It’s Saturday: football day. Michigan State is 7-0 for the first time since their national championship in 1966, which has me all kinds of giddy, and in and among taking care of my daughter today I’ve had a chance to catch some of the games. Some of the watching is gripping and spectacular, and some of it is making my ears bleed. Some time ago, I was motivated enough to establish some rules for my Facebook news feed; today, I present for your consideration ten new rules for sports broadcasting. I welcome any comments and/or proposed modifications.
1. Stop making up words.
Where is sportsspeak coming from? I thought all these guys majored in Communications so they could stay academically eligible. When I hear someone report that someone successfully “defensed” the offense, it makes me want to put pads on myself and open up some whoopass. Please don’t gush about a player’s “resiliency.” When you rape and pillage the English language by noting the “finessity” of that attack on the soccer pitch, I have to restrain homicidal impulses. If I want to listen to sports commentary that makes absolutely no sense to me, I’ll tune into Univision. The camera work is better.
2. Stop with the “generic athlete speech.”
You know what I’m talking about. In locker room interviews, the template is almost exactly the same whether a guy won or lost. You can only tell the difference in the outcome based on the hangdog expression versus popping champagne bottles in the background. “We prepared all week for this game/match, went out there and fought hard for 48/60/90 minutes. We did/didn’t execute our game plan. We did/didn’t let them dictate the pace of the game/match. We’re going to go back and look at film. We’re going to come back tomorrow/next week/next season and show everyone what we’re capable of doing. I think with some adjustments to our game plan, we can drive faster/score more runs/score more points/score more goals, and defense them better. And then we’ll win.” For fun, when I hear someone spewing this kind of nonsense, I like to pretend that they’re describing a different sport entirely. More than half the time, it works.
3. Stop expecting eye candy to be anything but that to the players.
It’s shocking, just shocking, when a former Playboy playmate walks into a locker room and gets sexually harassed. Second only (possibly) to rock stars, football and basketball players are very aware that they just got done kicking ass. The networks hire Erin Andrews and Jenn Sterger for T&A on the sidelines, then send them into the lion’s den to interview post-performance athletes. If we the viewers go for the lotion just watching them on the sidelines on television, what do you seriously expect when some guy with testosterone rushing in his ears has a question posed to him over a pair of boobs thrust in his face? For the record, I am NOT endorsing chauvanism. I’m saying that this just isn’t a good idea, because I’m not the guy standing there and I know who some of them are. I’m not shocked that Brett Favre sent a picture of his johnson to Ms. Sterger. Also for the record, I’d like just once to hear a male journalist complain about how the women’s locker room didn’t give him the respect he deserved. Oh, they’re not allowed in women’s locker rooms? Hmm.
4. Stop going nuts when celebrities root for teams, too.
A year or two ago, Jessica Simpson was making some public appearance while dating the Cowboys’ dufus-under-center, Tony Romo. She got a little carried away in advance of that weekend’s joust against the Eagles and told everyone, “We’re going to kick their asses.” Sports Nation immediately was ablaze with indignation — she’s just the girlfriend, who is she to claim that somehow she’s involved in this effort? What’s the difference between Jessica’s enthusiasm and what you hear every Sunday, belched out by fat, sloppy piles of flesh who are so drunk they can barely drag the next bratwurst as far as their mouth and need a bye week to sleep it off? Well, she’s rich. And talented. And hot. And actually hangs out with the team. Celebrities tell us who to vote for and what social choices to make and think that their luck should inspire us to bullemia/dedication (not totally sure what they’re always going for …). It shouldn’t be any surprise when they have a favorite sports team, and it’s one of the rare occasions when I think we ought to cut these other pampered babies a break.
5. Stop interviewing when there isn’t a point.
I know that devotees of any given sport will claim that there is an art or a science to what the athletes do. I can largely accept that. But from a viewer’s perspective, there are some performances that basically speak for themselves. Golf, for example — when Tiger gets back to the clubhouse and says he was hitting his putts today, that’s something we know from watching the round. Olympic diving is pretty impressive (I certainly couldn’t do it), but a full breakdown after a dive is unnecessary for something that took .8 seconds. “You know, I jumped really high off the platform, then I twisted a couple of times. Then I fell in the pool.” You’re basically asking the athlete for their feelings about what happened, and that just isn’t necessary – if they won, they feel good. If they lost, you get that hangdog expression. UNLESS it’s a spectacular implosion, like Greg Louganis right after he ricocheted off the edge of the platform. In that case, I want to hear what they have to say.
