Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Human Drama of Athletic Competition with the Humanity Taken Out

Tiger Woods duck hooked his drive on the 13th hole at the Masters yesterday and said a very bad word. At a rough estimate, of the million or so other Americans who were playing golf at that moment in this vast land, at least 10,000 were saying the very same thing.

Yet within moments, CBS commentator Ian Baker-Finch was given the heinous duty of apologizing to any of the TV audience who might've been offended. How much better had he chosen to end his career in a blaze of glory and said, "to anyone offended, fuck off!"

Nobody watches the Masters who isn't a golf fan, and there are no golf fans who don't play golf. Therefore there was nobody watching the tournament who hasn't either cussed at a bad shot, heard some other golfer do it, or both. Swearing and golf are inseparable companions, just like the sport's other good buddies, drinking and gambling. There were cartoons about golfers cursing in 19th century editions of the English magazine "Punch." There are probably 15th century Scottish woodcuts about it.

There's never unanimity in our society, so I'm sure there were some real life Ned Flanderses out there who were offended, for the sake of the children, of course. Holier-than-thou is never about a person claiming superiority over their fellow beings to justify the sticks up their posteriors.. No, indeed.

 I'm also guessing the offended were few in number. As the golf industry knows to its sorrow, most golfers are adults, make that adults-plus. Adults know that in the heat of competition, athletes get stressed. People under stress have been known to say things they might later regret.

In a sane world, Woods' swearing would've passed unmentioned on the air. But ass-covering is one of broadcasting's prime directives. Baker-Finch's apology was CBS saying, "it's not our fault."

Except it was. Woods didn't carry a bullhorn in his bag yesterday. It was CBS's microphones which were close enough to pick up his vocal anguish, microphones that are part of TV's inexorable drive to make sports on the tube as close to being there as possible, except better because you don't have to drive to the game, match or tournament.

That's a worthy goal, or would be if CBS (and all the other networks) didn't want to have sports both ways. They want to immerse the viewer in sports reality, but they also want that reality to be fake, to be the world of Chip Hilton books for boys, not the world of Lance Armstrong, Floyd Mayweather and, oh, yeah, Tiger Woods. This desire is particularly acute at the Masters, which CBS presents with a cheesy, smarmy solemnity which is completely at odds with the experience of the tournament in person.

Don't want to hear Woods cuss? Get the mike away from him. Don't want Bill Belichick or Gregg Popovich to blow off your inane in-game interviews? Stop doing them. Sports isn't "NCIS" or "Modern Family."  People watch because a game, match or tournament is an event beyond the control of anyone but the participants.

At least, we hope it's beyond TV's control. Some days I'm not so sure.


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