Saturday, November 08, 2008

Briefly on Sports Punditry

I've been following the English Premier League far more closely than in previous years, and one of the things I've noticed about the people who cover the sport is that there is a remarkable division of ability and talent among pundits and opinioneers over in England, and how that compares to American sports.  

For one thing, the play by play and in-game commentators are for the most part sensational.  I'm not talking about the FSC or GOLTV people who provide the commentary from a basement studio 8000 miles from the games they're covering.  I mean the English guys on site.  They know when to keep their mouths closed and let the game happen.  They know that they don't have to explain every last thing that is happening, because they know that they are on television and if you are watching you can figure some things out for yourself.  They have a vocabulary larger than that of a fifth grader.  They aren't, for the most part, former athletes who have some limited training in broadcasting, but rather professional broadcasters who know what they're doing.  There are no Tony Siragusas on hand.  The broadcasters are apparently praised and promoted for their intelligence and for being concise.  

Second, the studio show pundits in England are every bit as foolish as American sports pundits. They relentlessly focus on intangibles and personalities.  There are forced disputes.  There is talking over one another and extending statements to remain on camera longer.  The things that are wrong about American studio pundits are just as wrong in England.

But for the American viewer of the sport, it's not that hard to avoid those shows.  One can only watch games and follow stories online.  And that brings me to the best part about English football punditry: the written word.  

Football writers in England are incisive, smart, thoughtful and unafraid.  The strength of the press in England has created an entirely different relationship between the individuals involved in the sport and the journalists.  There isn't a symbiotic relationship.  Writers are tough enough to get stories without relying on the public relations people for various clubs.  And this provides a far greater freedom for the writers - but one that the writers don't need to abuse.  There isn't a need to write things that are inflammatory to draw attention.  For some reason, in England, the better writing and more intelligent takes draw attention, rather than the most salacious or offensive.  Now, of course, I'm painting in broad strokes (of course there are bad writers in the tabloids).  The thing is that I can find several really good national writers on English football.  I'm not sure I can find more than one or two American mainstream media writers whose pieces are salient.   

Here's a comparison.

Read this column on Harry Redknapp by Russell Brand.  Russell Brand is a comedian, a damned ridiculous character.  And this column is interesting, well-written and raises a few salient points on the true effect of a coach that apply to any sport.  Read through the Guardian's archives for other pieces by Brand.  They're all interesting, well-written and salient.  The odd thing about this is that this guy is a comedian.  He's not the dean of pundits over there, or anything even close to it.  Yet his columns are better than just about any national writer over here I can think of. 

Now go do a google search for sports columns by American comedian Jay Mohr.  I can't bear myself to look for them to link to them.  Russell Brand's column is what they have.  15 year old stale jokes, cliches and forced edginess is what we have.

Luckily there are writers over here that are trying to elevate the discourse.  A lot of them are in the blog world.  It's time for mainstream media outlets to realize that readers want better than what has been offered.  Coverage of American sports can be a whole lot better.  The dwindling readership and audience for several outlets should drive those outlets to do better.  


Michael said...

I mostly agree with you, but there's one exception: the managers bitching about the referees. In the US, coaches can't complain too much for fear of being fined. In the EPL, it's accepted formula that the game highlights on the EPL's Sunday night highlight show are followed by one or both managers whining about a call that went against them. It's unbecoming.

That said, the EPL highlights show is MILES better than anything on in America (with the possible exception of the NFL Network Sunday night show, which is really growing on me) because they concentrate on, you know, highlights as opposed to two highlights followed by a panel of six people with IQs between 90 and 105 engaging in forced disagreement.