A big game is a big game no matter what media shows up, if any [Hot Type, January 16]. People don't need sportswriters to tell them they have a rivalry with another high school, for example. Athletes and fans create rivalries, not media.
And journalists do the hero anointing for war too. Jessica Lynch, anyone?
Anyway, sportswriters haven't consistently created heroes since Grantland Rice. And when announcers say, "They'll talk about this forever," generally it's because they have a visceral sense that people will talk about it forever, not because they're forcing something down the fans' throats. The 1985 Bears are still beloved in Chicago not because the media tell people to still love them, but because fans genuinely remember them fondly.
Sports fans are less sheeplike than many may think.
I would agree that there are sportswriters who feel like athletes owe them their livings, and I think those sportswriters are wrongheaded. But most sportswriters I know merely want to do their jobs and at least get treated as a human being instead of some locker-room vermin. I suspect some bitterness from sportswriters has to do with the constant travel, inability to form a social life, and long hours as much as anything an athlete does.
Does coverage drive interest, or is it the other way around? I would argue that one would feed upon the other, but that first there must be fan interest or there will be no coverage. Fans of women's sports, soccer, etc believe that if the media would only give it the kind of coverage the NFL, NBA, and baseball get, their sport would be just as big and glamorous. That's just not so. You can't build interest by creating a pro league, then work your way down--the NFL and NBA in particular had 30 or 40 lean years before finally breaking out, and these were sports that had fan interest at lower levels.
Anyway, the coverage exists because people do give a rat's patootie about Bob Knight, because they give a rat's patootie about the people and issues in their favorite sports.
As for all of the stuff on the Hall of Fame, your point that sportswriters get to create the story would carry more weight if, first, the Hall of Fame hadn't drafted the writers' association to begin with to pick players (the writers didn't create the Hall of Fame) and, second, if people didn't have an interest in the Hall of Fame. Even if suddenly the voting power for the Baseball Hall of Fame was handed to general managers it would still get a lot of coverage.
That an op-ed punditry would have come up with a "less cynical" vote than the House defies logic. Even five years ago things were getting pretty toxic in the pundit department.
The Times acknowledges media-voted award winners and spills barrels of ink on these topics, acknowledging to me that the editors there realize there's genuine reader interest in them.
I won't argue that there are things sportswriters get away with ethically that other branches of journalism don't. Then again, every branch has their ethical issues, and I feel like at least in mainstream media I get a far more honest reading from sports than any other section.
Sports is important to people--always has been, always will be.
And with good reason, I think.
Sorry to be so long-winded!