6. Stop exaggerating just to whip up the viewers.
If I had a dollar for every player who is “the best in the NFL/NBA” at his position, I’d own a franchise by now. Why can’t players just be really good? I promise, I’ll still tune in if you don’t tell me that _______ is absolutely the best strong safety ever, especially when you’re making excuses for why he flat-out missed that tackle just now. Overheard during the Michigan game today: “You get one of those ‘mighty mites’ out there and he can literally fly.” Really? He can actually fly? I assume he’s not just floating over the line of scrimmage because it would be an illegal forward pass or something, right? How about, “He’s really fast.” Because memo to broadcasters: “literally” means that you are not just employing a figure of speech. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say, “Figuratively, this guy can really fly.”
7. Stop coming down on the athletes who actually say something.
It’s a great game that sports journalists play. They stick microphones in athletes’ faces and ask loaded questions, just waiting for the instance where the interviewee says something remotely controversial. So-and-so lost the game for us, or someone’s sick of the offense not pulling their weight, or so-and-so could have had more impact if they’d just give him the ball more. The news cycle is then consumed with the guy “who put himself before his team” or “is a poison in the locker room.” But see the several above New Rules — if the interviews have to happen, I’m sick of hearing absolutely nothing in them of interest. If you’re going to ask people to really speak their minds, then appreciate it when they actually illustrate what’s going on behind the scenes. When Warren Sapp or Tiki Barber or Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco come out and express real opinions, that’s good for the game. I suppose I have to exempt coaches from this rule, because I’m sure guys breaking ranks to rant keep them up nights.
8. Stop filling time with the obvious.
Apparently, I can’t get away from John Madden, the master of statements like, “Well, you know, the team that scores more points is going to walk away from this thing the victor,” and “You know, when he throws it and (BOOM!) the receiver drops it like that, it’s not going to move the flags.” I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to buy tickets for the remedial seats. The more you talk over the game with this crap, the more stupid I feel. Because I knew that. I understand broadcasting 60 minutes of football or hockey, or 48 minutes of basketball, or 90 minutes of soccer is a lot of time to fill. But maybe, Mr. Color Commentary Man, our relationship needs to progress to the point where we can have some comfortable silence. If you condescend to me all the time, I’m going to start thinking you don’t respect me.
9. Stop ignoring when your prognostications are flat wrong.
I love the pre-game shows. Which is to say, I hate the pre-game shows. A couple of has-beens sit around for half an hour or an hour, talking about the “keys to victory” and who this week’s belles of the ball are. They stoically predict who the winners will be and throw out a statistic or two in support, and there’s the inevitable talk about who is the greatest who ever played (amazingly, that guy is almost always about to take the field). Then the game/match/race starts, and they turn out to be flat wrong. But the guys calling the game are different than the guys who promised a certain outcome, so it’s out of sight, out of mind. Television execs have successfully extended a three hour game into four hours of network coverage,and no one is accountable for not knowing what they’re talking about. The next week, the curtains open on the same idiots who have no idea whether they’re right, and they do it all again. I’ve seen NFL “experts” play pick ’em throughout a season and pick fewer than half the games right — these jackasses would be behind the curve for weathermen. Just once, I’d like to see one of these experts completely called out. Or better yet, come out on a show and say, “Wow, I’ve really been getting it wrong so far this season.” Blame it on the ups and downs of chance if you like, but man up.
10. Stop saying it’s all about the money.
At first blush, this clearly sounds naive. But there’s a fiction in sports that we have to maintain if we’re going to continue to be fanatics for ______ team. We have to believe that people are trying to win because they want that trophy so damned much, not because they get a bonus for making the playoffs. So-and-so pushed for those extra couple yards because he’s tough, not because they get a performance bonus for making 1,000 rushing yards this season. It’s hard enough with players sitting out of camp over contractual disputes and the coaching carousel where team leaders are out because they lost the first three games of the season or they failed to make a bowl game with a talented team. I’d appreciate it if we could minimize the importance of cash in the game so I can just enjoy it.
Look, sports is something we watch . We need to be able to believe that it isn’t all about money, that these players really care whether they win or lose, and that the motivation for that is because their fans care so much. We also need illusions like the sexy women we see on the soccer pitch or tennis court, pouting at us from the pages of calendars, actually spend most of their time away from the sport curing cancer, pondering astrophysics or averting the next home mortgage crisis. We want to believe that the people we’re rooting for are like us, just turbo-talented, caring about the game and about their teammates. We’d like to believe that the experts who are paid to comment on athletic tilts know what they’re talking about.
It seems to me that the best way to continue to respect sports would be if everyone actually involved would shut the hell up and let us watch the game.