So my local newspaper sportswriter has struck again. I promised I wasn’t going to browbeat the guy any more for his missteps, but . . . I guess I lied.
In today’s Virginian-Pilot, Bob Molinaro has once again littered the Sports section with drivel, and in this case, it’s indefensible. From the get-go: his column is entitled “More College Games on TV is Not Necessarily a Good Thing.” I cringed at first read, knowing all too well that the 666 words contained within (not a joke; not a coincidence) would evoke fist-clenching and teeth-gnashing.
I knew what was coming, for I have been reading Mollie’s stuff for way too long. He’s in his third decade of writing for the Pilot, and he hasn’t aged gracefully. Instead of donning the robes of a senior statesman and venerable elder like a Shirley Povich, over the years Bob Molinaro has absorbed the persona of a whiny old crankpot, a cantankerous curmudgeon with some sort of misdirected shoulder chip. I feel like I’m reading a third-rate Tony Kornheiser – in an era where even Tony himself is a pale shadow of his once-worthy self.
And so we venture through the barren wasteland of sports insight that’s today’s piece. The column asserts that the recent all-day, all-night college basketball extravaganza was a pointless exercise. It further attests that there are far too many college basketball games on television these days. Specifically, it highlights the fact that “292 ACC games will be on some form of television,” following it up with “But is more really better? I don't think so. More is just more.” Ugh.
He goes on to include the following assessments:
“Perhaps, too, the unintended consequence of ESPN's marathon is to remind jaded viewers that between now and March they can expect a glut of meaningless basketball games.”
“Many things are more enjoyable in smaller portions.”
“Attempting to digest basketball's TV schedule is like walking down an aisle at Costco past the industrial-sized containers of condiments. You like mayonnaise, but when you see it displayed in two-gallon jars, you feel indigestion coming on.”
And really, I could have included the entire segment. But somewhere in the mix, Bob tried to slip this one by me:
“I say this as a life-long fan of college basketball. I like eating chocolate, too, but not five times a day.”
No. Herein lies my problem with this article, Mr. Molinaro. If the words you wrote were uttered by my sister at dinner, by my co-worker between meetings, even by my dad flipping through channels, my jockeys would be obscuring my buns rather than ‘twixt cheeks in a knotted, painful, thong-like bunch. But the words were printed in a mass-circulation publication in a section labeled SPORTS. I expect a little – no, a lot more from you.
I want my network news anchors to be utter newshounds. I want them to eat, drink, breathe, sleep and sweat news. I want them to know so much about history that friends and acquaintances call them at all hours of the day just to settle bets, and to know so much about current events that their beer buddies nickname them “CNN.” I want them to have educated opinions on everything news-related – tempered with loads of historical perspective.
I want my rock critics to know much more than I do about music, and I think I know quite a bit. I want them to be able to tell me that a new Old 97’s album is in the works within 48 hours of Rhett Miller calling Ken Bethea to talk about it. I want them at a show three nights a week, to know things like why Adam Ant reversed the D’s when he would write ADAM AND THE ANTS, and to – at all times – be able to steer me towards unheard gems.
And dammit, man, I want my sportswriters to be insatiable sports addicts. I want sports on their brains at every waking moment . . . and also the backdrop in the every dream. I want them to secretly think that the NBA season isn’t long enough. I want them to call the day prior to and the day after the Midsummer Classic “Black Monday” and “Black Wednesday.” I want them to have a new take on tired topics, have a running schedule of must-see sports on the tube or in person, and run the company’s expense budget ragged by attending sporting events all year long. I want them more rabid than any mere fan, and I want the prose they put forth to exude sports fanaticism. Factor in a cool perspective bred of a supremely vast historical knowledge, and these are the people I want to read.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the same folks who elected a guy president simply because “he seems like one of us, like he’d be a good fella to have a beer with” instead of actual inspiration want their sports columnists to be more everyman-ish, more average Joe – a casual fan just like them.
I think that’s bunk of the highest order. That column is a privilege. A pedestal. You’re there because you have two things going for you: (1) You can write. You put words together in a way that turns pages. (2.) You know sports in and out, up and down; you spend all of your time watching, writing, talking, and thinking about sports; and you bring to light the finer points the casual fans might miss.
