Sports Media And (Incredibly Mild) Critique Is Making Me So Low

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Related Post Roulette

25 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    Five years ago, Hope Solo was notorious for publicly criticizing Briana Scurry ‘s play (Scurry was a fellow goalie, given a start in Solo’s place, resulting in a 4-0 loss). Solo said:

    There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. And the fact of the matter is, it’s not 2004 anymore. … It’s 2007, and I think you have to live in the present.

    So you can add to your list:

    9. Solo’s a hypocrite.

    10. She has a chip on her shoulder about the 2004 team that shows no sign of diminishing with age.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I’ll actually defend Solo’s reaction here. She criticized her coach more than her teammate, but her coach deserved it after subbing Solo out (after she’d helped the team reach the final) for Scurry (who came into the final cold and gave up 4 goals).Report

  2. Kazzy says:

    Aside from her play (which I can’t really comment on as I haven’t really watched women’s soccer), Solo seems to have made a name for herself with her brash and abrasive demeanor. This episode seems to fit very much within that pattern and narrative.

    That being said, I disagree with your take on American sports media. While there are certainly those who fawn over athletes/teams/sports regardless of what is actually happening (especially with local and regional broadcasting teams), there is also a cottage industry around tearing everything down just for the sake of doing so. Look no further than Skip Bayless, who hasn’t said a nice word about LeBron James (who I know you take issue with, but even you can muster the strength to recognize his abilities) in god knows how long. Look at Joe Buck, who seems to revel in a form of schadenfraude that has led me to mute the TV at times. Look at Tim McCarver, who hasn’t met a catcher he’s approved of since Yogi hung up his shin guards. Athletes, teams, commissioners, and the games themselves are regularly eviscerated on sports radio, national shows like PTI, and in the print media. It would not surprise me to learn that most athletes know little about what is happening in this various media outlets, as they are generally aimed more at fans than the players themselves, but I struggle to see a sports environment that is absent criticism. My personal issue with sports “journalism” nowadays is the rampant hyperbole… every dunk is the single greatest play ever… every strikeout is the most crushing letdown ever imagined for a hitter. Etc.

    I think this is more Hope being Hope, consciously or subconsciously taking the brash, take-no-shit-from-anyone persona she’s crafted to its logical conclusion.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

      I’d like to quibble here, albeit respectfully of your point:

      1. I don’t think that I ignored the Baylesss or Bucks or McCarvers of the world. I mentioned commentators who only serve to criticize those who stray from the party line, and each of those guys do precisely that. Bayless and Buck are both especially bad, whereas McCarver is (and I think this is the scientific term for it) an utter dumbass. In each case, they believe themselves to be the defender of the game against the scourge of some modern players, and each criticize. Meanwhile, fans and sports talk radio hosts and bloggers certainly do melt down, but I think thats actually productive, in that it allows for a more accurate description of what has happened, something you rarely get from two-person announce teams or other team apparatchiks.

      2. What I guess I didn’t make clear is that when foreign commentators critique, they aren’t going in for the utter bombast of those three. They make the critique and move on. Those three guys routinely require smelling salts to survive whatever situation it is that they’re angry about now. In other words, I don’t think somebody like Ian Darke (a British commentator who works for ESPN) is doing the same kind of critique as a horrible human being like Bayless.

      3. I certainly agree with you that the bombast about “THIS THING THAT JUST HAPPENED TRUMPS ALL OTHER THINGS THAT EVER HAPPENED!!!” is infuriatingly dense.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Great points. And I agree that criticism can indeed be productive. So long as it is not from the mouths of Bayless, Bucker, McCarver, or their ilk.

