Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Avoiding Noxious Negativity

After watching the Packers lose to the Bengals last Monday night, I reached the conclusion that it’s going to be a long, long season…

For Packer fans? No. The Pack will be in the playoffs of course. I mean for those of us who used to enjoy watching football on Monday nights. Because the trend toward unpleasantness in the broadcast booth has reached a new low with the new team on ESPN.

To illustrate what I’m talking about here, let’s go back in time…

When I was a boy two of the most popular sports journalists on TV were Jim McKay and Chris Schenkel. To this day, I admire the way both of these men kept in mind that they were there to provide information that the viewer could not obtain from the pictures—TV was a visual medium, not a talky one. Just as importantly, Mr. McKay and Mr. Schenkel seldom, if ever, crossed the line of behaving as though they were the stars of the program. They, and their producers, knew that the viewers tuned in to see the games, to see the athletes—not the broadcasters. And most of the broadcasters of that era, at least on camera, behaved like GENTLEMEN. What a concept…

More recently, Keith Jackson is a football announcer who employed this pleasant and informative style. But unfortunately he is now retired.

In the early 1970’s, when Monday Night Football debuted on ABC, we saw a very different style of broadcast emerge: football announcers who couldn’t wait to share their opinions with the audience, whether or not the audience was interested in these opinions, and whether or not the opinion they happened to express had anything to do with the action on the field. I tended to cut Howard Cosell, annoying though he was, some slack because at least he did teach young writers new vocabulary words such as, “veritable plethora.” Although this is the first time I have actually used “veritable plethora” in a sentence.

The incredible popularity of Monday Night Football led TV executives to believe this was the style of broadcast the audience wanted, when in fact the incredible popularity was due simply to the fact that the popularity of NFL Football was soaring, and the ABC network happened to have the only game on Monday Night. THE GAME’S THE THING!

So, this season our poor ears and minds must endure the Monday night pairing of Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismannn.

Provide Information has now disintegrated to:

Argue, Criticize, Belittle, Distract, and Irritate—And Argue Some More.

The Packers Literary Corner has come up with a term for this style of broadcast journalism: Noxious Negativity. It involves distasteful rhetoric about nonexistent controversy and stirring up the audience with imaginary conflict.

And of course we need the announcers tell us what we should think about what we are watching. We, the dumb-dumbs in the audience, can’t be expected to form any views of our own. And shame on us if we are looking forward to watching our Green Bay Packers this season, because these “experts” have all but declared our team hopeless before the season even kicks off. And if they tell us something, it must be so.

I first noticed this Kornheiser fellow when he was on a rude little two-man debate show, “Pardon This Flatulence,” or something like that. This program apparently was patterned from the political screeching on The McLaughlin Group, except they forgot to have a McLaughlin on the program to tell them when it was time to shut the hell up. Must have been budgetary constraints.

Joe Theismann, as you know, has been one of the most irritating broadcasters for years. He obviously harbors some deep personal malice toward the Green and Gold.

At my house, we’ve tried everything to not have to listen to Theismann when he is covering Packer games. We’ve turned the sound completely off. We’ve played operatic tenor Andrea Bocelli full blast on the stereo (You might try that sometime. Bocelli’s incredible voice seems to add additional drama to the games).

We’ve even tried Turning the Game Off. But then the bad guys win and we don’t get to see our team. In desperation we’ve even tried: Encouraging our Dogs To Howl.
The problem with these strategies is, you miss something when you can’t hear the crowd noise at the games.

The season is nigh...So what do we do about this verbal pestilence?

I got an idea from watching a commercial for DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package, the one where you can watch all the NFL Games, but apparently you have to like Peyton Manning. Anyway, they have added great new features to this package this year, new technologies allowing us to spend even more than the normal 40 hours per week watching football. Perhaps they could help us with several other bells and whistles. How about:

SELECTIVE MUTE. With our remote, we could click on a menu with these choices:
Mute Kornheiser
Mute Theismann
Mute Both

Then, we could still enjoy the stadium sounds without unnecessary noise pollution, or potential aggravation. It would sound as though genial Mike Tirico is there calling the game by himself, which is fine with me. The drawback to this is that we still have to look at their faces, and when their lips move, we just know they’re saying something nasty about the Packers. So again, technology comes to our aid:

IMAGE SUBSTITUTION. Again, with our remote, we can elect to replace the mugs of Kornheiser and Theismann with something more interesting:

Bart Starr scoring the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl
The splendor of Autumn leaves along the Fox River
Javon Walker cleaning out his locker at Lambeau Field
Brett Favre mowing his lawn in Mississippi in the offseason

Heck, I’d settle for a picture of Dick Butkus. Anything that would spare us from a season of the sounds and images that add up to Noxious Negativity.

With these simple technical advancements, enjoyment of the Monday Night games on ESPN could be greatly enhanced. So let’s get going there, programming wizards at DIRECTV. I would cheerfully pay an additional $25 per month for these features.

And suppose you see Joe Theismann in the airport the day after a game. You can say, “Really enjoyed your broadcast last night, Joe!”—and be telling the truth. Then he’ll take out a pocket mirror, admire himself for a moment, and say, “Thanks! Keep watching.”

And we will.


Rajbir Singh said...

Unfortunately, we are settling for mediocrity, as most sports journalists fail to meet the expectations out of them. Right journalism means to quantify the opinions correctly in common man’s parlance. The growing national perception against such journalism is extremely negative.

Sanam said...

This noxious negativity is being fueled by ignorant sports journalists that must say something while having nothing intelligent to say. Fortunately, there are still some sports journalists that treat their profession with dignity and skill.

Rajbir Singh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tanvir said...

Well echoed my opinion. Unfortunately, some of such journalists live in a rarified environment and are aloof to public perception about their behavior. I believe such journalism poses one of the greatest threats to the sports.