Columnist

Dim future for sports on-air due to remotecasts, sterile voices, cancel-culture, PC and indistinct talent

 

david halberstam round profile
Halberstam

Yesterday was typical for South Florida, steamy, humid and overbearing. Much of Florida is no paradise in July.

Driving down I-95, my stream of consciousness triggered memories of a comment by Barbara Schaffel that a few of us overheard, circa 1994. She innocuously labeled South Florida uninhabitable. Barbara happened to be the First lady of the Miami Heat during the reign of her husband Lewis Schaffel, the team’s Managing Partner. But Barbara rarely showed up at the old Miami Arena. Lewis, meanwhile, poured his heart into successfully building the new NBA franchise, from scratch.

Barbara’s not alone. Miami is brutal in the summer. Today, an offhanded harmless remark like Barbara’s would make headlines in the rags of national gossip and other polarizing publications. I could just imagine, Wife of Lewis Schaffel calls Miami uninhabitable. Twitter would light up! After Lewis sold his Heat stake in 1995, to Mickey Arison, the couple settled in Connecticut.

So I punched up SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio hoping to hear Chris Russo whom I find warm and real. But it was too early for Russo and this fellow Pat McAffey was in middle of hosting a midday show. If I got a dollar for every profane word that he and his cohorts spewed within the first few minutes I heard them, I’d have a year’s worth of tolls. The F word was used with no compunction. Ernie Johnson Jr. spoke angrily of Steve Kerr a couple years when the coach’s emotions got ahead of him and he bellowed an F Bomb in a post game press conference. “Wash your mouth out in soap,” Johnson snapped.

It got me to think of the contrasting worlds we’re living in, today vs. a couple decades ago. In my early years working in offices, the language was often littered with profanities, uttered mostly by men, but almost never in front of women. The world has changed. Today, there’s equal opportunity cursing. Men in front of women and vice versa. Today, if heaven forbid you opened the door for a lady or took your hat off in an elevator, they’d think your psychotic.

Sadly, political correctness and cancel culture have silenced our lips dictatorially. The PC police somehow hear just about everything. Careers on-air have been badly tainted for one unintentional slip of the mouth. It’s turned many on-air voices today into one homogenous and uninspiring group. Even progressive NBA boss Adam Silver opined during the overblown Rachel Nichols-Maria Taylor episode that it’s best to  judge people by their overall track-record, “especially long-term employees that are in good standing.”

It leads me to share a good number of issues that concern me about the future of play-by-play. So allow me to rant and suggest for a moment.

  • In broad daylight, the filthy mouthed McAffey cursed unhesitatingly. But if you refer to a person as being Black, your career is over.
  • The NFL will now run two national anthems prior to all games, the Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, written in 1900 and Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner, written in 1814 and set to music in 1931. How bloody divisive a practice is that! What a misguided decision by the league. What can we expect? Fans fighting in the stands over the practice! For centuries, immigrants arrived on our shores because America was a unifying country, my ancestries included. Thank God, anthems aren’t generally played on television other than at the Super Bowl. Last year, the league played the Black Anthem before all games one in September, now apparently it’ll be the entire season.
  • Stop making decisions on sideline reporters based purely on pulchritude. How about reportorial contribution? Does that count?  Oh, yes, remember Erin Andrews unseating Pam Oliver? Have you ever learned a thing from Erin? I never have. Erin’s closing in on 50. What’s next for her?
  • NBC’s SNF trio of Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya and Al Michaels (l-r)

    Don’t conveniently flash your gender or race card. Grow your career on your own merit. From the accomplished Michele Tafoya of NBC:

“I think the distinction between men and women in sports media is old and tired. I am asked this question a lot and I have been doing this for 25 years plus. I guess my advice to anyone, male or female, would be not to worry about it. We are all people. The idea is to be a professional journalist, and to do that, you just have to be extremely prepared, know your subjects, work your tail off, and compete with every other journalist out there. I don’t understand why people would want to put another make-believe hurdle in their way, by suggesting that because they are a woman, they need special advice. It is just not true anymore and I hope that’s not too brash, but I certainly believe it. (My comment: I just wonder whether at some point whether Tafoya will be unjustly taken off her SNF sideline role and succeeded by Maria Taylor. Could be another hullabaloo.)