        The thing with McCarver is that he does, or at least one did, possess a great knowledge of the inner workings of baseball. I remember liking him quite a bit back when he was the local guy for the Mets (though this may have been impacted by the fact that I was a wee lad back then). As a former catcher himself, he had a wealth of knowledge of the inner workings of baseball. And I actually had a great deal of respect for how he defended himself from criticisms from players, who thought he ought to be less critical of them since he was a former player himself. If I remember correctly, he said that he had a new role as a broadcaster and that his responsibility was to the fans to give his honest take on the game; he was not there to do favors for the players. I thought that was a refreshing bit of honesty and evidence that he took his job seriously. Somewhere along the lines, though, he went completely off the rails and devolved into utter asshattery. And he seems to have reached a point where he’s doubled-down on the stupidity, much as Joe Morgan did towards the end of his broadcast career. In the face of mounting evidence that he might be wrong, he simply insisted everyone else was wronger than they ever had been. Or something.

        I haven’t heard much foreign commentating outside of this summer’s EuroCup, which I loved (and not just because that one guy would call everything “cheeky” without a bit of sarcasm or irony). If it is as you say it is, American commentators could learn a lot, as the criticism they do offer (and you’re right that in-game criticism is limited) tends to be seen as a referendum on the player in question, as opposed to a simple observation.Report

  3. Johanna says:

    I think that Solo is still ticked off about Chastain commenting about Solo’s carelessness in accidentally taking a prohibited drug and testing positive for it which could have resulted in her not playing. This is less about the media as a whole and more about Hope having an issue with Chastain.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Johanna says:

      If Solo remains angry about that particular criticism, then she’s doubly ridiculous, because at this point, Olympic athletes ought to know to check everything they take, given the stringent testing policies that govern Olympic competition.Report

  4. superdestroyer says:

    The two youngest winners of Pulitzer prizes for journalism both won for reporting on college football. What is ironic is that neither were sports reporters but were crime and news reporters.

    It was not sports reporters that broke the story about Penn State. It was the crime reporter, Sara Ganim, at the Harrisburg Patriot News that broke the story. Even after the story broke most reporters in the sports media remained cheerleaders for Penn State and Joe Paterno.Report

  5. BlaiseP says:

    My brother, a great fan of soccer, simply turns off the sound. The commentators have nothing of substance to add, he observes. That, and he doesn’t understand the Spanish commentators.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to BlaiseP says:

      As a fencer, this year’s coverage is interesting. There will be a total of just over five hours of television coverage for the sport, almost all of it on MSNBC (45 minutes on NBCSN, whatever that is). The only events covered on TV are individual women’s foil and individual women’s sabre. No epee events (the one true weapon), no men’s events, no team events.

      OTOH, everything is available on streaming. If there’s 20 minutes of dead time between the last semi and the beginning of the third-place bout, it’s there. No announcer, ever. No color commentator, ever. Audio consists of the director’s microphone and an open-air mic somewhere that gets the ambient noise in the venue (including the PA announcer). Multiple camera operators on each strip and a director who clearly knows something about the sport, since there’s a slow-motion replay from the appropriate angle following each touch.

      Don’t know what they’re using for streaming technology, but damned is it demanding of the local processor. Even 360p in a window requires about a processor-and-a-half on my dual-core Mac, and the video gets twitchy if I’m doing much of anything else.Report

      • Oops. The first use of “director” in my comment is the bout director, the official in charge of the action. The second use is the TV director, the person deciding what camera shot to use.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:

        NBCSN is the NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus. FYI.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

          Thanks. Not that it makes any difference to me, as I’m not interested in the event on NBCSN (round of 32 individual women’s saber). Someone ought to write something at the top level about how/why the network chooses events to put on its obscure cable affiliates. Why, for example, individual women’s saber? I live in a relative hotbed of fencing here in in the Denver/Colorado Springs area, and participation in the sport is dominated by men, by epee, and then by foil (at least based on who signs up for local tournaments). Does NBC have reason to believe that some millions (or even thousands) of people have an urge to see women’s saber? Are they going by the fact that Mariel Zagunis, who won gold in women’s saber in 2004 and 2008, was selected by the other athletes to carry the US flag this year? Random chance?Report

  6. Steve S. says:

    9. If you are paying attention to what the announcers/writers/fans are saying you are not paying full attention to your job. This is a big rule in the big money sports. For instance, the NFL sends its rookies to a symposium where they learn, amongst other things, media relations. It’s why 99% of player quotes are meaningless mush. Perhaps Hope Solo could use a seminar like that.

