Is there Media Bias Against the Dolphins?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

[WARNING: LONG POST - for those of you who don't like to read or don't like my writing, I give a synopsis of my point in the second paragraph, and you may want to look through the 5 year stats towards the bottom]

There are, obviously, more interesting things to discuss with the upcoming test against Detroit. If we can score against the Lions, we might be able to score against division rival Buffalo, who we will need to beat if we want to make a playoff push. If they press our WRs and Tannehill isn't given the time he needs (either through straight up good blocking, or moving around and smart read-option play), our passing game will sputter (expect to see more WR bunch formations this week). Our D seems legit, but if they come out flat against a healthy Calvin Johnson, allow Reggie to get into space, and don't make Stafford's life miserable in the pocket, it will be a long day. This is an exciting game. It is a statement game. Still, I wrote this piece because our last game was a crushing victory of the kind we are hopefully getting accustomed to! After the game, there was some surprise on the site about positive media coverage, and some complaints about how there still wasn't enough. I engaged in some of those conversations and, since there are people who are much better than me at the actual football side of conversations, and I haven't posted anything in a while, I thought I would write up my thoughts on why I am not convinced about the whole media bias against Miami business.

There is no doubting that media bias is real. Wikipedia is not the end-all be-all of research, but, it provides a useful survey of many of the major factors that go into creating media bias, ranging from media markets to the views and opinions of media sources. Logically, as far as sports media goes, there will always be a team or teams that are "liked" more by more media members, and those that are "liked" less. Is there, however, a case to be made that the Miami Dolphins are the targets of media bias? Is there either a conspiracy or even unconscious vitriol against them by major sports media outlets that marks the Phins for more negative press and fewer positive highlights? I will argue in this post that there is little reason to believe that such a bias exists based upon the usual arguments that fans often give. Additionally, I believe that there are very good reasons to believe that fans hold a bias in their own analysis of the media. Finally, I think that there are relatively objective reasons why the media would choose to avoid positive Dolphins news based on the team’s performance for the past several years. It’s all hypothetical, at this point, but some of those reasons are hopefully turning around this season.

What do fans want?

If you are a Dolphins fan and generally follow all things Dolphins, then for the most part, the more Dolphins news you get, the better. We want to see highlights of our favorite team. We tend to be much less interested in seeing highlights of whichever Star Trek named QB is the "starting backup" to RGIII. We don’t want to watch the same Jason Garrett interview about Tony Romo’s injury ad nauseam. What’s more, since most of us identify strongly with the team and want to be hopeful about its future and prospects, positive and hopeful news is encouraging. It makes us feel good. Of course, that isn’t true for everyone. Many people don’t care about the media at all, want to be underdogs, or just don’t have time to watch it. Still, I think what I describe above is common enough that most fans can identify with it to some degree.

But, what do most NFL fans want? If they aren't getting highlights and news about their own team, or good (i.e., bad) news about their rivals, they probably want interesting news about the NFL in general. They want big play highlights, feel good stories, drama, information about the best players out there, players who are fun to watch, may be available in FA or may be an opponent. They also want FF information.

What does the media want?

There are many reasons people choose their careers, and many niche markets they can fill with their particular talents and interests. That being said, one obvious driving force in the media market is money: advertisers, subscribers, web hits and ratings. I am often vociferous in voicing my denial of any conclusions drawn from media pundits’ tweets (with web links) and the like. It isn’t so much that I am anti-media ("They’re not bad people," as Joe Philbin said), as I dislike the game of putting out rumors and "questions", knowing the public will run with them at the expense of truth. They spin stories out of tidbits of fact and supposition, knowing that people want good stories. Even if they are wrong, they leave that part out or re-spin the story. It makes a good business, and people click on their computers, hand held devices, or remote controls, comment on articles with "full knowledge of what is happening behind the scenes". Positive stories, amazing super stars, and big play highlights sell. Train wrecks, drama, and intrigue sell. Personality, feel good stories, and high octane draft picks sell. HOF players, elite leaders dominating their position, and playoff caliber play sell. Winning sells. Good OL play, punting, chip shot FG's, bend-but-don’t-break defense, dink and dunk passing, low scoring offenses, and defenses that don’t create TO's do not sell. The media will report positively on all the spectacular play and feel good stories they can. They will also report and blow up anything negative, within certain parameters of law and self-interest. They will likely not extensively report anything that is boring.

