The gang over at the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective have become some of my favorite writers, ever since I first found them and their brilliant analysis of what the box score from the movie Space Jam could look like.
I always find myself getting a little excited when I see something from them pop up on teh Twitterz, especially if it’s a new post. This morning was no exception. Today they dove deep into the world of Sportswriter analytics, a field that I’m sure it about to break into the mainstream and deliver cutting edge results. This entry, following up their attempt to algorithmically determine an author based on their favorite words, looks in to the readability of different writers using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test.
There wasn’t anything terribly surprising in the piece. In a comparison of the New York Times’ sections, Sports scored the lowest. As the author points out, “fields that people follow for fun and that rarely contribute tangibly to society” scored the lowest. Personally, I loved that he included politics in the “rarely contribute to society” category.
Also in the “rarely contribute to society” category is Skip Bayless, contributor for those cutting edge ESPN shows, First Take and 1st and 10. While reading about the readability I immediately thought of Skip and wondered where he fell on the spectrum.
The first thing I needed to do was get a good sample of his writing. Next was to test it. I quickly figured out that counting all the words and syllables was going to be a giant pain in the rump. Thankfully, Microsoft Word (who ever thought MS Word and thankfully would ever appear in the same sentence) has the ability to calculate the Flesch-Kincaid score. So I copied a sample of Bayless’ writing into Word and let it do it’s magic. It kicked back a result of 3.2
Any good researcher will tell you to be wary of sample size issues. Too few can have a detrimental impact on your results, leading you to wrong conclusions and a career in sport talk radio. A good friend of mine, and an esteemed mathematician, once told me “anything more than two is redundant”. I have lived by this advice ever since.
So, I grabbed a second sample of his writing and let MS Word do it’s thing. This time it returned a result of 4.0. After a little digging into the results, I am 86% certain that the increase in the score can be attributed to the messianic qualities of the word “Tebow”.
With this exhaustive analysis of Skip Bayless’ writings, we can conclusively say that he writes to 3rd graders (3.6 avg). Now I’ll be the first to admit that this is a significantly different outcome than I had predicted before starting this analysis.
Engaging in this analysis did get me thinking about what level some of my favorite sports writers write to. One of my favorite writers is Mark Kreidler, of ESPN.com fame. It was December of 1993 when I first came across his writing. Shortly after Bobby Hurley, rookie point guard for the Sacramento Kings, had his near fatal car accident Kreidler wrote a rather moving article detailing the events and the story to that point. It was one of the first times I ever read an article and stopped to take notice of who it was that had written it. From that point forward, I sought out and paid attention to his writing.
Running this type of analysis on Mark Kreidler shows that he writes to a 9.7 grade level. Examining the charts contained in the Harvard College Sports Analysis Collective’s blog, shows that he would have finished 2nd to Charlie Pierce of the Boston Globe and writes to a level greater than that of the New York Times Politics section.
The learned researchers at Harvard conclude their piece by saying the following, “That being said, the lowest reading-level result on any writing sample that I tested came from people I am certain are the dumbest writers on the internet. The folks who left comments at the end of Yahoo! Sports articles wrote at a 3.3 grade level.”
So at least Skip Bayless can write to a level greater than the commenters at the end of a typical Yahoo! Sports article.