May 03, 2008
Kentucky Derby, May 3rd, 2008.
NBC is covering the Run for the Roses. This is not the first year they've covered the event; they should know what they are doing, right?
So far, after fifty minutes, they have yet to talk about any of the $#&! horses. They have yet to talk to any trainers. They've spent about thirty seconds on a fluff piece about jockeys.
They've interviewed Hugh Hefner and asked about his hotel accommodations. They've talked to Terrell Owens about how things are going with the Dallas Cowboys, and right now they're talking to some guy from the New York Giants. NBC has spent more time talking about football than about the Kentucky Derby.
What the intercourse is up with that?
Wait... wait... Bob Costas will be on in ten minutes. Maybe they'll talk about the freakin' horses before the race actually starts. One can only hope.
Taking a page from ABC News' playbook on how to cover the issues, I guess.
September 21, 2007
I see that in this weekend's professional football matchups, the New England Patriots are favored to squeak past the visiting Buffalo Bills... by sixteen and a half points.
Sixteen and a half points.
I realize that the Patriots are probably the best team on the field at this early point in the season, but... sixteen and a half points? And sure, Buffalo didn't do so well last week, but... sixteen and a half points?
Wow. The oddsmakers haven't anticipated this much of a public beating since the Democrats nominated Walter Mondale. Ouch.
October 14, 2002
Okay, I've been ranting a bit about infotainment lately, insofar as that which is called "news" these days is really, uh, not news in any sense of the word that pertains to "journalism" or "reporting."
Anyway, back when I was in college -- back when I was the news director at commercial-albeit-student-run radio station WVBR-FM, in fact -- a friend of mine often made the case that the best writing in infotainment (we ironically referred to infotainment as "newspapers" back then) could be found in the sports pages. He would often cite that, while the alleged "news" sections of the paper were devoted to human misery, the sports pages were free to celebrate human achievements. As well as misery.
And even if he didn't make the point at the time, I think we both would have agreed that the sports pages also enjoyed the benefit of readers *knowing* that the text was *supposed* to be opinionated as well as informative; entertaining as well as, uh, interesting. At least the sports pages are up front about that, and suffer no pretensions to unbiased reportage.
Okay, maybe he wouldn't have agreed on that point, I don't know. However, he was pretty clear that the best *writing* was to be found in the sports pages, and given our local papers at the time (we're talking Ithaca, NY, here, folks), he had a point.
Having lived in Buffalo, Ithaca, London, Ithaca, Philadelphia, Boston, Philadelphia, Boston, Princeton, Boston, Seattle, Boston, and Seattle, the argument seems to hold true for every local paper I've sampled. The infotainment papers of each of these cities had (have) deplorable "news" sections, but pretty decent sports writing.
So why tell you this now? Well, I chanced to be reading an online account of a football game today -- in fact, it's a Seattle Seahawks "newspaper" account of the Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans game -- that I found to be a real hoot. Check it out. The author manages to work in a few facts, sure, but that doesn't detract from the writing the way it often does in the "news." Rather, they serve to highlight a wonderful point that is further drawn out with most delicious irony. The author manages to work in political commentary and, I believe, a credible indictment of the particular players, the particular teams, and even the particular sport that serves as the centerpiece, all with a most straight-faced, sledgehammer-like subtlety. It truly is inspired writing.
If you like comedy, that is.
October 05, 2001
The following essay was originally posted here on November 5, 1998. I am reposting it now partly to explain my little outburst in yesterday's entry, and partly because I can't think of what to write tonight, and partly to justify an upcoming essay. This essay may also be of interest with the recent launching of yet another new Star Trek series....
* * *
Do you follow NFL football? There's an interesting story brewing in Minnesota and Buffalo, where two old "has beens" are turning in extremely strong performances at quarterback. Randall Cunningham of the Vikings and Doug Flutie of the Bills are two former stars who have returned from recent obscurity to just eat up the attention of football fans everywhere, leading their teams to the tops of their respective divisions.
What's that? You don't care? You haven't been following this uplifting story? You weren't aware that Doug Flutie came back to the NFL -- refusing a million dollar contract from the Canadian Football League to take a paycut of 75 percent -- simply in the hopes that by playing in the higher-profile NFL, he might raise awareness of autism? (Flutie's son is autistic) Or that Randall Cunningham credits his resurgence to a newfound faith in God?
You weren't paying attention to the fact that these guys are over 32 years old and can still play this kids game better than the $25 million kids who are supposed to be the best?
It doesn't thrill you to follow the story of how these grown men put on brightly colored costumes and then go run into each other in the hopes of carrying an oddly-shaped ball across an arbitrarily set "goal line"?
Well. Lemme tell you something. I didn't used to follow sports, either. But, lately, I've gotten more into it... to the point where I actually not only watch the games on TV when I can, and attend a few in person -- on occasion -- but, I even read the articles in the sports pages. Not just the scores... the actual articles!