Is there evidence of bias against the Dolphins?

A caveat: I admit that I don’t watch Sports Center. I generally find it to have low quality programming, offering a platform for comics and actors to launch their careers rather than offering solid analysis of the game. That being said, when I hear things like "I have watched Sports Center for years, and they barely ever show Dolphins highlights, never give us credit but always blame the other team’s mistakes, they have a New England/New York bias, and will never give us respect unless we win the super-bowl," a sentiment I have heard numerous times here for years, I can’t help but think that perhaps we are the ones who are biased. If you have an opinion on the matter, I won’t discount it. We all have opinions, and most of what I am writing here is just an opinion. If you are venting your frustrations because you think our team is just awesome, and you can’t bask in that glory on ESPN, I respect that. You are a fan.

That being said, if you think that bias against Miami is a fact, and that New York/New England based media actively dislikes the Dolphins, you are going to have to prove it. Anecdotal evidence from your own couch is not statistically significant. Unfortunately, you would have to be obsessive enough to monitor broadcasts and websites from all the major sports media outlets, compare segments from all 32 teams in all of their formats, develop a sophisticated and analytically solid matrix for determining "positive" vs. "negative" news, account for extenuating factors like competing news events, both in and out of the sports world (high profile news like a player arrested for murder, or less important news like Manning vs Brady), and more. You would then have to take all of this information and create a means of ranking the media’s attitude towards all 32 teams and see where the Dolphins fall out. You might then be able to show a bias towards certain teams, like the non-New York/New England based Cowboys. Of course, you would have to factor in things like media markets and other externals. New York is simply more interesting than San Diego. Once you have done all of this, you would need to factor in credible reasons as why the media prioritizes as it does. My list above regarding what, in my opinion, sells and what doesn’t is a start. A Denny Green style blowup is going to take more media time than Joe Philbin saying "we played as a team". I doubt that Philbin has any interesting fetishes that will make the media rounds. There also may be structural reasons. They may divide their coverage based on divisional play, so a team with the same media draw as Miami, but in a different division, may face less competition for media time. We are in a division with the Pats, who have rightfully earned the spotlight. We are in a division with the Jets, who are are in a larger market and have a personality at the reins. They have also both tended to finish ahead of us in divisional rankings the last five years.

Are you ready to be this obsessive? If you are planning to go to grad school and do a PhD on media bias in sports, then you might even get funding to do this work! Without it, however, any conclusions are all mere supposition based on anecdotal evidence. There is nothing wrong with supposition on its own, but I hope we are all self-aware enough to realize that this is an opinion that we can hear from fans of most teams. Even New England fans have been known to say that the media is against them, always trying to tear them down and creating the perception that they cheat, or that the referees favor them (another canard that requires critical analysis and proof).

What’s more, you may even be right in your supposition. It could be that Stephen Ross pissed off the NFL in some way, or pissed off major media magnates. It could be that years of Parcell’s style Jeff Ireland media silence put a bad taste in the mouths of media outlets, so reporters are less inclined to pass along good news. Additionally, the Phins may very well have a history of very poor PR and media relations in other ways, allowing news to leak that shouldn’t, or doing things like flying across the country to court Harbaugh (although this isn’t media bias as much as poor team PR). That being said, there isn’t much to go on that points to actual media bias.

Is there fan bias against the media?

