Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Continuing Slow, Agonizing Death of Sports Commentary

Late Sunday night on Channel 38, Steve Burton, looking as if the game had personally cost him a full playoff share, introduced the "viewer poll" section of WBZ's endless Pats' post-game program.

The question was "Who was most responsible for the Patriots' loss?"

My hand was up. I had an answer. "The New York Jets," I blurted at the set.

Gang, not only was that not the leading answer, it wasn't even one of the POSSIBLE answers in this multiple-choice quiz. The only persons WBZ thought possibly could have made the Patriots lose were Patriots' players and coaches. The opposition had nothing to do with it. Maybe they hadn't even been there.

If only the poll was an outlier. But no, almost forty-eight hours later and all the commentary I have read, heard and seen on the Pats' upset loss remains monochromatic and insular. New England's season ended wholly as a result of its own actions or lack of same, its own judgments or lack of same. I realize this burg has a reputation for being somewhat provincial, but to erase one of two football teams from a playoff game is some exercise in revisionist history.

Not that Boston is any worse in that regard than any other place. I know FANS have always thought their teams won or lost solely because of their own virtues and vices. I was a fan once, and that's how I thought about it. Commentators, reporters, and analysts, however, are supposed to adhere to higher, or at least more rational standards. Both sets of competitors influence the outcome of a game in any team sport. Figuring out the "did they fall-were they pushed" dividing line is kind of the point of commenting on a single game, or so I used to think.

Not anymore. There is no lonelier opinion in the sports opinion business than "Visiting Team played really well and that's why Home Team lost." The pressure for more ratings, readers, clicks, etc., which has always existed, has led to the total dominance of the "Home Team = Only Team" school of journalism. Journalism, consciously but mostly unconsciously, has become "market-driven," a euphemism for "give the rubes what they want."

"The customer is always right is a useful maxim in business, but not in all businesses (neurosurgery, for example). In the information business, it is simply silly. The customer cannot always be right, because if he/she was, the customer wouldn't need your %^&@$ product in the first place. The customers want to learn something new. If they want to consume their opinions in regurgitated form, they can and will start their own damn blogs, message boards, etc.

But sports commentary now consists of giving the public a mirror to look into. Then members of the commentariat will complain, some of them publicly, that sports fans seem crazier than ever these days. If they are, well, that's another game where more than one team is responsible for the final score.


At 12:18 PM, Blogger Mr. Mike said...

Hi, Michael

I had to chuckle when I read this:
"Commentators, reporters, and analysts, however, are supposed to adhere to higher, or at least more rational standards."

This is a town where the leading daily newspaper puts Dan Shaughnessy on the FRONT PAGE. So much for standards of anything.

I'll grant you the escape hatch of "supposed to adhere," but on the evidence presented daily and nightly, this is far from a place blessed with intelligent, non-agenda sports commentary.




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