Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Death of the Adverb, and Other Sports Casual-ties

There's something missing in sports these days. It isn't an overwhelming sense of entitlement in the NBA. It isn't a series of hilariously exorbitant contracts in baseball. And it certainly isn't a string of Cincinnati Bengals arrests.

No, what's absent from the current sporting world isn't on the field, court or ice; it isn't in the front office; it isn't in the character or demeanor of the athletes playing the game.

What's currently lost in the sports scene isor perhaps more accurately, isn'ton the television in your own home.

Eloquence. Insight. Meaningful observation of any kind.

It's a crisis of color commentary, both in the booth during games and in the studio all day long.

The cause is simple. Precipitated by ESPNas all sports media trends are these daysthe problem stems from an utterly befuddling new system of hiring. It isn't about who the network is choosing to put on air; although let's be seriousit's not as if the cast of NFL Countdown will someday be able to string together a handful of coherent thoughts. Instead, the issue is the immediacy with which the network chooses to move ex-players and ex-coaches in front of the camera.

I mean, what ever happened to spending a year or two at an afterthought of an RSN to hone one's skills before making the move to the national sports scene?

Take, for example, former Red Sox manager and current ESPN Sunday Night Baseball color commentator Terry Francona. I've got nothing against the guy. He isn't the best there is on the air, but I have seen worse. (Read as: but I have seen worse on every FOX Sports broadcast ever). 

The problemfrom a sports perspective, at leastwith the influx of raw commentators like Francona and many others is that there's no confort level. Instead of offering deeper insight into the game, which presumably a Trent Dilfer or a Bruce Bowen would have after player professionally for so many years, they "play it safe" and revert to the same trite sports cliches that your creepy high school coach used to try to motivate you when you played a Tuesday afternoon game against East Whocaresville High School in front of a crowd of 12 parents.

"It's going to come down to whoever wants it more." Or, "It's all about fundamentals." Or, "All it takes is one guy coming up in the clutch."

Stop me when you've heard this [on ESPN] before.

It would be bad enough if the deteriorating state of color commentary was only hurting the sports world, but to make matters worse, it's bleeding out and threatening the English language. The first casualty: the adverb.

Next time you watch anything on ESPN, you'll notice. How could you not? There are so many actions to be described in sports and each, it seems, is chronicled rather poorly. But the real shock is that the death of the adverb is no longer solely a sports phenomenon. It has since extended into nearly all types of news and broadcasting. Go ahead and sit through a half hour news presentation, and you'll see what I mean. What's happened to the adverb is just the first casualty in America's apparent war on eloquence. 

Maybe it doesn't bother you; it is, after all, a matter of taste. Perhaps I'm the pretentious asshole in this scenario, and if that's the case, so be it. But shouldn't it be a problem that the media industrya sector of the business world whose primary responsibility is the telling of storiescould have such blatant disregard for the words with which they communicate those events?

If I had the choice to watch a game with commentators or with field noise, there's a short list of broadcasters whose voices would populate the speakers in my living room. And given the enormous potential for analysts to shape the enjoyment of a broadcast, that truly is a shame.

When words get in the way, why have them at all?


  1. And, indeed, with so many sportscasters endeavoring to become news anchors, I shudder to think how many more will drop their adverbs, etc, without missing them. But I can see the appeal - with the word reduction comes more time to advertise. Brilliant.

    Next time I'm at a game I'll be watching for you - you'll be the one with the armload of words, so carelessly discarded at the gate, yeah?