Friday, October 21, 2011

Power of Video Costs Some, Not Others

Access to instant replay played a role in two significant football moments this week. In one case that prompted serious action, and in another no action was taken.

Actually, perspective was important in several radio/TV-related situations this week. Specifically ...

Act: Coaches Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers and Jim Schwartz of the Lions exchange a handshake, and more, after their teams' game.
React: The NFL repeatedly reviewed the fracas and while some media talkers initially wanted league action (a fine or suspension), the NFL was wisely not swayed by the potential power of video. No action was taken against either coach.

That was the right decision. While such an incident was rare, it was hardly historically unusual. Coaches have had emotional on-field exchanges before, and the fact that this one was caught on tape would've been the only reason for disciplinary action. Again, the NFL was wise to ignore what looked worse than it was.

(And Harbaugh's tongue-in-cheek admission later in the week that he could improve and would "work on his handshake" actually made the situation all the better.)

Act: Michigan State defensive end William Gholston loses his composure, punching an opponent and trying to rip the helmet off another during his team's game against rival Michigan.
React: Gholston's actions were goonish and stupid. They have no place on a football field. And he should have been kicked out of the game immediately when they happened. Instead, he remained in the game and Big Ten Conference officials later suspended him for this week's game against Wisconsin.

They were right, but it was the power of the video -- repeated over and over on television, and discussed on ESPN -- that must've swayed the eventual decision makers, because it was not until six days after the game that he was suspended. Six days, nearly a full week. Really?

And again, as ESPN's Matt Millen points out, Gholston's goonish actions were worse simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- he was stupid, not subtle -- and his actions were caught on tape.

Act: Fox Sports earns the U.S. broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2012 World Cup
React: Bad for soccer purists, who enjoyed ESPN's complete coverage of the most recent World Cup. Not a bad thing for those of us not interested in soccer, because Fox Sports will be easier to avoid than ESPN when surfing channels.

Finally tonight ...
Act: Bryant Gumbel attacks NBA commissioner David Stern at the end of HBO's Real Sports, comparing him to a plantation overseer.
React: Gumbel was wrong, and several usually outspoken critics who have better NBA credentials than Gumbel pointed that out. Among them was ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, who professed his respect for Gumbel but offered strong disagreement -- he called the characterization "highly inappropriate" as he pointed to African-American owners, administrators and in the NBA and Stern's role in making that happen. "I think (Gumbel's comments) are beyond the pale," Smith said. "If you look at the history of the league under commissioner Stern, it's just factually incorrect."

Friday, October 7, 2011

No Hank Jr. But 'Are You Ready' Will Return

Yes, Hank's gone -- necessarily so -- but expect someone else to ask "Are You Ready for Some Football?" sooner rather than later during the opening segment of "Monday Night Football."

ESPN owns the trademark on the phrase, and it would be surprising if it does not return in some manner with a prominent entertainer or signer at some point. Maybe even this season.

(As an aside, it's interesting that the trademark for the phrase was not filed until March 17, 1997, and approved on April 21, 1998. Williams started in the role nearly a decade earlier, in 1989. Imagine how this situation would have been different it he would have secured the trademark.)

While some purists like the football-focused feel of this past Monday night's opening, which happened because ESPN pulled the iconic Hank Williams Jr. singing intro because of his politically charged remarks on "Fox and Friends," the "MNF" broadcast made the big opening an expected and synonymous part of the game's pop culture-sports combination.

The influence of the approach was so great that when NBC Sports launched "Sunday Night Football" it first used Pink (a good although maybe edgy choice for some) in that role. "SNF" later moved toward a somehow safer and similarly sexy Faith Hill for its opening song.

For both ESPN and Williams the fallout, as summarized well by USA Today's Michael Hiestand, should be positive. The network gets to distance itself from a problem and Williams gets to play a victim card that will boost ticket sales for his upcoming tour and allow him to bolster his rebel image.

Still, the biggest unfortunate outcome of the situation is the continued perception that what entertainers or sports types think about politics (or any subject other than the area in which they work) matters.

Make no mistake, Williams was not wrong in expressing his opinion. He was just wrong in thinking that it would not impact whether he was employable as a representative of the brand on one of the most-watched TV shows during any season.

At the same time, those who blather and react about Williams have heightened the controversy around the situation for no reason. And some -- including almost every talking-head "expert" in this "Outside the Lines" piece from earlier this week (the only one with any sense seems to be the academic) -- seem more offensive than Williams because they promote their own agendas and take things out of context. They're doing what they do knowingly, too. If not, that's even worse.

In this case, "OTL," often a beacon of sports journalism on TV moved closer to Jerry Springer than anything else. And that's a shame.