March 20, 1992
What the sportscasters are doing is the equivalent of talking
during an opera singer's performance. The commentator, in the
middle of the aria would say, "That high B was a bit flat
and really didn't have enough power."
Shortly after the end of WWII, I found myself in a military hospital. My war wound was a consequence of having bounced up and down on the hard seat of an army truck. The hospital had one of the few television sets in existence at the time. Television was so new that it had the same commentators on television as on radio. The radio commentators had to make it seem exciting. I watched the Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight. It sounded like one hellova fight on the radio, with Conn being the easy winner: "Conn comes in with a left and a right; then another left and a right." Those of us who were watching it could see that Louis was standing still in the center of the ring and Conn was dancing around him; mostly fanning the air and occasionally making contact with Louis's glove. To hear the sportscaster tell it, it was quite a fight. During the eighth round, I turned around to ask someone for a light and when I turned back, Conn was going down for the count. He had made the mistake of getting close enough so that Louis could reach him.
The discrepancy between what the sportscaster said and what actually happened was so great that, before long, there were separate commentators for TV and radio. The TV commentator's function became to inform the viewer of those things which were not obvious: "Pugsly seems to have a cut over his right eye." He would also comment during the intermission in case the commercials weren't long enough to fill the gap. Nowadays sportscasters manage to keep the airwaves alive between the action and the commercials. An index of how little it takes to do that job adequately is the fact that Ronald Reagan did it. It's only slightly more difficult than being president.
There are very few Olympic sports that I like to watch. Unless someone wipes out, if you see one luge run or ski race, you've seen them all. I used to watch skiing so that I had an excuse to keep my feet apart when I skied. The experts kept their feet apart, so why couldn't I?
One exception is figure skating. I find it lovely to watch and prefer it, by far, to ballet. I remember being genuinely thrilled watching David Jenkins when he won his Olympic gold medal in 1960. I love to watch grace and artistry set to music. Since then, I have become progressively less enthusiastic about it. The last Olympic figure skating competition that I watched in its entirety was last year. This year, I watched the beginning and had abandoned it long before Kristi Yamagouchi won her gold medal. Her performance was, I have been told, worth watching; but by then I had had it with Olympic figure skating forever.
What turned me off were the sportscasters. They have taken much of the pleasure out of watching figure skating. I would love to just watch the performance and listen to the music. I don't give a damn whether the skater is doing a double Lutz, a triple Axel or a quadruple Transmission. I also don't want to be told what the skater did wrong and how he/she did it. What the sportscasters are doing is the equivalent of talking during an opera singer's performance. The commentator, in the middle of the aria would say, "that high B was a bit flat and really didn't have enough power."
Last year, the Olympic skaters gave a non-competitive exhibition for the viewers, with little or no comments from the sidelines. It was delightful.
I have some very sound counsel for Scott Hamilton and his colleagues. You have lost me as part of your audience. Who knows how many others have stopped watching figure skating because of you. So, in the future, say or do anything that you want between the performances; but during the performance please --oh please-- SHUT UP!!!
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