Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kicking and Screaming

Matt Bryant kicks field goals for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s very rare that a kicker be in the limelight unless he either makes, or more often when he misses a game winning field goal. This week was a little different though. Matt Bryant’s infant son just didn’t wake up on Wednesday morning. He and his family had to bury their son on Saturday and then on Sunday, Matt Bryant suited up and played in Tampa Bay’s gave versus the Green Bay Packers.

He’s not the first and he won’t be the last person in the history of the world who uses their job to find a little peace in a difficult time. He’s not the first or last person to use sports, in particular, to help him through a tragedy. I could write for hours about those subjects and about the amazing job Bryant did, contributing 3 field goals to the Bucs win, or the emotional post game press conference he gave.

It’s truly an inspiring and emotional story and it’s more than gotten it’s due, so I’ll move right along and poking fun. Oh no! Don’t worry, it’s not Bryant or his team or family that I have in my sights, it’s the sports announcers.

During the course of a season, it’s easy to forget that commentators, pre and post game show hosts and ESPN talking heads are, in many cases, former athletes themselves. The networks all learned long ago that the way to hide the fact that these men have absolutely no training in their field is to use an extremely easygoing and informal format. The idea is to make it seem like a group of guys—the kind of group you may find on any couch, watching any game, but made up of famous former players, has fun busting each other’s chops, talking about the games and lending their insight whenever they might have some.

This is all fine and well when the subject is just football. After all, these former players do have an insight that most people will never get on the game and the frat house format is one that seems to be a natural fit for the tailgate crowd. The problem comes in when sports, as they often do, become larger than just a game as it did this past Sunday. The complete inadequacy of these men as commentators on the subject of anything but football becomes all too apparent when something like this happens.

My problem is with whomever it is that’s running the asylum. There’s always at least one trained professional in the mix, a broadcast journalist. For every ex-jock color commentator, there is a trained play by play guy. For every set of grunting Neanderthal retired players and coaches on the pre-game set, there’s a professional there to help keep the focus. So, when tragedy strikes, when a game becomes more than a game, when life rears it’s ugly head and invades the sanctity of sport, why not make it a rule that only the guy with the proper training as some kind of journalist get to do the reporting?

As I watched the game, I wanted to strangle the announcers every time poor Matt Bryant came onto the field. Being a former athlete may give a man the right to tell us what an athlete might be thinking in a purely sports related moment. But unless you’ve woken up one morning to find your child, dead it his crib, don’t assume that you might possibly know what’s going through his head.

And back on set, this isn’t something that everyone has to chime in on. We don’t need analysis from the former players and coaches on the subject. We don’t need to hear a roundtable debate on the subject. We don’t need commentary. We need the somber facts, given to us by a professional broadcaster and a shot of the apes nodding their heads respectfully before one among them says, “On behalf of myself and all of my colleagues, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Bryant family.”

The end.

To steal a phrase from our presidential candidates, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still just a pig. No offense to the pigs on set—it’s great that you found a career after your playing days, but really, stick to oinking about the game.

Next week, you can be certain that one of these former jocks will have an “exclusive interview” with Matt Bryant. One of these guys who rarely goes a week, by the way, without making fun of kickers and reminding us all that they aren’t really athletes like the rest of them—one of them will sit down with Matt Bryant and conduct the interview. Invariably, there will be at least one really awkward moment in that interview when the jock says something that makes you squirm a little bit.

When it happens, don’t say I didn’t tell you so. And remember that the reason they didn’t send the trained broadcast journalist to do the job that the former pro athlete is doing is—you. You’re much more likely to tune in to watch the interview if they attach the name of a big time former jock to it. Screw being sensitive to the grieving father. This isn’t about the story. It’s about the ratings.

Tune in. Tragedy is cool.


Khristina said...

I never truly experienced death before until this year. I can't even imagine going to work and doing what he did. Well, I suppose I can. Obviously, football is a comfort to him. Wow though, his family is definitely in my prayers.

Beverly said...

Thanks for the nod to my friendly neighbourhood kicker - and the media analysis. You make a point I completely agree with.

PenguinsWalkAmoungUs said...

I'm sure he's wishing his grief could be private, too.

Anonymous said...

The reason is me? WTF man, I don't even watch stupid ball games!! :P