JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Why televised sports is starting to suck

I was speaking via Facebook today with a pal who works in televised sports. She’s good people—smart, cool, excellent at what she does. Yet I couldn’t tell if she was mad/irked by my overriding conversational thesis: Televised sports suck.

It’s really true, and I’m happy to blog about it and get this stuff off my chest.

To start with, there are the games, which are inevitably poisoned by inane, cliched banter. Sometimes three guys are doing the “work” (Quote marks definitely intended). Usually, it’s two guys. One is either a former player or a former coach. If he’s a former player, his role is to offer insight to the at-home viewer, such as “Right now, LeBron is thinking about one thing: Taking it to the hole” or “When Kurt Warner drops back, he’s scanning the whole field.” If he’s a former coach, his partner is instructed to call him “Coach,” even if he hasn’t held a position in three decades. “Coach’s” job is similar to the former player, only “Coach” will give the viewed such Xs and Os insights as “If you’re gonna cut to the hoop, cut hard.” The second guy in the booth is almost always (like myself) a gawky, unathletic dweeb with a deep voice and a remarkable inability to pick up chicks. Back in college, he wrote for the student newspaper and leered angrily as the Greeks held their parties without him.

Secondly, there are the “insiders,” people who offer us insight and details into what goes on inside the golden world that is Jock Kingdom. You’ll have Shelly Smith at Saints camp, Hank Goldberg with the Chiefs, Pedro Gomez in San Francisco. My main feel for these people: Unparalleled sympathy. I spent many days watching Pedro chase around Barry Bonds on the home run trail, and the man … had … the … worst … job … of … all … time. I asked Pedro why he jumped from the Arizona Republic to ESPN on-air, and he said he just wanted to try something new and different. I’ve always liked Pedro, and believe his sincerity. However, he’s rare. From my experiences, most of these people loooooooove being recognized in airports and hotel lobbies; love signing the occasional autograph. It’s the payoff for an otherwise sucky life of nonstop travel to Detroit and Indianapolis; of flight delays and room key malfunctions at the Milwaukee Hilton.

See, that’s the thing about anyone worth his/her weight in the sports world: By the time you reach your mid-30s, you’ve seen the midget behind the curtain. There’s no such thing as “the greatest game ever” or “the biggest shot” or a “shining moment.” Sports repeats itself like bad cheddar. Up close, these guys aren’t larger than life—they’re dudes who cheat on their wives; who get everything for free; who can’t live without the oxygen that’s nonstop attention and whose lives are oddly dull (Exhibit A: Michael Phelps. As I noted earlier, I’d be sucking the big pipe too if my life was in pool-out of pool-in pool-out of pool). So if you’re working as a sideline reporter, it better be for money or fame. Because pure love of the game rarely lasts—and with good reason.


Third, and worst of all, there are the former print reporters who can now be found screaming at you from a studio in Bristol or New York or wherever. The poster child is, clearly Skip Bayless, a once-upon-a-time excellent scribe who now makes his coin insisting that Freeman McNeil is a better tailback than Barry Sanders. But there are loads of ’em—guys who I once loved; once respected; once admired. Who practiced nuanced writing and believed in the power of the pen.

Look, I have no beef with being on TV; on making an appearance, hosting a show, etc. I’ve certainly made my fair share of guest shots. And there are some true talents—Bob Ley, Dan Patrick, Phil Simms, Tom Jackson, Pee Wee Herman and uh … and others. But come day’s end, when I’m given the choice between televised sports and re-runs of Family Feud (the Ray Combs years—RIP), I’m going with the Feud.