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The London 2012 Medal Ceremony for…TV Announcing

15 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we thank the London Olympics for quite ably helping to fill the annual “Dog Days” sports abyss.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media during the Olympics.  I didn’t want to see any spoilers, and even more frankly, I didn’t want my experience of the Games ruined by the constant NBC-bashing that went on.  It wasn’t that bad, people.  Sure, they made some hard decisions, and they could have done better.  But they didn’t exactly have it easy: sponsor/advertiser demands, the advent of social media and – most challenging – a 6-hour time delay.  It’s a lot harder than it looks, folks…and if you want live coverage, go online.

Still, I watched a lot of coverage, and I tried to see all sports at least once.  So I feel I’m able, as well as anyone, to award medals in the spirit of the Olympics to some TV announcers who I felt did a particularly good job.

Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines by the pool (photo courtesy of BusinessInsider.com)

Gold – Swimming.  Sure, the USA has a ton of compelling storylines/material in the pool to show off, but Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines are as good at mentioning-yet-not-overplaying storylines and calling the action as it gets.  Hicks has a knack for saying memorable (and not cheesy) things as big news happens, and Gaines provides the emotion and context – exactly what he’s supposed to do.  Take a bow, guys.

Silver – Track and Field.  I’m not as wild about Tom Hammond as other people are, but the fact is he’s a solid play-by-play guy who never gets it flat-out wrong.  He had some big moments with Usain Bolt and company, and did well with them.  And Ato Boldon might have done the finest work of any color announcer in London.

Bronze – Judo.  I watched Kayla Harrison’s gold medal match and victory live, and I was beyond impressed with how a lower-tier, inexperienced announcing team could bring home the match and moment in a way that caused tears. They helped a complete judo novice like me understand the sport, how you score points, etc.  And then they put Kayla’s accomplishment in the proper context both emotionally and athletically.  Big points were scored by the men in the booth.

And then…there were some Not-So-Great Announcing Efforts too:

  • Brandi Chastain, soccer.  She knows the game as well as anyone, and is a flat-out icon for her role in the U.S. 1999 World Cup win.  But that almost always results in her speaking to the viewers in jargon that most of us don’t understand.  Plus, she’s unable to separate her emotions from an objective broadcast, which results in ruined goal moments (with “OH!” and other missteps) and scenarios like the extra-time exhaustion in the semis against Canada where I felt like I was being shouted at for the last 30-40 minutes of the game.  It was intense and memorable, yes, but describe that with words…don’t just raise your tone, say the same things constantly and sound out of breath.  The Hope Solo fiasco didn’t help either.
  • Cynthia Potter, diving.  She was actually better in London than I’ve heard her in the past, but she’s still the quickest trigger color commentator when it comes to seeing something happen and then immediately criticizing it.  She usurps Ted Robinson, a very good play-by-play guy, in doing so, which only reinforces the impression that she’s the ultimate know-it-all.  Again, there were times when she let the action breathe…and the viewer actually watch the action before she told us how we should intepret it.  But those times were few, and it was incredibly grating.
  • Al Trautwig, gymnastics.  Nowhere in its coverage portfolio does NBC build up stories – and edit out/around the competition – more than in gymnastics.  And Al is more than willing to play along, never letting a chance pass to remind the viewer about a key storyline.  He also had perhaps the worst call of any historic moment in London when he said “The Fab Five are going gold.”  Yawn.  Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlagel are intense, but I think they are wonderful when it comes to explaining why something is good or bad and how judges arrive at their scoring decisions.  Tim’s insight into what it’s like to be a gymnast – and in the gymnastics community – is terrific as well.  Too bad it’s all overshadowed by Al’s cheese.

So congratulations to the above for their accomplishments.  We’ll have to see how NBC handles Sochi 2014.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like Michael Phelps.

Are You Ready for Some … ?

7 Oct

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where an ALCS without a team from the AL East is a surprising yet exciting proposition.

First off, I wanted to take this opportunity to remember Steve Jobs.  Without his brilliance, we might not be writing blogs and having these kinds of conversations.  To one of the great businessmen and innovators of our time, rest in peace.

Yesterday ESPN ended a 20-year relationship with Hank Williams Jr. over a comment he made (I won’t mention it here because I don’t care to repeat it).  When I first heard the news, I thought this was a severe knee-jerk reaction to a messy situation.  But then I thought about it: is such a statement enough of a reason to sever ties with one of the most integral parts of your Monday Night Football franchise on his first offense, and to throw away one of the most recognized catchphrases in sports (Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?) just like that?

In a word, yes.  For ESPN, this goes way beyond just being about a man’s inappropriate comment or deciding to support or abandon a business partner with whom both parties have a long history of success.  The statement was dripping with political 0pinion – Williams Jr. wasn’t just making a comparison, he was directly and indirectly degrading and demeaning the politics to which he does not subscribe and those who practice them. 

While such statements are common on reality TV and Fox News Channel these days, organizations that practice true, ethics-based journalism still reject them without fail.  The reason is simple: you can’t objectively report news and provide analysis/commentary if you project or are known for a bias toward one side of a story or another.  That’s Journalism 101.  If ESPN backed Williams Jr. on this, or even censured him publicly but retained him, they could be perceived as supporting his politics and taking a position on any number of things they cover and decisions they make on a daily basis.  I’m convinced they got rid of Williams Jr. just as much because they value their objectivity as they are sickened by what he said and don’t want to be associated with it. 

Don’t forget either: ESPN has been flogged about objectivity ever since the LeBron James “The Decision” fiasco – or at least questioned about its status as a news organization.  It’s clear this decision sends a strong message: that ESPN still sees itself as a journalistic entity, and will do what it takes to remain one.

It may be a harsh punishment, and a quick decision, but it’s one that a network with any shred of journalistic integrity and objectivity has to make.  ESPN did what it had to do. 

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Yankees.