Steinbrenner Syndrome: The New York Sports Sickness

Fans are infected with Steinbrenner Syndrome, but are city athletes the ones truly at risk?

As he sees it, New York is has become “the center of the universe for headline and backpage porn. There is absolutely nothing that happens in the New York City media that is ever subtle.”

The resulting journalistic output can be kindly characterized as bipolar: Either hyperbolic plaudits or overexaggerated rage at what a failure of a human being one is.

In other words, explained Mr. Cuban, “when you are at the top of your game in the sports world, you get the love. When you are not, you can’t walk the streets without hearing about what a bum you are.” While athletes might not get literally heckled in the streets—since they are too busy being chaffered between bottle service outings—Mr. Cuban’s point stands: their constituency is far more inescapable here than elsewhere.

Besides, he argued, as opposed to the past—where bigger markets in larger cities meant more significant coverage—the proliferation of digital media and the speed with which it travels makes a players’ national (let alone international) star potential a far less regionally oriented concept than it’s traditionally been in the past.

“That’s not to take away anything from the Big Apple. It’s an amazing city for everyone and anyone,” he added, before finishing, “except maybe the 110 pro athletes that compete for their teams.”

That’s another thing: New York City’s sports fans have anywhere from four to seven professional sports teams to choose from, an enabling fact for Steinbrenner sufferers, who tend to lose interest as the wins dwindle.

Dr. Jay P. Granat, a sports psychotherapist who’s worked with professional athletes in the New York City area, argues that it depends on the player. He doesn’t dispute, though, that the psychological makeup of individual players factors into New York City’s draw more intensely than other places they might find work.

“They’re demanding here, there’s no question about that,” Dr. Granat said. “How much a player is dependent on fan approval has a lot to do with how well they function in this environment.”

In his experience, the majority of professional athletes’ decisions regarding where to play generally revolve more around numbers and simply having a job than the anthropological makeup of a locale. There are, however, exceptions, of which he cited Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony as an example: “He wanted to play here, and he made it public, no bones about it.” Granted, Melo’s from Brooklyn, so he may have built up a childhood immunity to the affliction.

But Jeremy Lin, a West Coaster, may not be. Already, he has seen a brief outbreak. After weeks of clean bills of health, Lin failed to deliver a win against the Miami Heat, widely considered the best team in basketball. “LINEPT!” screamed the back cover of the New York Post, the day after. Steinbrenner again.

The fact is, New York City is a fair-weather town. Lin has a one-year contract with the New York Knicks. If he continues to be a sensation, he’ll soon have plenty of options deciding where to play. But will Lin flee the hot zone, and find a home free of that malady of the spoiled sports fan?

fkamer@observer.com

[*The answer: Attempt to sign Carl Pavano again in 2011 for $10 M. Pavano learned his lesson, and declined the Yankees’ offer. ]