Navel-Gazing At A Bad Time

I’ve spent about two to three days trying to figure out how to articulate this properly without coming off as dismissive of the late Tim Russert of NBC News: looking at his resume and reading obits (and even writing some off info for a newscast) has been a fascinating look at his career, and despite personal quibbles about certain aspects of his work, he still appeared to give a shit about his job and cared to do the work, often appearing on TV six or seven days a week while serving as NBC’s Washington bureau chief.  There’s a ton that has to go into that, and I respect that. May you rest in peace, Mr. Russert.

But there is a such a thing is overkill, and I have the feeling that NBC crossed a line, starting with Tom Brokaw’s announcement of the news on Friday afternoon, both MSNBC and the NBC news programs that aired on the broadcast network (Nightly News and Dateline) were both completely dedicated to Russert, as if nothing else had happened during the day that ought to get in the way of mourning a respected journalist, colleague, and friend.

The problem is that there was, and still is something that supersedes Russert’s unfortunate passing — damn near an entire state is underwater.  Not that they haven’t been covering it before and didn’t cover it afterwards, but just look at the pictures from the Des Moines Register and tell me dedicating all your news programming to one man is the right editorial decision to make.

Maybe it’s because I went to college in Iowa, not too far from some of the really flooded areas (thankfully, the campus and everyone around it is only suffering from the storms and flooded basements), but NBC’s decision seems awfully short-sighted and myopic. There is a reason people express such dissatisfaction with the media on a regular basis, and I can’t help but believe that decisions like this are why people are turning their TVs off, claiming those of us in the industry are out of touch.

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Jason Whitlock Wants To Put Allen Iverson In A Burqa

I’ve read some dumb, lazy excuses for columns before, but I’m pretty damn sure this might take the cake. Jason Whitlock essentially says a factor in the increased ratings for the NBA playoffs is the lack of tattoos on the Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, and Celtics, at least compared to Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, et al. Never mind the fact that you really can’t prove this, it’s just ridiculously moronic.

The only accurate way to describe Garnett, Pierce, Duncan, Allen, Manu, Parker and even Kobe is “clean cut.” Yeah, there are a couple of tattoos in that group — Duncan has something on his back, Kobe still has his post-rape-allegation tat — but the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics have far less ink on average than your typical NBA franchise.

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony have more tats on their hands than the entire Spurs roster.

I know many of you probably think the number of tattoos doesn’t influence viewing habits. You’re wrong. Like everything else televised, appearances matter. There’s a reason you don’t see nude scenes in movies with fat people. Trust me, fat people have sex. It’s just no one wants to see it. Not even fat people.

Wait. So tattoos on athletes are as ugly and repulsive as fat people having sex on TV? Someone tell Sports Illustrated — their cover story is on a guy who’s got 26 tattoos all over his body. His name just happens to be Josh Hamilton, and he’s the dynamite CF for the Texas Rangers. Guess that’ll hurt magazine sales.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball. It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. You don’t want your kids to see it. You don’t want your kids to think they should decorate their neck, arms, hands, chest and legs in paint. You don’t want to waste time explaining to your kids that some millionaire athletes have so little genuine self-confidence that they find it necessary to cover themselves in tattoos as a way to mask their insecurities.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball because they are often very bad at it. They are pro hoops players, which means they are much better than the rest of us, but compared to some of their peers, they have flashes of total suck often when they play.  No one wants to watch West or Hughes jack up ill-advised shots everyone knows they’re not going to make.

It’s not because of the tattoos on their arms. It’s because of the bad plays they make more frequently than their peers.

It’s a television show. Pleasant smiles, non-threatening people sell products better than menacing, tattooed brutes.

If I was David Stern, I’d commission Nike and/or Under Armor to create a basketball jersey with long sleeves, all the way down to the wrists. I’d make Iverson wear a turtleneck jersey with sleeves. I’d cover the tats.

Jason Whitlock, our own one-man American Sporting Taliban.  Cover his legs too. Give Iverson, Anthony, West, and Hughes a burqa when they report next season. Make Chris Douglas-Roberts know he’s got to put one on when he signs his rookie deal. It’s the only way to not offend a constituency that we’re not sure exists!  Ayatollah Whitlock has decreed this fatwa, effective this 29th of May, in the year 2008.

Do you think Sports Illustrated would let its swimsuit models cover themselves in tattoos? Models are paid to look good. Athletes are no different from models. Everyone accepts that female basketball players — when possible — are pushed to showcase their feminine beauty.

