King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The out-of-touch media: How can the sports commentariat be so removed they don't realize central facts about the experience of being a fan?

By Salon Staff

Published September 23, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Do you ever feel a disconnect between your own experiences and what sportscasters and writers say?

I don't mean simple differences of opinion. I'm not talking about when the color analyst says your team should shoot more three-pointers or punt and you think they should pound it inside or go for it. I'm talking about those times when you wonder if the people reporting on sports are living in the same world you're living in.

Do you, for example, listen to TV chatterers chewing out fans in some city for not showing up and supporting their team, which is a great team and deserves your support, people, and think to yourself, since you live in that city: "Hey, I'd go if I could afford a ticket without selling a kidney"?

I remember the first time I noticed this phenomenon, and I'm a little embarrassed that it came fairly late in life. I think it was nine years ago. I'm not sure I have the details of the story right, but it went something like this:

The Cubs were playing a national TV game, and Joe Morgan was one of the broadcasters. It was Randy Myers poster day at Wrigley Field, Myers being the Cubs closer at the time. Myers came into the game and blew the save. With the lead gone and Myers still on the mound, the Bleacher Bums began throwing their Randy Myers posters onto the field. Hundreds of rolled-up posters littered the outfield grass and the game was delayed. It was a spontaneous, heartfelt, funny statement by long-suffering fans.

Morgan was beside himself. "This is what's wrong with baseball today," he said, or at least I remember him saying something along those lines. He went on for some time about how fans don't have any respect for the game anymore. They don't respect the players and how hard they work. It's an affront to the players and the game for them to throw their posters onto the field like that. And so on.

I remember sitting there and thinking ... WHAT?! The fans don't have any respect for the players? In the world where I live, the fans worship the players. They pay outrageous sums for the right to sit and watch them play. They hang around for hours hoping for an autograph. The players, on the other hand, for the most part treat fans as a nuisance that must be endured, preferably impolitely. That's when the players are not ignoring the fans or insulting them by complaining in the media -- in effect sitting in the fans' living rooms and whining -- about their salaries, which are hundreds of times what the fans make.

The fans pay the freight in this world of sports. If they want to boo, or not show up, or throw their posters onto the field in protest of what they feel is a subpar effort by the player depicted, they've earned the right. Joe Morgan had never been a fan, not since he was a kid, but it shouldn't have taken a superhuman effort at empathy to see where the fans were coming from. I was shocked at how removed from reality Little Joe was.

I was reminded of this Monday while reading Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback column on Sports Illustrated's Web site. King has been going on for two weeks now about how he sat in the upper deck of Giants Stadium at last Monday night's Giants-Cowboys game, his first time going to a game as a fan in 20 years. He even tailgated!

He lists a few things he noticed from this new perspective, and this is one of them:

"TV Timeouts. ABC, you're killing these poor people. It's not just my former network, either. It's every network. These folks in the upper deck are immune to it, sort of, but it's hugely annoying to sit through three minutes of downtime after a punt, then three minutes of downtime five minutes later after another punt ... four times a quarter. In the press box, I'm always talking to someone or doing some work or going for grub, so the TV timeouts don't bug me as much. But here, in the captive audience, staring out at nothing, they were absolute killers."

One of the best and most prominent football writers in the nation and it's never occurred to him before that TV timeouts are annoying for fans. The fans in the upper deck aren't immune, they've just learned to live with it. They know TV timeouts aren't going away, and there are certainly bigger problems in the world than having a pair of two-minute commercial breaks sandwiched around every kickoff. Shoot, if you have to go to the bathroom, a TV timeout can even be a welcome event.

But what a shocker that someone can be that out of touch with the people he's writing for. TV timeouts aren't a major issue, but they're a central part of the experience of being a football fan. And rest assured, King isn't alone. Watching a game as a reporter or commentator and watching one as a fan are very different things. If I were an editor or an executive producer I'd make my reporters experience games as fans from time to time just to be sure they remember who they're writing for, and what those people see when they see the games.

Incidentally, later in King's column we find out that movie star Christina Ricci once baby-sat for one of the girls on a softball team he coached. Christina Ricci was a movie star when she was 11. Why was she baby-sitting? I'll have to ask Hilary Duff about that when she comes over to watch Buster on Saturday.

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