The reporting of the 50th anniversary of the Ali-Liston fight reminds me of the jab-like knockout punch Ali landed to beat the seemingly indestructible Liston. More significantly, it highlights how sports reporting has changed since Ali’s early 1960s emergence. Before him, the media covered primarily the sports event, with scant attention to ancillary matters.

But Ali was a unique package: he was a big guy, handsome, with rapid-fire hands, quick feet and, most importantly, a sharp tongue and pompous attitude. Great fodder for the press to prey upon, delving into other facets of his life.

Since the Ali-media mutual admiration society, the media have tried to unveil a host of tidbits about athletes’ lives outside of sports — peripheral issues such as salary battles, dugout or sideline squabbles, lawsuits, etc., with interviewers seeking post-game emotional reactions.

Have sports events become a stage that produces many superb athletic achievements and, at the same time, yielding a stable of competitors about whom the media can scrutinize and gossip? They dig into other aspects of athletes’ lives, hammer away at them, trying to keep the public amused before and after the events.

The aim appears to be to portray athletes having qualities similar to those of regular folks, intending to enhance the public’s connections to them. Not totally a bad thing, but the importance of the events gets subordinated to the quirky, foolish, tabloid-like developments.

Ultimately, whatever sells is probably the criteria for the continuing trend.

Norm Gellatly, Auburn

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