A Brief Lesson in Critical Thinking and Headline Journalism

Tuesday July 27, 2010 4:31 PM

A Brief Lesson in Critical Thinking and Headline Journalism

Thoughts on Yao Ming's recovery and what the future holds

Jason Friedman

HOUSTON - Well that was predictable.

Mere minutes after a syndicated report was released saying Yao Ming might retire following next season if his injured foot doesn’t fully heal, sports radio and the Internet went all aflutter, ardently discussing what this “news” means for the future of both the 7-time All-Star and the Houston Rockets. There was panic. Doom and gloom. And more than a few I-told-you-sos.

To all of which I simply say: Take a deep breath. Relax. Then just apply a modicum of reason to the subject.

Since I wasn’t sitting in on the interview and my Mandarin is non-existent, I won’t pretend to know how the questioning went, what Yao’s tone of voice was or what was said immediately before or after his answer. All I have to go on is the quote around which this entire story seems to be based:

"If the foot injury does not heal next season, I might choose to call it quits."

In related news, if I dislocate my troublesome left pinky just one more freaking time, I’m contemplating eschewing all future attempts at pinky swears.

You see where I’m going with this? How exactly is Yao’s statement newsworthy? He didn’t say he’s contemplating retirement now. He didn’t even say that he’s definitely hanging up his jersey if he gets injured again this season. He simply said that, if he does experience further foot problems, he’d think about calling it quits which, by the way, any thoughtful, contemplative athlete approaching his 30s with a much-discussed injury history would do.

Look, I get it. This is Yao Ming we’re talking about here. When he sneezes and a billion people don’t immediately respond all at once with a resounding chorus of “Gesundheit,” it’s big news. And this just in: all media, including the one you’re reading right now, are desirous of sales and page views aplenty. Got something even remotely newsworthy regarding one of the planet’s most noteworthy athletes? By all means, put it front and center! And if you can tweak the message in such a way to make it stand out just a little bit more, so much the better.

Just so I’m clear, this isn’t a debate about good versus evil. Newspapers, magazines and websites all have a job to do. But here’s the thing: so do we, the reader: it’s our responsibility to filter everything we read – yes, that includes this column, too – through the part of our brain responsible for critical thinking.

You know all those English teachers and professors you hated because they asked you to divine the meaning behind the works of Dante and Shakespeare? Yep, turns out their lessons had a purpose after all. And once we apply our minds to the entirety of this story, here’s what we’re left with: Yao Ming’s recovery from last year’s foot injury is still right on track, with the goal to be ready for the start of training camp still the target. A cautious approach will continue to be taken. Yao is excited about getting back on the court and playing with a team he believes can be special. And should he be plagued by injury once more, he’ll have to give serious consideration to his pro basketball future.Bear in mind, this is not the first time Yao has expressed such a self aware sentiment; he's said many times that he wants to be able to play, pain-free, with his children when he's older.

In other words: the Yao Ming story is the same today as it was yesterday and the proceeding days before that. It’s as simple, and complex, as ever. Just like Shakespeare.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.

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