If there is no solid evidence of media bias against Miami, is there evidence of fan bias against the media? I don’t believe I have evidence of specific Miami Dolphins fan bias against the media. I haven’t polled Dolphins fans. I haven’t run focus groups or taken surveys. In fact, I may be writing this post in response to what amounts to about 15 people I have seen over the years here at That being said, there is plenty of scholarship about biased readership. It is called the "Hostile Media Effect". The first studies were done following the first Lebanon War, where people with partisan leanings all assumed the same media outlets were biased against their side. There have been numerous studies, including sports readership, over the past thirty years. The range of "wrong" things people can say to make media seem "antagonistic" is simply much wider than the party line. In other words, if you are not with us, you are against us. For our purposes, this tendency for people to deem the media as hostile is an easy and plausible explanation for why we hear the constant trope of media-bias against Miami. It should, at the very least, make us pause the next time we sit and watch SC and fume that "all they want to do is kiss NE’s a$$".

Here is a suggestion for SB Nation: Run a blind poll on all Major Professional Team fan sites (take the big ones, NFL, MLB, NBA, and I guess NHL) and see what people think about the general attitude the media has towards their team. It probably won't be statistically significant for demonstrating HME, but I bet it will still be indicative of how broad this phenomenon is.

Are there any legitimate reasons the Media has not given Miami its due in the past?

This last section is assuming that the complaints about the media are, at least, factually correct: major media outlets give Miami less broadcast space relative to most other teams. Going with that, might media producers have legitimate reasons for making this choice that have nothing to do with a slant against Miami? The other day, in response to a FP Fanshot, I presented the following numbers. This is my own opinion, of course, but I think these numbers support the idea that Miami has not earned the (positive) media spotlight. Remember, the media wants stories it can sell. They have to make money.

I took the previous five years and looked at a few stats that I think are telling regarding the ability of the media to sell Miami as a fun, exciting, good and interesting team.

1) Prime Time W-L record: How have we done when the nation’s attention is on us during TNF, SNF and MNF since 2009?

3 wins and 10 losses - less then a 25% winning record. Two of those wins are from 2009, so the last four years have been worse (1 win, 9 losses). We have been blown out in front of a national audience four times. A fifth game was 16-0 shutout loss to the Bears. We have lost to crappy teams (like the 0 win bucs last season). In ‘10,’11 and ‘12, we did not win a single prime time game. (Please correct me if I am wrong, and missing any games). The only win in the last four years was against Andy Dalton...

Bottom line: what are people supposed to think if they see us at our worst so often? What story is a lazy… err… efficient media supposed to tell people if these are the games they watch?

2) Points: People like seeing high scores. It’s sexier. The Dolphins have basically been a bottom 3rd ppg the last four seasons. The "highlight" was in 2009, when we were a lofty 15th in the league. (I could nitpic further: even in 2009 most of those were short yardage rushing TDs if I recall correctly, so the least exciting of them all.)

  • 2013 – 26th in league 19.8
  • 2012 – 27th in the league with 18
  • 2011 – 20th in the league with 20.6 (technically not bottom 3rd, but one rank out of it)
  • 2010 – 30th in the league with 17.1
  • 2009 – 15th in the league with 22.5

Why should a team that can’t score be of interest to you if you are the media? Scoring big usually means big plays. It means more highlights. Even if you lose a lot, if you score a lot, you will probably get more attention.

3) Big defensive plays: Well, if the offense isn’t going to get you noticed, at least the defense might, right? We are usually ranked high as a defense, so that should help. Unfortunately, defensive stops don’t seem to make a lot of highlight reels (maybe 4th down stops at the end of the game - especially in wins, which is another strike against us). Big defensive plays, however, make highlights especially turnovers!

We have consistently been pretty much bottom 3rd team in defensive takeaways the last 5 seasons. Last year, we hit our high of 19th in the league. By contrast, the Pats are usually towards the top of the league in takeaways.

2013 – 19th
2012- 28th
2011 – 26th
2010 – 29th
2009 – 27th

The bright spot, however, has been sacks. 2009 was a great year for us for sacks, and we have hovered around the 10th ranked sack leader since then.

2013 – 11th
2012 – 7th
2011 – 10th
2010 – 10th
2009 – 3rd

Even still, we haven’t been dominant in sacks the last five season. If we were consistently top 5 in sacks, I bet that might earn a bit more coverage. Even if you say that we have done well enough with sacks to get at least some media distinction, that alone doesn’t make up for all the rest.