This has been a gradual change in me. But, the question has come up from time to time: why? Why do you care about what's going on in professional sports? Recently, I had a chat with a friend who posed this question yet again. Only, this time, I stumbled upon an answer.
Competitive sports are, like novels or movies or television sit-coms, a particular kind of entertainment. Like the daytime soap operas, they are serials -- each episode building upon the previous to tell a story line that spans several months, with recurring themes year after year.
Football is like Hill Street Blues -- a soap opera with more violence and less romance. Baseball is like Dick Francis novels... the story always follows the same formula, but the details of each story vary. And, lets face it, some endings are more satisfying than others.
In fact, the best comparison that I can think of is to view professional sports as a kind of live-action equivalent of the Star Trek novels, books, or TV shows.
First, there's the formula. Each sport consists of a league of teams which are composed of characters who fill particular roles (the quarterback/pitcher/captain, the running back/designated hitter/engineer, the receiver/catcher/science officer, etc.) that play out their drama within a certain set of goals (get the ball into the endzone, run to home base, spread peace and harmony throughout the galaxy) within a certain set of rules (try to make 10 yards within four downs, try to score a run before three outs, try to seduce the alien spy before the show is over).
As in Star Trek, pro sports have a code of conduct which may or may not result in penalties... it all depends upon whether you get caught (no holding, no stealing, no interference with the development of a civilization's culture).
But, as with Star Trek, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in professional sports. Although one episode/game contains a great deal of drama, intrigue, and even a little character development, a series of episodes/games strung together in a season tells a more sweeping story. It is precisely this sweep that grabs the interest of the sports enthusiast and the Star Trek geek. As a football season progresses, we begin to notice certain teams emerging as contenders for dominations of the league... just as a season of Star Trek may begin to reveal certain races/species/aliances vying for dominations of space/time/whatever.
Sometimes, such contenders may suddenly fall apart. The Denver Broncos, in the season before they won the Super Bowl, were eliminated from the playoffs by Jacksonville in the first round. The Borg, just as it's shaping up to be a real menace one season in Star Trek: Voyager, gets practically wiped out by "Species 8472".
Then again, sometimes the underdogs struggle back from near annihlation to virtual dominance. There was that year the Buffalo Bills came back from a pathetic opening of a season to just barely get into the playoffs to stage the greatest comeback in an NFL playoff game ever, and eventually even make it to the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team. Just like the Cardassians, after beaten into submission, form a surprising alliance with the Founders to end up wipiing out half of the Federation fleet.
Of course, the Bills lost that Super Bowl, and the Cardassians are having troubles of their own in the Star Trek universe.
Here's a similarity with a twist: both pro sports and Star Trek have good guys and bad guys. Heroes like Mark McGuire, Joe Montana, and Captain Kirk. Villains, as well... Charles Barkley and the Evil Romulans. However, in sports, villains are usually identified as powerful adversaries to your particular favorites. So, if you're a 49ers fan, Green Bay or the Cowboys might be your villains. In Star Trek, alas, the villains are a little more universal. We know when to boo the Klingons or the Cardassians, because we are told under no uncertain terms that, at any given time, they unequivocally represent evil.
As with Star Trek, sports' sweep extends beyond single seasons. The Klingons evolve from season to season, changing from dishonorable enemies to wary allies to brothers-in-arms. The Broncos dominate the AFC but lose every time they reach the Super Bowl... until, near the end of John Elway's career at quarterback, they finally win the Big Game. Traditions and records span through the seasons; some changing, some not. Vulcans are traditionally logical. Yankees are traditionally jerks. Kirk is often alluded to as a history maker in the Star Trek mythos. Likewise, Joe Montana or Babe Ruth. Remember the Curse of the Bambino!
Ah, which brings me to the real draw of sports as entertainment. Depth. The more you follow the story, the more details you discover that subtly enhance the story; give it flavor.
If you are intrigued by the story line of a Star Trek series, you can get into other series... or, the books, the movies, short stories, interactive computer games, technical manuals, collectible toys.... The Star Trek universe is rich with detail.
The same is true with sports. You can follow the careers of specific players, teams, divisions, coaches. There are stats, records, and scores to track for a game, season, career, or even the entire history of a team, league, or the sport itself.
As I mentioned earlier, the ending isn't always satisfactory. One episode/game may be poorly written/played, or have an outcome you don't like. The bad guys sometimes win. Luck sometimes has more impact on the outcome than ability. Sometimes, you cheer the good show of the good guys, you appreciate the development of a dynasty; but, sometimes, you also see cynicism win out. Florida Marlins, anyone? Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?
Like soap operas, Hardy Boy mysteries, and other forms of serial entertainment, neither Star Trek nor pro sports show signs of ending. The story is open-ended and ongoing. This, too, may be part of the draw. Fans get upset -- very upset -- when a soap is threatened with cancellation. Days of Our Lives, anyone? Witness the fan reaction to the cancellation of the original Star Trek, or the various baseball/football strikes. Look at the current NBA lockout. Competitive sports are as much an opiate for the working class as soaps used to be for the traditional homemaker or Star Trek is for geeks. Because they endure.
