By Mackenzie Roche

When the first Shirley Povich Symposium took place more than a decade ago in a Jewish community center in Washington, D.C., there were only two panelists, and Bob Costas was one of them.

Nov. 7 Bob Costas returned for the 12th annual Shirley Povich Symposium, but this time, he was joined by esteemed sports journalists Christine Brennan, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

The panel of journalists discussed topics ranging from the concussion epidemic in football to the pros and cons of social media in the journalism industry while hundreds of students, faculty and sports fans- who had trekked through the rain to the Riggs Alumni Center– listened intently.

Moderator Maury Povich began the panel discussion by asking Brennan what she thought was the biggest change in the journalism world since the first symposium.

“Social media and the speed with which things happen,” she said. “Back then, whatever happened in the middle of the night, there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about it. Now we know everything sooner, and I personally love that as a journalist.”

She acknowledged the negative aspects of social media as well.

“The flip side is, the athletes are taking it upon themselves to tell their own stories and not going through us,” Brennan said. “Whether it be domestic violence, the Colin Kaepernick story, steroids…the Ray Rice story was an ember in the morning but a forest fire by the afternoon, and that’s because of social media.”

Kornheiser said the obligation journalists feel to constantly be the first ones to break news distresses him, and Costas agreed.

“Now all we ever hear is ‘That got the second most clicks,’” Costas said. A journalist could write a Pulitzer Prize winning story and a story titled “10 Reasons Why So and So is an Idiot” and each time, the latter would get more clicks, he added.

The panelists mentioned Barstool Sports and Bleacher Report among other unconventional news sources that have changed the nature of sports reporting and replaced mainstream sports news sources like ESPN over the years.

Aside from the introduction of social media, the journalists indicated other changes in sports over the years such as the growing popularity of basketball, how American athletes are viewed overseas and the widespread issue of concussions and other head injuries in football.

A question from an audience member about whether or not the NFL is obligated to raise awareness and reach out to young athletes about concussions sparked debate on the panel and made the journalists look toward the future of American sports.

The only way the NFL can survive for the next 30 or 40 years is if it starts getting involved in the issue and educating kids about the dangers of football, Brennan said. It seems like the NFL is worried more about the PR aspect of the issue instead of addressing the problem, she added.

“This game destroys people’s brains,” Costas said. “That’s the fundamental fact of football and the biggest story in American sports.”

He went on to say if he had an athletically inclined son, he wouldn’t let him play tackle football because of the injuries that come along with it. “If you’re gonna play tackle football you shouldn’t play at all until you’re 18,” Costas said. “But then what happens to college football? The whole thing could collapse like a deck of cards if people start connecting the dots.”

On the other hand, Wilbon argued it’s the parents’ responsibility to educate their children and keep them out of harm’s way. “The NFL doesn’t owe us anything,” he said.

In general, the future of America’s most popular sport is uncertain as is the future of sports journalism with its ever-changing environment, according to the panelists. However, the Riggs Alumni Center was filled with the largest symposium audience since the event’s founding which seemed to prove University President Wallace Loh’s opening statement right: “If there were a national popular religion, it would be sports.”

Featured Photo Credit: The Riggs Alumni Center was filled for the Shirley Povich Symposium, where journalists discussed the future of sports journalism. (Mackenzie Roche/Bloc Reporter)

Mackenzie Roche is a junior multiplatform journalism major and can be reached at mackenzieroche97@gmail.com.

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