    On the other hand, maybe this is a sign of women’s sports coming of age. Do we have a self-absorbed, it’s-all-about-me, jerk of a high-profile female athlete on our hands? Is Hope Solo the female Barry Bonds?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Steve S. says:

      After the disgusting turn of events in 2007 with Greg Ryan and his complete mismanagement of the US women’s world cup team, yeah, I think Hope Solo is entitled to her opinions. When a big ass can keep up with a big mouth, we call these people winners. Ty Cobb was probably the meanest man in the history of baseball, a self-described sadist and he still holds the highest career batting average.Report

      • Steve S. in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Obviously everyone is entitled to an opinion, the question is whether it’s a good idea to take what appears to be a personal squabble to the internet when you’re in the middle of one of the most important athletic events of your life. It also might not be a good idea to burn every bridge behind you.Report

  7. James Hanley says:

    I have to agree with the Sam on the general tone of the commentators. Watching the U.S women’s archery semi-final against China, the announcers couldn’t stop talking about how great the U.S. team really was (as they were losing), and how if they started hitting they’d really start pulling away from China (as China continued to makes 9s and 10s, tying or topping the U.S. in each round). The U.S. wasn’t bad, and it was a close match. But to say your team is about to start pulling away when the other team is playing damn near perfectly….well, they never gave the Chinese archers the respect they deserved, and it was really irritating.Report

  8. Katherine says:

    1. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with sports media. It is often expected to be nothing more than a public mouthpiece for the sports industry itself. Genuine critics are few and far between and where they do exist, it is often only to criticize anybody who strays from the industry’s party-line. This becomes doubly bad in international events, as expectations suddenly emerge that American announcers will not criticize American players, even if those players are performing poorly

    2. This though seems to be an issue native to America. For a glaring example of this, watch football as announced by British commentators as compared to soccer announced by American commentators. British commentators have no problem excoriating poor play, and do so regularly, and at no point during the experience do you find yourself thinking, “This is horrible! Why doesn’t he praise those guys more?” especially if the critique comes after a particularly bone-headed play.

    You’re right on Point 2. One of the things I find most notable at the Olympics is how thoroughly the commentators critique even the smallest errors by top sports performers. In Vancouver the Canadian media (along with – to be fair – the rest of Canada) went into panic mode first about our lack of gold medals during the first few days, and then about the apparent collapse of our men’s hockey team. We ended the Olympics with more gold medals than any nation and the men’s hockey gold, so in retrospect they could have been a little less hard on our athletes.

    The other main negative tendency of Canadian Olympics commentary – which persists, although perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree this year – is to overinflate expectations by talking up Canadian athletes as medal contenders even when they’re not, and talking up athletes who might contend for bronze or silver on a good day as contenders for gold, thus ensuring viewers will be diasppointed.

    As for Solo, I attributed the outburst to nothing more than the idea that sports teams tend to be tight and she got upset over someone criticizing her friend.Report

  9. Michael Drew says:

    I don’t mind an uncritical approach so much. What I HATE is being told that I have to recognize various players’ greatness up to some particular level of accolade (Best of His Era! “Up There With” The Best of ALL TIME!) or else I’m effectively viewing the game with some form of bad faith. That bugs me. Just call what you see in the game. I actually don’t care much for announcers criticism or prasie, since, unless they happen to be true past greats of the game they’re calling (as the color analyst), I put basically zero stock in it.

    I will say that I think generalizing from international-style play, especially the Olympics where most sports have not much dedicated following and there’s a need to simply capture people’s interest and not as much to analyze the finer points of competition, to general sports announcing culture doesn’t quite work. Do we know how harshly Serbian TV announcers treat the Serbian National Volleyball Team? I’m guessing not. I assume that, apart from the Olympic variant of the major sports (basketball, soccer, tennis), most announcers function largely as cheerleaders for their country’s various competitors and teams. I don’t have that much of a problem with that.

