On The Art Of Keeping Shtum

Now that the Beijing Olympics are running their final course – the Olympic Village a sea of hastily stuffed suitcases and used sneakers; athletes packing to catch their flights home, and the famous Bird’s Nest stadium about to be demoted to just another execution site for Chinese political prisoners – I have a few words to say to the American sports commentators, flown at great expense from the United States to double our delight and pluralize our pleasure, during this momentous, quadrennial event:


I’m no great sports fan. I don’t savor the weekend ballgame or rush off to the golf course at every opportunity. I don’t even know what ESPN stands for. Just once in a while, however, my interest in matters physical raises itself above the level of a female body beautiful and attaches me to the cathode ray tube for a week, or a fortnight, of sport spectacular.

The British Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon; the soccer World Cup; the Olympics. Throughout my life these events have held a certain fascination. Then, sadly, I moved to the United States of America.

Yes, I can still view these events, albeit through a constant barrage of Pepsi Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Viagra marketing, but the enjoyment is sucked away as surely as a Texas teen demolishing a Coke in the heat of a Dallas summer, by the inane chattering of certain employees of the US corporate media who misrepresent themselves as, “commentators”.

In truth, their aim is to distract the viewer from the current event by disclosing lurid details of their past life, latest acquisitions from Christian Dior, or in the case of one female broadcaster at the Olympics, a lecture on the architecture of the stadium roof during a particularly engrossing performance of a Russian rhythmic gymnast who needed no commentary, other than the most delicate of vocal punctuation, to transport one to a blissful state of nirvana by her beauty, poise, and ballet-like dexterity.

The woman responsible for this rape of art and physical flawlessness is no exception to the rule. Rather, she is the norm. Wimbledon is ruined annually by the vocal floodgates of ex-US tennis stars-cum-media reporters who have about as much idea how to conduct a commentary on play as the Roman Emperor Nero had of Christian forgiveness.

Last year’s World Cup soccer tournament suffered similar inanity.

There’s a good reason for such lack of professionalism brazenly displayed by those employed by US corporate media outlets like NBC, (who, incidentally, have somehow secured the contract to exclusively cover both the Vancouver winter Olympics of 2010, and the London Olympics of 2012). It’s an automatic assumption that ex-players make good commentators. Nothing is further from the truth. While a sports commentator benefits from a thorough grounding in his particular field, the art of commentary has nothing to do with physical expertise in any particular sport.

Those of us mature enough to remember great BBC radio commentators like John Motson, Kenneth Wolstenholme, and Eddie Waring know that sports stars don’t necessarily make good commentators – something the US media has yet to fathom.

This supplanting of vocal expertise by pointless prattle is a necessary part of televised American sport. With the possible exception of basketball, other activities – baseball and American football – involve short periods of involvement interspersed with long, grotesquely boring, eons of inactivity that necessitate some form of vocal interlocution to prevent the viewer lapsing into somnolence. For this, the American ‘commentator’ is indispensable.

Fortunately, in the rest of the world sport partakes of sufficient activity to render such vacuous verbiage unnecessary to the point of distraction. Not to make too fine a point, it’s bloody annoying.

If US commentators have nothing better to say during a sporting event than to comment on such matters as the stadium roof, we’d all be much better off if they stayed at home and left the grace and skill of the competitors to speak for itself.

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7 Replies to “On The Art Of Keeping Shtum”

  1. Precisely.

    I think i came to the same opinion after watching Joe Namath grappling obtusely with the political ramifications of the Vietnam War, way back in 1972.

    I don’t watch sports if i can help it; to me it all seems to fall into either the bins of pornography or ritualized warfare… but if it MUST be on for the enjoyment of others in the household, i try to sneak it onto ‘mute’ to avoid the constant urge to brick the tv screen with something large and irregularly textured.

    Call it callous, but i really don’t care if the second string quarterback’s cousin just had a baby, or if the commentator suffered a hangnail during a similar situation in high school. That all of this useless information is delivered in high self-hubris and mixed metaphor makes me want to stuff a microphone down someone’s garrulous gob.

    And another thing, while i’m on about it; most of organized sport would be played much better by children, than by grown up men being paid millions so that other grown up men can remember the thrill of playing it as kids.

  2. When it comes to sport I’m both physically and mentally challenged.
    I lack co-ordination physically and I have acute attention deficit disorder when it comes to observing others doing any kind of sport.
    Fortunately, the husband feels much the same, so we haven’t watched a single minute of the Olympics. I therefore cannot add anything sensible here, but I shall waffle.

    Back in the UK, I did, on occasion, dredge up a little enthusiasm for a couple of sports personalities, whose names I can’t fully recall: Colin somebody or other, the hurdler, and the long jumper, John Edwards (?) 🙂 Olympics seemed rather more interesting in Britain though, more local interest somehow. The vastness of the USA drowns out any kind of local interest in individual performers for me.

  3. Colin Jackson, Twilight. A great (ex) champion, real gent, all round nice guy and currently a fair to middlin’, knowledgable, ultra-enthusiastic commentator with a wicked sense of fun and a beaming smile that positively lights up up the screen.

  4. Maybe they have television confused with radio where dead air is not a good thing. Guess there is nothing stopping us from turning the sound off.

    I think team sports are boring though I do think some of the individual sports must take an incredible amount of practice (like gymnastics or ice skating or even synchronized swimming) but I don’t understand the nuances that make something great. Cirque du Soleil is more interesting if I want to see athleticism. Still a good book beats any of it.

  5. Missed the whole thing, RJA, no TV here but from the little I see in others’ houses, I couldn’t agree with you more.
    I played a lot of tennis in my time and would go and watch live tennis matches and watch Wimbledon too so had my days of competitive sports and interesting and interested, but mostly quiet, commentators.
    I cannot abide the mindless prattle that passes as informed commentary these days. Is it the general dumbing down of the populace that encourages this? If so, it is very alarming.

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