Why does it matter? Because when sports columnists have that rare combination of wisdom, zeal, style and skill, they can elevate in the public an awareness, a sensibility, and a passion for all things sports. The best newsmen and newswomen keep you wanting to know more about what’s up in the world. The best music gurus can make you dust off the old stuff, dig up the new stuff, and get off your hind quarters and go see live music. The best sportswriters make the games pertinent, make them more interesting, keep you plugged into it all, and reveal an overt joy for the material in all that they do, say, and write.
So “Terrell Owens is a pain in the neck and a distraction to the team” doesn’t do it for me, Bob. “The Fighting Irish have problems bigger than Charlie Weis” starts to get a tiny smidge closer. (Although not including the barb “but no beltlines” was a missed opportunity.) Predicting the Skins would beat the Broncos was even better, going against the grain; that you pegged Kyle Orton as a major reason why proved fallible, and the thinly veiled, self-congratulatory “aw shucks, I’m not really a genius” cowpie of a column that followed undid much of that momentum, unfortunately.
And now this. Too much college basketball on TV? Oh, my. Are we longingly lamenting the demise of the days of three channels on the air giving us one basketball game a week and the knob we had to turn with our hands on the B/W with rabbit ears? If you really were a sports enthusiast in the truest sense or even a "life-long fan," you’d be telling us that there’s no such thing as too much basketball on the telly. You’d insinuate, as you did in today’s column that the hoops marathon was “ESPN gimmickry,” but you’d revel in it, anyway. Just as you’d wax poetic in March about “hope springing eternal” on the diamond, you’d be giddy with college pitball galore this week. Yes, many of the games aren’t must-see TV in the competitive or monumental way, but how fun is it for an otherwise national-broadcast-deprived I-A hoops program to get a little airtime? How fun is it to see a game played at 6AM? How fun is it just to be kicking off a new season? It all starts to get the college basketball juices flowing, and it should spark some interest in our sportswriters to do a little research and tell us who looks good on the local and national landscapes this season. But, no.
And too many games on TV this season? Piffle. I’m not suggesting you have to TiVo, watch, and critique every one of them. But how awesome is it that you have such a huge assortment of choices available? As analogies go, don’t equate this to the restaurant with a menu that’s too large. You have three minutes to make a meal choice, and some menus are indeed too big. But if that was your menu from now until the first week of April, wouldn’t you bask in the 10-page Bennigan’s-style book of food rather than a one-pager?
My decision to renew the Extra Innings package every year has increasingly become something you could file under “financially asinine,” and this season in particular should have scared me off. By March, though, I just know I’ll be plunking down way too much money for the awesomeness of over 1,000 baseball games available for my viewing. 1,000 baseball games. Is more really better? Hell, yes, you cretin. Am I going to watch 1,000 baseball games? Of course not. But I grew up lucky to get WWOR as a basic cable bonus for a couple of years, catching a Mets game here and there and wishing like mad for more. With the package, 140-150 Mets games are right there for me. And Red Sox games to see how Rob’s mental health is at the moment, and Yankee games so I can recall how Michael Kay’s voice could drive a man to mass murder, and just all those frickin’ games. I take the remote and stroll up and down the dial, rolling around in all that baseball like Woody Harrelson in all that money in Indecent Proposal. It’s not an “overcrowded schedule.” It’s absolute luxury, because I love baseball, and I love sports.
ACC basketball (not football, mind you) is great viewing. Top to bottom a competitive conference with a lot of history. More ACC hoops on TV is better to many, many people. Their local sports guy telling them it’s not is mind-numbing.
Bob, I sense that you aren’t Mr. Crabby-pants about sports so frequently in real life, that you do still revel in the concept. That maybe you’ve tapped into a persona that suits you. So show us the real you. Make us love it as much as you do. But if you’re not . . . if this is you, if you feel that all that basketball clogs the airwaves and precludes you from seeing . . . whatever other dreck is passing for actual television content these days, then please stop writing. Please step down, become sportswriter emeritus, and let someone else with an unquenchable thirst for sports and everything about it do your job. They’re out there, giddily tuning in, rooting for one side or the other, and celebrating an era when technology gives us sports overload.
Not bemoaning . . . celebrating.
[And I aim to put my money where my mouth is later today with an enthusiastic post about sports (and otherwise).]