Friday, April 25, 2008

In Cyberspace, No One Need Hear Chris Berman Scream

NFL draft time is one of the times of year when I miss sportswriting much less than other times. In journalistic terms, the draft is not unlike national political conventions. The reporter/columnist must generate far too many stories from an event containing far too little actual information.

Driving home from work just minutes ago, I overheard Butch Stearns and Steve DeOssie confuse themselves into tongue-tied silence in a discussion of what the Jets might or might not do with the sixth pick tomorrow. That's not their fault. Put the ghosts of George Halas and Bill Walsh on the radio to talk about the draft and after 15 minutes, they'd be spouting gibberish. It's the nature of the enterprise.

To quote Bill Belichick: "it's a VERY inexact science." You have to know how much the Pats coach hates inexact anythings to fully appreciate that observation.

At that, the draft is less of an ordeal than it used to be for journalists, at least some of them. The Internet might be killing newspapers, but it is striking a blow for the always-fragile sanity of sports department copy desks. Back in the day before the Web and before most folks had cable, when men were men and the Pats were passing on Jerry Rice to get their mitts on Trevor Matich, Draft Day was the Herald office's worst nightmare, worse than the Marathon even. Business ground to a halt and all communication with the outside world was lost as the poor devils on the desk coped with the telephone meltdown created by a bazillion calls demanding instant and comprehensive biographies of whichever Mid-American Conference linebacker had just been named the fourth round pick of the Seattle Seahawks.

Now, that information is a mouse click away, and the loons can happily IM each other with the information. Progess; it's a beautiful thing.

I can understand the draft's popularity. It combines two popular forms of American entertainment, guessing games and sports arguments. They're the very best kind of sports arguments, too, the ones in which there is no way of determining the correct answer.

But for the life me, I do not understand how the draft still survives as a television show-a long television show featuring some of the most irritating television personalities since the medium was invented. This, one would think, is a form of sports journalism/entertainment the Internet should have eradicated by now.

At bottom, the draft is a list. The Internet is great at lists. All the information the most obsessive football fan needs about the draft can be obtained within 30 seconds at an almost infinite number of different Web sites. Why not switch the channel to a real ball game, and just punch "refresh" every five minutes or so?

It will be a great day for America when that comes to pass, but I don't think it will in my lifetime. Sports fans are creatures of habit, and God help them, they have become habituated to watching hours of people hollering at each other about offensive linemen, interspersed with Roger Goodell reading names while wearing a nice suit.

I'll be involved with another draft-related event tomorrow afternoon. There's a draft horse plowing competition up in Newbury, Mass. and I've been invited. Charlie Casserly tells me there'll be a steed there I can't miss. He's got a great motor, never takes a furrow off, and his time for the back 40 is off the charts.


At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: "It combines two popular forms of American entertainment, guessing games and sports arguments."

It incorporates a third as well - the age old ritual of picking up teams. Who gets picked first, who's last; it reminds me anyway of my old playground days.


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