Athletes are no different than models. Nice. Just because we accept it doesn’t mean it’s right, Jason. Also, SI has no problem with tattoos on athletes now — please see Josh Hamilton again.

It’s unfortunate that too many young athletes are too unenlightened to approach the game like a business. They resist almost all ideas that would put more money in their pockets. They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money.

Growing NBA ratings is what’s best for the players in the long term. Adopting a non-prison-ready appearance would help everyone in the league earn more money. But no one will talk about it.

Yeah, because no one wants to come off looking like an unenlightened, 19th century-living moron who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. And let’s not mistake the construction of this: They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money. It’s more than a little fascist sounding, isn’t it?  At the very least, it’s horrifically condescending to treat grown men like this. I know what’s best for you and will make you more money.

Whitlock is happy to judge a book by its cover and say that because someone else does it, the book has to be completely re-written.

Gee, I Wonder Why Players Don’t Open Up More

In the past week or so, I’ve noticed a few pieces lamenting the closed-off world that today’s athlete now inhabits; one complete with public relations people, agents, ertc.  Pat Jordan wrote about that downfall in Slate, the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy whined about it recently in a column, and now, ESPN’s Scott Burnside is getting testy about how Penguins owner Mario Lemieux isn’t making himself available for sidebar or halftime show pieces, even implying that Lemieux only is accessible to the press when he has something to promote or his ego to stroke.

Considering the way the press has changed in how it treats athletes over the years, I fully support every athlete’s attempt to control his or her own image as much as possible — and that even extends to Lemieux, who is now an owner, but is being sought out because of his situation as a former legend of the club he owns.  Shaughnessy and Jordan even admit as much.  Jordan writes:

In those days, there was no big disparity between the income of a writer and that of an athlete. Catfish was probably making about 20 G’s a year, and I was making 25 G’s a year from SI. That’s why Catfish was so accessible—those free dinners, and, maybe, when my story came out, some employee for Skoal or Red Man tobacco would call up Catfish and ask him to endorse their products for a sum of money almost equal to his salary.

This is crucial to me — because so many writers seem to have this sheen of resentment about covering athletes who make much more now than they will ever hope to see in their lives; it slants their views on whether a player is producing (notice how just about every player in a slump will come with a reminder of his contract in baseball, for example), and players don’t need that extra bit in a 24/7 sports news cycle that’s already designed to chew them up and spit them out.

Is it any wonder Andruw Jones, slumping fellow that he is and overpaid, was telling T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times that he didn’t care. Simers went up there and mocked him, and what did he expect? I certainly don’t expect journalists to fawn over their subjects (they don’t work for MLB), but given the way journalism as a whole has gone over the past couple of decades, with every bit of police blotter fare and public slip-up being there for scrutiny, every pro athlete better have a crack PR staff to vet interview requests. Due diligence requires it.

Everyone’s A Pundit, Even If They Shouldn’t Be

There’s a particularly annoying development I’ve noticed in the past few months or so when it comes to cable news. Unfortunately, I watch a LOT of it. It’s part and parcel of what I need to know for my day job, and usually, Headline News does the trick in an hour because they don’t dwell on a story for so long that they forget to mention anything else interesting that might be happening. One hour on Headline News and I’m set with the basics of what might be on my station’s video service when I get to work at 2:45 in the afternoon.

(SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Exposure to Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace is detrimental to your health when ingested via cathode ray or plasma on a regular basis. Avoid Headline News in the early afternoons or evenings.)

The fellow in the picture to your right is Mike Galanos. He hosts Prime News starting at 1 PM Pacific or so, and I wouldn’t really care about who he is or whatnot except for the fact that he seems to be the most aggressive example of something I despise: newsreaders/anchors making editorial and opinion judgments on air when they read the news.

Example: today, a Texas appeals court ruled that the state’s Child Welfare Services erred in taking children from their mothers during the raid on a polygamist compound about a month ago. Galanos starts ranting and raving, wondering how the court could do such a thing, when the actual story makes its decision perfectly clear: the department had no evidence that the children were in any immediate danger. This makes no difference to Galanos — he’s perfectly content to ramble to the local reporter, asking, “How could the judges do this to these children?” (In no way am I defending child marriage/statutory rape, for some reason I feel compelled to point this out.)

