In the book about the history of ESPN (These Guys Have All the Fun), there’s a story how Tony Kornheiser and Monday Night Football. On one side were those who felt Kornheiser wasn’t enough of a “football guy” to be in the booth, that he didn’t particularly like to prepare (certainly as much as the “football guys” did), that he liked being more spontaneous. In the story his comment was something to the effect that all of those jobs didn’t automatically have to be given to “jocks.”
History has proven him to be correct. There have been good people who weren’t ex-players who did an admirable job as an announcer or commentator – just as there have been former athletes and coaches who’ve bombed. There is another issue here that goes beyond what incensed Tony K. What disturbs me is the person who never played (but would have given anything to actually be good enough) who decided to make his mark (as far as I can tell, only men fit into this category) in the world of athletics, either as a newspaper writer (especially the columnist) or as a TV or radio personality.
It’s definitely not mandatory to have “strapped it on” to be in any of these professions but there ought to be some restraints on these people. Of course it’s all well and good to have an opinion and voice it as strongly as the person desires. With a caveat. If someone has never played, most certainly if he’s never played at the level he’s covering, criticism should never be personal. When a guy like Bill Simmons attacks Doc Rivers over a period of years, (except, of course, for the year the Celtics won it all), he’s behaving in such a way because he’s petulant, devoted fan – and Doc wasn’t doing the job his favorite team deserved. The team he rooted for so passionately as a child (and, to this day, still does).
In one article I read, Simmons was described as “a pioneer in the type of Internet sports coverage that is now the norm.” It’s the norm because there are so many wannabes, guys like Bill Simmons. Jim Rome was probably the first such cult hero – the guy who never played but was a superstar with words and putdowns. Those who were like him rallied around him and his schtik. He was doing what they wished they could do, i.e. what they wished after their initial wish – that of being an actual athlete – was ruled out as something not even divine intervention could make happen.
Rome was clever (as is Simmons and others like them). The issue I mostly have is not that they never played nor coached. It’s with the personal attacks. In fact, these media members usually know just enough to make intelligent
second guesses comments. However, if you’ve never been a player or a coach, you can’t completely understand how much time those people devote to their crafts. Still and all, their job is to analyze and, for the most part, that’s what they do. Just don’t cross the line – and get personal. To hear somebody say about someone else “he’s garbage” is beyond what’s necessary. Save that inflammatory rhetoric for the guys who planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon or the crazies who shoot up schoolchildren (and I fully realize there are folks who are offended if we refer to those deranged people as “garbage” but that’s another debate for someone else).
My recollection is that all of this began with Rome and his despicable statements leveled at athletes he, for whatever reason, disliked. Calling Pete Sampras, “Pete the chimp” and making horse sounds when he mentioned Steffi Graf’s name were Rome’s way of mocking what he thought of their looks. Mainly he was speaking to his loyal followers whose lives were so unappealing their motto was, “Strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.” Rome’s most famous “put down,” as we all remember, was calling Jim Everett, “Chris” – over and over. It almost got him “put down” – by Everett, who the discipline, not to mention if he hadn’t, he’d have been up on a murder charge (many of us would have voted for “justifiable homicide”).
These types of attacks are pure venom. And, unfortunately, there are many people who feel so poorly about how their lives have turned out, or what their future looks like, that hating someone else becomes their source of enjoyment.
Leave it to Elvis to have the last words:
“Animals don’t hate, and we’re supposed to be better than them.”