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Reaction to Jay Mariotti, Jason Whitlock an up-close look at frightening future

Shouldn’t we feel some satisfaction?

The hypocrisy was exposed, kicking off an explosive outburst of condemnation in sports media that brought a relatively quick downfall for a former titan of the industry.

I’m not talking about arrested ESPN/AOL Fanhouse fire-breather Jay Mariotti, though I will in a moment. I’m talking about Tiger.

News Monday that superstar golfer Tiger Woods’ divorce was finalized felt like the final scenes of a horror show that had gone on far too long. And though his long downward slide was an outcome many sports media pundits demanded for months, the end came so bluntly that some who had chortled over Woods’ “hoochie-gate” predicament were compelled to express a little sorrow, too.

From the earliest outpouring of speculation and gossip following the worst fender-bender in sports history, to the hyper-controlled public apologies, his deteriorating game and now shattered marriage, Woods has completed the boom-and-bust cycle of adulation and comeuppance we now demand of our highest-profile celebrities.

It’s been said before; we build them up, only to tear them down. But the months-long revelations about Woods’ infidelities and their impact on the superman of golf seemed to create new media platforms to channel all the catty vitriol — gossip site TMZ built its sports news site on the buzz sparked from owning the story early on.

As sanctimonious as sports media could be, Woods’ front-page decline shot those tendencies into overdrive. Some areas of sports coverage felt more like a blood sport than ever before; platforms to dissect Ben Roethlisberger’s latest boneheaded off-the-field encounter or allegations that Brett Favre sent nude photos of himself to a woman who fronted in-house, sideline reports for the New York Jets (a story published without the photos or permission of the woman, who revealed her story in off-the-record conversations).

So it is small surprise that some of the highest-profile members of the Fourth Estate have now begun to get chewed up in the same buzzsaw once reserved for those making millions on the field.

The explosion of umbrage against Mariotti, arrested Saturday on charges of domestic violence against his girlfriend, is simply the latest example.

Sports blogs and columns have been bristling with condemnation for Mariotti, a guy who built a massive career feeding sports media’s growing appetite for tough condemnation of wayward athletes.

In dealing with a high-profile arrest – sparking many catty columns from colleagues about ways in which he did them wrong, too – he seems hoist on his own petard. But didn’t we all help him inch up there, too?

I’m thinking this way, I admit, after considering another high-profile media meltdown in recent days; former Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock.

Another singular voice who seems to anger as many people as he delights, Whitlock chose to explain his departure from the Star in a three-hour interview on radio and television. The highlights: allegations people got ahead at the newspaper by sleeping with the boss and a particularly odd physical expression of affection toward a staffer by the paper’s editor in public.

This was a move Whitlock chose, of course, demanding space on two media platforms and hundreds of dollars in barbecue in a bizarre parody of LeBron James’ outsized announcement weeks before.

Still, it feels like a theme here. Opinionators whose brash, bold words entertain, amuse and anger, brought low when they go too far, sliced and diced by the very media which pushed them to prominence in the first place.

The critic in me wants to find a solution, worried that there’s no middle ground between coddling high-profile dysfunction and dismembering people when they cross a line we’ve urged them to skirt so many times.

But in a world where everyone’s value is increasingly defined by the viewership, blog hits or newspapers moved today, perhaps this is just the price we pay for immediacy, impact and unsparing coverage. If you want a media structure which won’t tolerate Tiger’s lies about his private life, the tradeoff may be breathless coverage of Favre’s alleged nude cellphone snaps.

Welcome to the sports media world of the future. Here’s hoping we all survive a walk along the tightrope for at least one more day.

Eric Deggans is TV and Media Critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a 1990 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Village Voice, VIBE magazine, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications. He also writes a blog on media, The Feed, at blogs.tampabay.com/media.
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