And, that's what keeps us coming back.
October 04, 2001
I know that not all of your are sports fans. I also know that I posted an essay earlier about why I sometimes *do* follow sports. Hmmm. Can't seem to find it in the archives. Must have been before I got this handy journal software from Jehan.
Oh, well. I'll find it and post it again, soon.
Anyway, allow me to take a quick time out and let you know that a quarterback with class is doing well -- Doug Flutie is helping his San Diego Chargers win their first three games in a row, when last year they were only able to win one game in the entire season -- while the team that cut him -- the Buffalo Bills -- have lost their first three games in a row. They just can't seem to win ever since they gutted their own ranks.
I used to be a Buffalo Bills fan. Now, it's kind of fun to watch the team where the powers that be had chosen to cut the few players with class, and how their team can't win a game.
Perhaps there is a metaphor here; an analogy that has something to do with real life... maybe. Something about choosing to keep your losing leadership (like the quarterback the Bills kept: Rob Johnson) and cut your proven winners (like Flutie) and how that can affect how your team does. Flutie may not be the better quarterback as athletes go, but he is a bona fide leader. He knows how to get his team to shine at doing what they do best. Under him, the Bills almost always won. Under the other guy, the Bills almost always lost. Does it matter that Rob could throw the ball farther than Flutie?
Good leadership is undervalued, it seems to be. Good negotiation skills seem to be overvalued. Rob negotiated much better with the bosses than Flutie did. But, Flutie gets the job done. Now, he gets the job done for another team, and it's mighty fun to watch.
June 02, 2001
As you probably are aware, I'm not much of a baseball fan. I have mentioned in an earlier entry (before this handy dandy, automated web journal; I'll have to dig out the essay and re-post it) my take on the whole organized sports thing -- how, ultimately, it tickles the same parts of some peoples' brains the same way other serial stories, like Star Trek or General Hospital or The Sopranos might appeal to others'. While I confess to following *some* organized sports and particular teams (NFL football, Cornell and ECAC hockey, et al), I have not tended to get similarly interested in major league baseball.
Nonetheless, I catch the occasional game. I've seen the Yankees take on the Red Sox at Fenway, and I chanced to witness the exciting '95 Mariners make their improbable playoff run at the Kingdome. The year 2001 finds me again in Seattle, where another interesting baseball story is unfolding.
Last night, I attended my first baseball game at Safeco Field, the new baseball park in Seattle. Unlike the now-imploded Kingdome next door (the rubble of which is being recycled to build a new open-air football stadium on the same site), Safeco Field *feels* like a baseball park, with all of the good and bad that that entails. Good: natural grass, open air, friendly facilities. Bad: crowd noise gets lost easily and there's a quality to the crowd of... distraction. Unfocused attention.
At the Kingdome, the building was concrete gray, the lighting was entirely artificial, and so was the turf. But, the acoustics were amazing. When something interesting was taking place on the field, you could feel the electricity. The hush or the rise in the crowd was amazing. A group dynamic like that is hard to capture when the sounds are lost within the heavy sea-laden atmosphere of a port town's open-air park. Of course, that's just one man's observation, and there are others out there who can wax much more eloquently than I on the relative merits of our nations sports facilities.
Nonetheless, there is a bit of magic in the air in Seattle these days surrounding their baseball team, the likes of which I never expect to happen (or have seen happen in the past) around the city's football or basketball teams even when they experience success. Even though the acoustics of Safeco muffled some of the buzz, there was something palpable in the crowd's excitement last night as the Mariners hosted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The last time I saw a baseball game in person, I watched Ken Griffey, Jr. hit two home runs in a meaningless game where the local team was visibly falling apart in a stadium that was likewise literally falling down (even before it was demolished, parts of the Kingdome would tumble to the ground at inopportune times). Last night, I watched a team where one of the "stars" of the team -- Ichiro Suzuki -- very deliberately hit a sacrifice in order to get a runner into scoring position (and who did end up scoring). We saw a bad call by the ump give way to the tying runs of the Devil Rays, and we saw the Mariners hold it together and work their way back into command of the situation.
In the eighth inning, Ichiro (which must always be pronounced with an exclamation point at the end: ee-chee-ro!) hit a beautiful double, then stole third base on the next play and, thanks to a very interesting error by the Devil Rays, was able to turn that into a run for home. It was in the eighth inning that this close game was finally sewn up by the home team.
It was a fun game to watch, and the Mariners are a team that is obviously playing together and playing well. I am still not as much of a fan of baseball as I am of any number of other forms of entertainment. Nonetheless, it is always fun to watch folks at work who enjoy what they are doing enough to put it all together *as a team* and make good things happen. It's inspiring.
Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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