Many other people who similarly downplay media bias have already pointed out the obvious statistics. In the last decade, we have only 2 winning seasons, one playoff appearance which we lost. I would add that we have very few electrifying playmakers. Jason Taylor’s DPOY award was way back in 2006. Wake is awesome, but when how often has he lead the league, or the AFC in sacks? Leading the league in most pressures, or holding calls, just doesn’t cut it from a highlight reel perspective. How many Dolphin receivers or RBs over the last decade were regularly in the top 5, or even top 10 in TDs? How many players have been top of the league in Ints? How many players have been truly elite in the league, especially at exciting skill positions? Going back a few years, maybe at DE/OLB. Grimes is really good, maybe even elite, but there are too many other DBs in the mix with him. Brandon Marshall, but he never really panned out for us. Jake Long or Mike Pouncey? They aren’t making highlight reels. Do we have anyone who is an obvious choice to represent the NFL as the face of the league? Do we have anyone over the last five years who deserves to make the HoF apart from Jason Taylor, and that mostly for prior success?

It's true, I have not gone through the player of the week history from 2009-2013. That might be indicative of how exciting a team we really are. What's more, the counter argument against using that stat is that there is a chicken and egg effect. If you honestly believe there is media bias, then the fans that vote for the player of the week are less likely to know about our players, and they are less likely to be nominated in the first place. If, however, we are well represented, that would be interesting.

I have also not looked through the fantasy football stats over the last five seasons. I wonder, however, how many Miami Dolphins players were targets in FF drafts? How many have been towards the top in fantasy scoring? Maybe I am wrong about this, but I feel that the stats I gave above indicate that Miami players were probably not highly sought fantasy players.

What about personalities? JP and maybe Dansby were loudmouths who made some media ripples. Mike Wallace and Brandon Marshall? Fair enough, they will get some attention, although not always good. Our coaches have been dull. Rex Ryan is exciting. Perhaps he gets negative attention, but a circus with Rex Ryan is more exciting than mediocrity with Sparano. Keep in mind, a lot of sports media is People Magazine for dudes (and dudettes who are most interested in sports than celebrities). Sparano and Philbin just aren't going to draw people.

The only exceptions have been negative. The biggest example is obviously Incognito and Martin. Whatever actually happened, the country took the story. Barbara Walters talked about it. It had two hot button issues, bullying and race. It also had legal implications for the league with workplace harassment, making it different, ironically, from criminal concerns. Plus, rightly or wrongly, it is easy to decide that Incognito is a bad guy and hate him. It had all the elements of a good story, dysfunction, a villain, lawyers, bullies, strip joints, four letter words, racism, friendship gone wrong. Even if you think most of it isn't factual, that isn't the media's problem. Perhaps I am wrong about this, and we will never know, but I would be surprised if the media response would have been all that different had our OL drama happened on a different team. The story would have sold just as well, even in NE. If it happened on the Cowboys, I bet it would have been even worse, since they are "America's team".

The Dolphins WERE boring where it matters most

It isn’t that there haven’t been worse teams than the Miami Dolphins. It also isn’t that glossy plays are the end all be all of good football. And, I definitely do not think Fantasy Football matters to the team. But, I think few teams have been as routinely boring as the Phins from a (positive) media perspective. They are in a division competing with the Pats, who are perennial winners, have been to three straight AFCCGs, have a HoF QB, Gronk, a HoF coach, are regularly in the top in things like takeaways and ppg. Even the Jets have had more recent success than us, and they have a personality at HC and are in a bigger sports media market.

If there is any media bias against Miami, I think a large part of the reason is the fact that we have been boring. That isn’t really bias, it’s just smart business.

Personally, I don’t need a lot of media attention. But, I like excitement, and I love winning. Hopefully, this season and for years to come, we see a lot more of that out of the Phins.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Phinsider's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of The Phinsider writers or editors.