February 20, 2009

Drugs, Guns and Athletes

% of newshole
Clemens hearing 2/11-17/08 5.1
O.J. sentenced 12/1-7/08 2.6
A-Rod admits steroid use 2/9-15/09 1.2
Phelps bong photo 2/2-8/09 0.8
P. Burress gun case 12/1-7/08 0.5

3rd – Where A-Rod’s steroid story ranks among sports scandals

The fallout from Sports Illustrated’s report that Alex Rodriquez tested positive for steroids—a story he confirmed in a February 9 ESPN interview—generated headlines around the country. It filled 1.2% of the newshole from February 9-15, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, the third highest level of weekly coverage for any sports scandal from February 11, 2008 to February 15, 2009.

But in the universe of steroid stories, coverage of the A-Rod episode lagged well behind the Roger Clemens drama. From February 11-17, 2008—the week when the retired pitching great denied using performance enhancing drugs before Congress—that story accounted for 5.1% of the overall coverage, making it the past year’s No. 1 sports scandal.

O.J. Simpson claims the No. 2 spot. Coverage of his conviction and sentencing for armed robbery and kidnapping during an attempt to reclaim memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel accounted for 2.6 % of the newshole from December 1-7, 2008. Another football star, albeit a more contemporary one, New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress made No. 5 on the list (at .5%) that same week after he shot himself while unlawfully carrying a handgun in a New York night club.

Another story that broke around the time of the A-Rod scandal—one aided by strong visual evidence— also made the roster of top sports scandals. Eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps found himself unhappily in the media spotlight when a photo of him smoking marijuana was leaked to the press. As was the case with A-Rod, Phelps acknowledged wrongdoing. Unlike Rodriquez, he was suspended from his team. The Phelps episode generated .8% of the weekly coverage from Feb. 2-8, making it the No. 4 story of athletes gone astray in the past year.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