Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cam Newton, and What People Know

I live and work in the football-crazed SEC, so it's fascinating to watch a case study as it develops -- in this case, the wacky coverage of Auburn QB Cameron Newton.

As you may or may not know, Newton is a Heisman favorite, is a helluva QB, and scares the crap out of me because this Saturday he'll make life miserable for my Dawgs.  That aside, he's also caught up in a scandal of sorts, in part because of stories about his time at the University of Florida (yeah, another SEC school) and in part because of a rumored payoff offered to him to attend Mississippi State (which he didn't, but you guessed it, yet another SEC school).

Today, a fake tweet got the Internet into a wad as it suggested Newton may be suspended by the NCAA before Saturday's game.  You can read one version of the story here.  Either someone misunderstood a radio report, or a fan can't hear very well, or someone just decided to make things interesting.  You pick.

Why blog about sports in a spot devoted to how people learn from the media?  Good question.  My answer is twofold.  First, I can do whatever the heck I wanna do on my own blog, but more important, it's fun to watch what people know about something other than politics.  Not only is Twitter ablaze about this, but so is Facebook and, no doubt, other social media I don't even use or know about.  Auburn fans are angry about these stories flying about -- and let's face it, only because it's their guy and their team, which may end up in the national title game (please, yes).  If it was a Bama QB, they'd think it was all damn funny and no doubt Pulitzer Prize winning journalism.  But here, because it's their guy, selective exposure and memory and attention and all the rest are kicking in as they, surprise surprise, attack the messenger.

We see the same thing in politics, just without so many goofy fans yelling at a reporter as he tries to do his job.  If I hadn't known better, I would've thought it was a bunch of Tea Party folks.

When emotions run high, people lose all ability to calmly consider a story, whether it be politics ... or sports. What they feel, then, outweighs what they know.  Emotion always seems to trump cognition.

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