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In our December issue (be sure to buy your copy!), we list Stan Kroenke as one of St. Louis' 100 most powerful people. And we're not the only ones who have been talking about him. In last week's issue of Sports Illustrated, writer L. Jon Wertheim profiled the owner of the Rams (as well as several other pro sports teams, including the British soccer club Arsenal), in a piece titled, "The Most Powerful Man in Sports… You Had No Idea, Did You? Stan Kroenke."
The story was well researched and written, but also frustrating. In a sense, the exceedingly private Kroenke granted Wertheim unprecedented access. The writer spent a weekend with the owner in the UK, watching an Arsenal win and a Rams loss on consecutive days. The story touches on Kroenke's tenuous relationship with Arsenal fans, who wish he would spend more on the team, and Rams fans' unease about the possibility that he might move the team away from St. Louis. Along the way, Wertheim talks to various members of Kroenke's inner circle, from business partners to former Nuggets center Marcus Camby, in a ill-fated effort to explain who Stan really is. Ultimately, the story falls short because Kroenke is unwilling to open up (although readers do learn that he can bench press 225 pounds 12 times, that he literally walked to a one-room schoolhouse as a kid, and that he thinks he got sick from drinking out of the Stanley Cup). But aside from those few revealing details, Kroenke simply doesn't give Wertheim much substantive insight into his life.
That didn't stop several media outlets from taking the headline and running with it. Suddenly, "SI Names Kroenke Most Powerful Man in Sports" was everywhere. The Denver Post parroted it. So did the St. Louis Business Journal. KMOX at least did a bit of original reporting, interviewing the author. And the brainiacs at the Riverfront Times penned a blog post audaciously suggesting that Stan should shave his mustache.
The story, as they say, had gone viral. It's easy to understand how it happened. Sports Illustrated had a good but bland profile of a person most Americans don't care about. An editor, maybe because he was struggling to think of anything else, decided to give the story a little extra sex appeal by putting a superlative in the headline. Now Kroenke was "The Most Powerful Man in Sports." When online editors at various other publications saw that phrase, they whipped up a quick four paragraphs, repurposed the splashy headline, and snatched themselves some cheap web traffic, some precious clicks. A cynic might argue that the whole thing is silly and lazy.
But as the media circus moves on to its next act, I'd like to pause for a moment to ask a simple question: Is it true? Is Stan Kroenke the most powerful man in sports? Well, Sports Illustrated is a reputable source, so if it says something, it must be true, right? Not so fast. This was just a headline. There was no poll to back it up. No balloting. No study. No experts were consulted. No numbers were crunched. Someday, SI might do a whole package listing the most powerful people in sports. (Then they could turn it into an online slideshow, which would be great for web traffic.) In that case, being in the number one spot might actually mean something, depending on the methodology used to select the winner. Then, it would be fair to say, "Sports Illustrated Names Person X Most Powerful in Sports." But this wasn't that. The distinction might not be obvious to most readers, which makes the splashy headlines potentially misleading.
If SI ever does name the most powerful man in sports through a semi-scientific process, my money is on Roger Goodell. In the meantime, let's all cool it with the superlatives.