The Instant Historian: 9 Words To Eliminate From Sports Coverage


Journalistic language can be hackneyed. Sportswriters are particular malefactors. The collective lexicon requires periodic pruning. Here are nine words and concepts the Instant Historian recommends we excise. 

Historic: Historic implies grand magnitude, something that alters the course of human events. Historic in sports journalism has come to mean anything important. Historic could even mean something trifling, if it’s the first instance. This word has been distorted and deadened by overuse. Sports are trivial. They reflect society. They seldom shape it. Legitimate historic occurrences are rare. We can use other terms of an appropriate scale.

Legacy: legacy is property left behind when someone dies. Occasionally, the word can be stretched to a less tangible influence. Legacy in sports coverage is used as a stand in for career, the time spent within the profession, or how the memory of said career gets perceived. Unless a team is inherited or there are software issues, deploy a more precise word.

Hot Take: They exist. A moralizing scold writes a shallow, trolling opinion piece. (See: Marrioti, Jay) At its onset, hot take defined a specific happening. Hot take has expanded into a blanket term, encompassing whatever one (or a consensus) disagrees with. Dissent and challenge are healthy. If an opinion piece pisses off no one, what was the point of writing it? Stupid ideas existing in the marketplace is preferable to cloying censorship. Deploying another term than hot take at least forces one to think rather than parrot.

Narrative: Guilty of using this one. Here’s the truth. We watch sports for the spectacle. We follow sports for the soap opera. Narratives are how we comprehend the world and our place within it. We need narratives to go to war. We need narratives to procreate. We need narratives to waste time watching mathematical probabilities play out on a field. Narratives can be stupid. Call out the stupidity, not the form.

The Unnecessary “Of”: This is college football specific. “Margin of victory” instead of victory margin. “Strength of schedule” instead of schedule strength. “Pace of Play.” This list goes on. The of is deemed so essential it gets included in the acronyms (MOV, SOS). This would be like baseball folks discussing “average of batting.” It’s a collective verbal tic. It’s poor word economy. Not clear who started it. But, we can all make it stop.

X-gate: The Watergate scandal happened 40 years ago. The cliché has endured longer than popular knowledge of the scandal. Tagging “gate” on the end of the controversy du jour is repetitive and stupid. Others doing it does not excuse your own vapidity.

Unanswered Points: This is a cliché. The risk of unanswered points being misused trumps its utility. One can just say “the Buckeyes scored 28-straight points in the fourth quarter.” It’s clean. It conveys the message. The differentiation with unanswered is as trivial as that late garbage touchdown by the opponent.

Stud: stud is a domesticated animal used for breeding. Informally, it’s used to indicate a lascivious, sexually active man. We need not delve too far into the legacy of slavery and black stereotypes to explain why terming black athletes that is problematic. Removing the racial part of it, we don’t need to make watching guys work out in compression shorts creepier than it already is.

Ball Don’t Lie: This was funny when Rasheed Wallace did it, last decade. It’s not as funny when tweeted after every missed free throw or botched soccer penalty. Ball Don’t Lie  has had its write up in the New York Times. Brands are using it. We’ve all seen the ball lie, numerous times. Let’s give this term a graceful retirement.

[Photo via Getty]