    I do think that you are correct that U.S. announcers are generally less critical even of the performance of major U.S. sports teams than are the British announcers of either eg. Premier League football, or of England in international play. But my suspicion is that this may be partly a phenomenon of football itself, and certainly of British football spectating culture. American sporting culture just doesn’t cultivate that certain connoisseurship attitude toward its games as does British. People are opinionated, but in my experience they don’t maintain quite the same pose of highly-developed sophistication, to the point of almost being a matter of taste, about the play they witness in the games they watch. (Note: this is *not* to say that Americans know any less about their games than do Britons about theirs).

    My theory is that this relates somewhat to the centrality of one sport in particular in British (and world) sports culture, and to the longer history of that sport than of most major American sports. This contrasts with the U.S. in that here, while of late American football has come to dominate TV and social sports culture, historically, and even now, in terms of the kind of unrivaled primacy that soccer (sic) enjoys in Britain, no one sport maintains that kind of place in the U.S. I think this inhibits the widespread development of the kind of preening connoisseurship about any one of our sports that is rampant in Britain. The result is that people don’t end up liking to hear or thinking it’s natural for announcers to affect that kind of attitude toward the play on broadcasts. Those who do (or think they do) have highly developed appreciation for good play in their chosen sport hear this as anodyne rah-rah-ish sportscalling (and indeed, that it what it is), but most of the broader, less-initiated audience, I think, would prefer to have just a basic description and some insider-ish insight from a past player. (Or at least that’s my just-so story justifying why we have what we have and how it compares to sports broadcasting in a very different sports culture).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Michael Drew says:

      “What I HATE is being told that I have to recognize various players’ greatness up to some particular level of accolade (Best of His Era! “Up There With” The Best of ALL TIME!) or else I’m effectively viewing the game with some form of bad faith. That bugs me. Just call what you see in the game.”

      I wonder if this is borne out of the announcers own sense of self-importance. They don’t want to be Joe Blow who called Tuesday night’s ball game. They want to be the HOF Announcer Who Called The Greatest Game Ever Played! By emphasizing the importance and supposed greater context of whatever is going on, they emphasize their own importance. A hit isn’t just a hit… it is potentially a game-deciding hit, which in turn can make the difference between a team making or missing the playoffs, therefore, it might as well be a walk-off hit in Game 7 of the World Series… played against aliens for control of the moon. Etc. AND THEY WERE THERE TO CALL IT!Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Kazzy says:

        Actually, I have no problem with the (over)hyping of individual plays or moments in games within the game context. That what these people are there to do. It’s being informed about the judgement I must make regard the level of greatness of particular players by people whose connection between myself, themselves, and the figures in question lasts for only that day, while the judgements they’re informing me I must make exist depend on comparisons that can only to be made over years of observation. Anyone interested in making/discussing those judgments deserves the benefit of that doubt that theirs are presumptively the equal of some dude with a broadcasting degree from Podunk State.Report

  10. scott says:

    I agree with the post’s point about the British approach to commentating, which I find refreshing after years of listening to American announcers serve as PR flacks for whatever athletes they were covering. Last year, during a Champions League soccer game, I heard Gary Neville describe David Luiz’s craptastic defending for Chelsea (in that game anyway) pretty colorfully, something like Luiz was being manipulated by some kid playing a soccer game on PlayStation. He got some criticism for it, but the candor really made him popular in his first year of commenting on the game and earned him a lot of respect. Cheerleading isn’t an institution in soccer like it is American football, and expecting Chastain to pick up the pom poms and shut up with the criticism is pretty boneheaded.Report

  11. Pinky says:

    I’m surprised that no one commented about the utter contemptibility of hitting the mute button in order to avoid hearing something you don’t agree with.Report

  12. BrosefStalin says:

    I just wanted to say that Americans, no matter how knowledgeable you think you may be, should ever commentate on football ever again. It ain’t yr sport and you should give up at it.Report