telecast, issued an apology for the graphic and rightfully so. Because when the whistle sounds, only those with actual skin in the game should be affected.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games, whenever they return.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.