  • Don’t be so guarded with your comments for fear of cancel-culture. Be sensitive of course to your constituencies of viewers and listeners but don’t allow it to scuttle your personality.

More:

  • Teams and stations: Put your announcers on the road. Don’t be cheap. John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, the Yankees’ radio voices vented on-air about not traveling after Sterling made an egregious error calling a game off a monitor, (not his first. He’s had tons even live).
  • Baseball teams and stations: Assign play-by-play jobs to announcers who can identify the type of pitch thrown, fast ball or breaking ball. Simple enough.
  • Baseball teams and stations: Games on radio sound more like talk shows than baseball, presented rhythmically and melodically by trained and experienced play-by-players. Dulcet word pictures painted by the best, we’ve enjoyed it for generations.
  • Teams and Stations: Don’t hire baseball announcers who take time off to work limited schedules. It’s not how Ernie Harwell, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Bob Prince and others built their public capital in the cities where they worked. They did a full schedule, come thick or thin. Announcers accept jobs locally and then take games off for peachy assignments elsewhere. Ridiculous! If you’re not committed to the team for which you work, move on. Bob Papa called Nets games when the club was managed by Lou Lamoriello. Papa also did and does the Giants. Lou wouldn’t allow Bob to take days off to do Giants games. So for Papa, it was gone, goodbye and from what I can tell, there was no groundswell of any protest. Lou wouldn’t budge. He held firm. Good for him.
  • Older announcers: When it’s time to shut the mic, do so! Teams: Encourage older announcers who are beginning to lose it to retire. Don’t allow them to continue with impunity. It’s unfair to fans. Know what’s ahead. Ralph Lawler, as superb as he was to his last call, knew when to say when. The legendary Kentucky announcer Cawood Ledford retired before it was too late. I’ve heard from broadcasters who tell me that their wives will tell them when it’s time to hang it up. Hogwash! Asking a family member to let you know when you’re losing it is just deluding yourself. Please.
  • Voices: Bring a distinguishable personality to the booth. Not everyone should sound the same.
  • Voices: Know the rules of the games you’re covering. It’s inexcusable when you don’t have a grip on the rules. You’re a big-league broadcaster!
  • Don’t over talk on TV and don’t screech when there’s a solo homer in the first inning.
  • Voices: Share a story. Inflect your voice properly when the flow of the game requires it.
  • Voices: Put substance ahead of style and don’t force inaccurate descriptions because it’s your patented line, e.g. “It’s high enough, it’s deep enough…”
  • Voices: Share an opinion, a personal experience. Let listeners and viewers get to know you. There are hundreds of voices. Do something natural that sets you apart!

Finally, let’s hope that there will be more personalities in the years ahead, after broadcast stars retire like baseball’s Mike Shannon, Bob Uecker, Joe Castiglione and Eric Nadel; NFLers like Merrill Reese, Bill Hillgrove, Brad Sham and Gene Deckerhoff; NBAers like George Blaha, Gary Gerould and Mike Gormann; NHLers like Sam Rosen and Rick Jeanneret. Hope they will all know when it’s time to move on and that their employers don’t hire some sterile and boring voice to follow them.

 

 

Share
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

Subscribe
Notify of
2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michael Green
2 months ago

I mean no disrespect to him when I say that late-career Harry Caray was nowhere near the earlier Harry. But he was … Harry. He could get away with it. But I think of Lindsey Nelson leaving NBC for the Mets, saying he thought of the network announcers who burned out early while a lot of baseball announcers had been around forever. When he left the Mets, he said he thought of the Yankees firing Allen and Barber, and the Pirates firing Bob Prince (and that really damaged that franchise, I think, in ways the Yankees were not destroyed by… Read more »

Barry Kipnis
1 month ago

Agree remote broadcasters are messing up announcers. Aside from the John Sterling gaffe on Aaron Judge’s “second home run” which was a replay, during the Pirates-Mets telecast in Pittsburgh, Gary Thorne, subbing for Gary Cohen on TV, called a “pop-up” and the ball went over the fence for a home run. I assume Thorne was calling the game remotely, for his sake. BTW, “it’s high enough, it’s deep enough” was Marty Glickman’s signature descriptive call of a field goal attempt, not a “patented line” such as “it is high, it is far, it is gone” on a home run call… Read more »