Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Time to rant about TV sportscasters again.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching college basketball tournaments on the boob tube lately, and as a result I’ve ground my teeth down almost to my bleeding gums at the inanity of various aspects of sportspeak.

Prime complaint 1: “Obviously.”

Again and again and again, sportscasters begin a remark with “obviously” and then proceed to blather on at length about some bit of strategy or shift in game momentum or impact from referees’ decisions.

“Obviously,” barks an ex-point guard with a five-dollar facelift and moussed hair, “Coach John Blutarsky needs to call time out here to diagram a play so his team can work the ball inside to its 7-foot, 4-inch center for the last shot of this one-point game. The opponent’s tallest player is 5-foot-3, so going to the big man makes sense in this situation.”

“Obviously,” oozes an oily-voiced dweeb who has been sniffing jocks ever since he was student manager of his junior high basketball team at Millard Fillmore Junior High, “the momentum of this game shifted when Northsouth State began knocking down those three-pointers. The Yankrebs have scored thirty-six straight, and the other team is beginning to look a bit demoralized.”

“Obviously,” rasps some 6-foot-4 lesbian with scarecrow hair and a letterwoman’s jacket from Gertrude Stein A&M, “the referee’s ruling that Lulu Dildo’s basket came after the final buzzer of this tie game means we are going to play overtime here tonight, which means this contest is not over, not by a long shot.”

The deal is, if something is obvious, YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME ABOUT IT! Shut the hell up and let the game unwind! Babbling about obvious stuff detracts from telecasts to the nth degree. I guess it’s a hangover from radio days, when most broadcasters feared the “dead air” of a moment’s silence might drive listeners away (whatever became of Wolfman Jack, anyhow?). With television, though, the audience can see what is going on, and anyone with half a brain can figure out that you go to the 7-footer for the crucial basket against a team of 5-footers. Choose your words, sportscasters, don’t just talk to hear yourself talk. If you have something insightful to say, spit it out. If you are going to say something obvious, stick an elbow in your mouth.

These talking heads on the basketball broadcasts could take a hint from good old Vin Scully, who has called Brooklyn/LA Dodgers games on radio and TV for more than fifty years. Vinny, as his fans know, is willing to let a bit of dramatic silence settle over the airwaves at a crucial moment, which tends to heighten the drama rather than undercut it as the relentless spewing of “obvious” verbiage does. Vin will even allow some silence at non-crucial moments, so the audience can pick up the sound of the crowd or the bat hitting the ball, which adds enjoyable ambiance.

In fact, listening to these airheads jabber makes me long for those days of my long-gone youth when I occasionally stumbled across announcerless telecasts of sporting events. I remember watching football games in California in the early 1950s that were shown without comment, the only sound being popping pads and crowd shouts. In Florida during the late 1950s I saw American Legion baseball games that involved a camera and mike behind home plate and no commentary. Those were the Frontier Days of television and contemporary media wizards doubtless see them as primitive beyond belief, but I would rather hear a basketball bounce and sneakers squeak than some halfwit gush “obviously” over and over. And don’t get me started on ESPN’s Dick Vitale, who (thank god) has not done tournament play-by-play so far, and his habit of SHOUTING obvious gibberish.

Prime Complaint 2: “Tough.”

Sportscasters seem to have decided the word “tough” is an all-purpose weapon with which to bludgeon basketball fans.

A shot sunk by a power forward with three opponents hanging from his arms, shoulders and neck is “tough,” as in admirable. A thirty-foot clanker launched by a shooting guard when his team is trying to stall out the final seconds of a game with a one-point lead is “tough,” as in stupid. A referee calling a foul on a center whose sideways glance at his defender caused the man to execute a backflip with a full twist and a half-gainer is “tough,” as in bad. A game against a team that figures to kick the crap out of you is “tough,” as in frightening. A cheerleader who falls from the top of a human pyramid and breaks her neck but waves to the crowd and sings the school fight song as she is carried from the gym is “tough,” as in brave. Bobby Knight’s coaching style is “tough,” as in brutal. The subfreezing weather outside the gym is “tough,” as in miserable.

So on and on. Tough, tough, tough. Get another word, word, word!

Complaint 3: This involves an isolated incident, so it doesn’t qualify as a Prime Complaint, but I just couldn’t let it go. I was watching a game the other night and the color man, one of those aging ex-jocks who must have made it through college (assuming he did) with a D-minus-minus GPA, said something to the effect of: “Obviously, it appeared Hooligan Tech might be in tough shape for tonight’s game as a result of All-American Baskerville Holmes being suspended for punching the other team’s Dancing Bear mascot during last week’s game, but with Tech leading by 43 points and only a minute left on the clock it appears Holmes’ absence amounts to a mute point.”

“Mute” point! “Mute” point! I can’t stand it!

But I suppose since the world seldom asks me to rule the world of sportscasting word choice and/or pronunciation, my feelings amount to a moot point.

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