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Sports: The new show business

Fun and games were serious business at the Summit on Communication and Sports, presented March 29–31 by Bradley’s Department of Communication. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch and award-winning sportscasters joined more than 60 researchers and professors from as far away as Florida, Arizona, and California to discuss the changing face of sports. 

Topics included the NHL’s use of Twitter to connect with fans, the changing face of millennial athletes, and the sports journalist as sports fan. 

“[The summit] brought national attention to Bradley, the Department of Communication, and our program in sports communication,” said department chairman Dr. Paul Gullifor. “It was very good to expose our students to the research in the discipline and the possibility of graduate school. The professional speakers were not simply people who report ball scores, but people who write careful, thoughtful, and analytic pieces on important issues in sports.” 

That was echoed by one of the speakers, veteran sportswriter and author Dave Kindred, who wrote for the Washington Post and now teaches at Bradley. “It positions Bradley as a player of influence and shows its commitment to the idea of sports journalism.”

In his opening remarks, CHARLEY STEINER ’71 HON ’10 highlighted the rapid change in technology and how journalism has been changed by “a need for speed.”

“Sports used to be little more than a side show on the stage of life,” said Steiner, who became the radio voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2005 after three seasons as the New York Yankees announcer and 14 years with ESPN. “Now, it’s an industry. Sports have become the new show business. One thing that has never changed is our jobs are based on telling the truth.” 

Taylor Branch, author of a trilogy of books covering America in the civil rights era, drew attention to the rights and role of college athletes and the NCAA. He said the current college athletic system needs transparency, balance, and equity. 

“No reform agenda will work if you don’t address the rights of the athletes. No freedom should be abridged because of athletic status,” said Branch, whose 2011 book, The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, focused on college athletes. 

Other speakers were Molly Knight of ESPN the Magazine and Detroit sportscaster and former Bradley basketball player KATRINA HANCOCK ’00

“I rely on Twitter to break stories. We now attribute Twitter or someone’s Facebook page,” Hancock said. “We can’t dig for stuff. It’s taken away that element of reporting.”

She and Steiner praised the sports communication program at Bradley. “It’s huge because it brings students here who might not normally come here,” Hancock said. “I wish it would have been here when I was here.”

Bradley students played a major role at the summit, doing everything from planning to blogging and recording sessions. 

“Promoting responsible journalism and a need for increased research, the summit was a call-to-arms for students in sports communications,” said SEAN FLAVIN ’12, one of the 151 students who participated or attended. “The summit reassured students that the profession of sports journalism is as much a responsibility as it is a job.” 

The fifth biennial summit becomes an annual event next year when it is hosted by the University of Texas, Austin. Previous summit hosts include Arizona State and Clemson. 

— Bob Grimson ’81