After hearing this display of Lou Dobbs-style indignation at judges possibly knowing the law better than he does, I looked up Galanos’ bio — he’s a former sports guy, no wonder he’s used to rushing to judgment no matter what actual findings might interrupt it.  It’s like every straight news anchor is now an opinionated asshole, and we simply must hear it. It’s crossed over from the anonymous line-up of women in the A.M. on MSNBC to those on CNN Original as well. I wouldn’t tolerate it from an anchor I worked with and I don’t know why producers at networks don’t put a lid on this.

You get paid to read the news, not let us know what you think of it. Shut up and read the prompter. Whether you think the judges are right or wrong is irrelevant — they’ve got law degrees, robes, and decades of experience — and I don’t tune in to watch a pundit opine. Read the damn headlines, please.

It Helps To Read A History Book Or Two

At least it does before you go on national cable TV, I’d think. Chris Matthews is a dick (despite my dislike for Hillary Clinton as a candidate, the sexist remarks he’s made about her are awful), but he lines up this radio guy Kevin James from KRLA fairly easily.

Look, if you’re going to defend references to appeasement and basically accusing presidential candidates of it, be sure you know how to define appeasement and what got British PM Neville Chamberlain that label. The Sudetenland! Know it, motherfucker! Wikipedia’s pretty easy to use, and in Chamberlain’s case, is pretty accurate.

(I’m trying to get some political stuff, music, and other non-sports stuff back on here occasionally. Bear with me.)

Upcoming S2N Experiment: Notes On The New Morning SportsCenter

Yes, this announcement is for something more than a few months away, but I figure it would make for an interesting exercise and blog post down the road, so I’m gonna put it out there now.

We’re all good and familiar with the recent announcement about Hannah Storm coming to Bristol to host a real live morning SportsCenter; Awful Announcing has the notes from yesterday that she will handle the middle three hours (9 AM – noon EST) of ESPN’s planned nine hour block of SC in the morning (which runs from 6 AM – 3 PM EST).

The whole new approach starts August 11th (the first Monday during the upcoming Summer Olympics), and if there’s one place where my real life experience comes into play and is useful, it’s critiquing a newscast — despite having little to no practical experience with a sports-based newscast, that’s what I’ll be doing in a few months here. Why? Honestly, I’d like to see what the approach is. ESPN has gotten burned numerous times by breaking news in the AM hours while SC repeats from the night before air, and even when they don’t, there are things that look kind of silly by running a repeat for nine hours. The anchors concluded today’s SC re-run by mentioning that Sen. Arlen Specter was going to speak on the Patriots-Walsh-taping deal “tomorrow” when Specter had held his presser two hours earlier.

I digress, though. What I’d like to see with the new SC is something that apes the approach of CNN and MSNBC in the morning: news coverage with extended analyst segments, maybe some ways to dig into topics more thoroughly, without the usual constraints. Nine hours buys you a lot of time to work with; a CNN Newsroom-style approach to sports would not be a bad way to start. I have my suspicions that this will lean more towards The Today Show in approach (and First Take has failed miserably at that), but I’ll be doing this production critique to see how the Four Letter differentiates this new live format.

Just a note: I’m not gonna do all nine hours. I do value my sanity somewhat.

ESPN Makes Huge Programming Change To Morning Broadcast [Awful Announcing]

Deja Vu All Over Again.

Again, I realize that griping about ESPN is damn near laughable at this point, and almost kind of silly. But while watching First Take and flipping back and forth between that and Headline News, I caught something that has annoyed me to no end with regard to the Four-Letter’s programming: they like re-running features. A LOT.

If you didn’t know that Jaguars QB David Garrard had 12 inches of his colon removed because of his Crohn’s disease, then I bet you know now, because Rachel Nichols’ soft-focus profile about it has now run on every conceivable ESPN news program — I’ve seen it on SportsCenter, NFL Live, First Take, and NFL Countdown — and it was first shown about two weeks ago, I think. I had the same complaint about the University of San Diego’s college hoops star Rob Jones — I saw his profile (based on the angle of his grandfather being the Reverend Jim Jones and such) at least four or five times on air on various shows, and there was at least three weeks between the first airing and the last use for a college basketball program. (That was still long before Sports Illustrated finally sent a writer and published a story.)

It’s innocuous enough in and of itself, and most news/sports orgs have such stories in the can at all times for use, but isn’t there a shelf life to running these things? I say after a week, it’s musty and old, and ought to be scrapped. I can take one consolation: if Garrard and the Jags beat the Patriots this weekend (not fucking likely), then Nichols or someone else will have to go shoot a new feature piece — at least I hope they have to.

Photo: AP/David J. Phillip