The cultural forces that make something popular and thus more visible and accessible distort the thing itself and are rarely in line with what makes it either good or good for you. How can we keep quality in the conversation when it comes to supporting and promoting athletes, let alone sports programs, trying to do the right thing?

The New York Times Magazine recently put together a collection of opinions on the “Driving Forces of Popular Culture”, introduced by By Adam Sternbergh in “What It Means to Be Popular (When Everything Is Popular)”:

…The other metrics of popularity, though — the ones that measure, with increasing exactitude, what we do, when we do them, how long we do them for and how much we enjoyed doing them, are restless and ever-changing. Did you happen to linger for a moment longer on a particular article this morning on the Times Web site? Duly noted and recorded. Did you impulsively skip a particular song on your Gotye Pandora channel? That has been fed back into the algorithm, and good luck ever hearing that song again. You are, to an unprecedented degree, the emperor of a personalized kingdom of popularity, and zillions of bots are working tirelessly to heed your whims and hone your experience.

…Popularity may not guarantee artistic quality, but it does confer viability. No matter how it’s quantified, popularity ultimately serves as a form of validation, and we all benefit when it’s dispersed more generously. I don’t mean the kind of judgment-free, trophies-for-everyone mentality that suggests a refusal to exercise critical discretion. In fact, the rise of micropopularity implies the opposite: Things that are good are more likely to be recognized and, on some scale, to thrive.

How does the machinery (that term seems so last century) of popularity affect sports? Two cases from today’s news:

See Jason Gay on how insta-nova-fame and the hype that goes with it causes him to want to make up words “pre-fatigued even a word? It should be. Pre-exhausted? Prezausted? Prezausted” (FYI, I’m coining “insta-nova-fame” but wave the intellectual property rights because by the time it’s trademarked its moment will be long over. Oh wait, it’s over!)

“I enjoy Johnny Football. But it’s frustrating to see him sucked into the over-revving celebrity vortex that now exists in sport, in which fame quickly arrives and oversaturates, to the point where fans almost forget why they enjoyed someone in the first place. Manziel is discussed less lately as a football player than he is a cultural moment, and there’s something joyless about the conversation.”

For more visit WSJ

Manziel is a recent example of the difficulties associated with instant fame. He is barely hanging on to his eligibility to play this season. And of course everyone will be watching to see if he lives up to the hype. One wonders how long he will keep pour attention and the effects on him if we do, or don’t.

Oscar De La Hoya, aka “Golden Boy”, in a report by Greg Bishop of NY Times, “revealed how trying to live up to his nickname, to that mythical ideal, had left him suicidal.” The Golden Boy, one of the “most famous boxers ever” has battled drug and alcohol addiction and recently re-entered rehab.

After Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last year David Letterman suggested he quit football and open a Dairy Queen. (

Maybe the joke fell flat not because Dave isn’t that funny anymore but because it portends of life after fame.