Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why "not being ready for primetime" will soon be a selling point

Magic Johnson - has there ever been a smarter basketball player? Has a point guard ever been more deserving of the label "court general?"

Surprising then that Magic is such a subpar basketball commentator. The guy sits there awkwardly saying unbelievably generic things in unbelievably generic ways.

Not everyone who excels at something excels at discussing it. But I think there is something else sabotaging Magic; I smell hours of "broadcast training" courses on him. He has been turned into a human laugh track in an oversized six piece suit. If he were any more canned, his comments would come out shaped like Alpo.

Magic appears to be a smooth communicator when he is being himself. Check out this clip for a remarkable contrast between Canned Magic and Real Magic. In this clip you see Magic in front of a reporter's mic, sounding like an inarticulate substitute teacher. Then a fellow player walks by and the two interact - Magic's verbal dynamism quickly becomes apparent. It really does sound like two different people speaking.

Part of the reason Magic Johnson's talk show failed was because he couldn't talk. On The Magic Hour he was stiff, lost for words, futilely scrambling to end sentences smoothly. I'm sure this is because some hack trained him on "how to be a TV host" and in doing so rubbed away his natural speaking skills. What too many producers/managers don't understand - and I think podcasts are exposing this fact to the world - is that there is more than one way to be ready for primetime. If Magic had been encouraged to talk like he did in the locker room; if it had been the The Magic Shit-Talking Hour, it would have been a much better show.

And then there's Phil Simms, the out of tune, AW SHUCKS NFL analyst that no one can stand. The guy's chatter is more painful than a late hit, and I think the same forces are at work. Listen to the beginning of this clip; listen to how fluid his banter is with Dan Patrick when he isn't trying speak like a broadcaster.

No one likes radio announcers, no one likes paint-by-numbers TV why do we keep training them to be that way? Why have a color commentator if you're going to train him to be colorless? I have high hopes that the explosion of successful podcasts - complete with "unprofessional" modes of speech - will help put an end to this received "wisdom" about their being one "proper" way to speak on television. Ex-athletes are there to be ex-athletes, not Sotheby's auctioneers.

I don't know if Charles Barkley has had TV training classes. If he has, it doesn't show...which is why millions tune in to watch. I'm not saying Simms or Johnson would ever be that entertaining, but at least they wouldn't be wearing out mute buttons all over the country.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All the football pads on Earth can't protect you from the demands of football fans

Football has supplanted Christianity as America's supreme religion. The games are even played on Sunday. But unlike priests and pastors, football players are extended little forgiveness by the congregation.

"Get out there and play!"

Fans complain when an injured player sits out. Then they complain when he plays hurt and doesn't overcome it. Fans whinge when a guy doesn't risk his ability to walk by playing with serious injury. The person who calls in sick to work with the sniffles is often the one who screams "Get out there and play!" Apparently the team physician who sees the players week in, week out knows less about their condition than the fan sitting in the upper deck watching the game behind a pillar. Do these humps not realize they sound like the ultimate slave-driving boss?

A football game has 60 minutes on the clock; a player crippled in his 20s or 30s has five or six decades of life he'll have to live with that handicap. The NFL is littered with casualties. A serious injury occurs every few weeks. Lots of ex-players have sued the NFL for being mislead about the seriousness of concussions. I know, I know, it's typical spoiled athlete behavior to not want Alzheimer's at 39. We cheer when someone plays in the Wheelchair Games We boo when someone tries to avoid becoming a candidate for the Wheelchair Games.

Fans complain about athletes being drug addicts; part of the reason players are hopped up on drugs is because they're expected to play hurt. Which do you want: Athletes who sit out more often or athletes carrying duffel bags full of pain pills? A little Oxycontin can mean a lot more yards per carry. Life has trade-offs.

Athletes get reproached for leaving college early; it's bad for them as people, sets a bad example for the kids, blah blah blah. Ask yourself: Would YOU leave all that money on the table? An athlete - particularly a football player - can have his career ended rather easily, but you want him to play another year or two of high risk college football to fulfill your idea of what a "well-rounded young man" should be?

The whole reason people get degrees is to help them prosper. A touted college athlete can leave after his sophomore year and prosper beyond the dreams of 99% of people who graduate. But you're right, he should stay in school (where he will likely be majoring in something useless like sociology) and blow out a knee instead.

Interesting, isn't it, the way the ideals of the labor movement scurry away when it comes to sports? A janitor shouldn't have come to work with a sprained ankle, but a guy whose (literal) survival on the field depends on mobility should? College athletes shouldn't be paid despite generating millions for the colleges while putting their health in serious jeopardy? Somehow it isn't exploitation when the name tag is on the back of the uniform instead of the front.

The irony is that because football is considered such a manly sport, you're given less slack when you sit out with injury (How ironic that there is a football play called a safety?) from the world's first or second most dangerous sport. When a tennis player cramps up and plays through it, it makes the news. Cramps may be painful, but how many people do you know who have been paralyzed by cramps? Djokovic cramping up would be a lot more dramatic if Nadal were allowed to hop over the net and tackle him.

Playing football under optimal conditions can lead to permanent disability. Imagine playing with part of your body already compromised. NBA champion Willis Reed is famous for playing hurt, Every time a basketball player plays hurt, they mention Willis Reed. The pain he played through, a torn thigh muscle, though severe for basketball, would be less noteworthy in the NFL. But that hasn't stopped Reed from becoming one of the most famous symbols in all of sports for playing through pain.

Contrast that with NFL legend Ronnie Lott, who had his pinkie finger amputated to avoid being sidelined by the necessary surgery. The NFL triggers enough perverse sacrifices to keep Lott's sacrifice from being the go-to reference for player toughness. Remember that the next time you strain your back getting off the sofa to change the channel during a bad Sunday for your team.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why do articles about diversity lack diversity?

New York asks: What's the Matter with Connecticut?

Well, New York says Connecticut is an unequal place. Plus it apparently still suffers from a dreaded WASP plague (not to be confused with the locust kind). From the article:

Representing the R half of the equation is Fairfield County, home to an extraordinary concentration of money-management businesses and many of Connecticut’s one percenters. It’s a pretty, Waspy place, Wall Street’s buttoned-up suburb.

As we all know from years of hackneyed articles like this, WASPy is always shorthand for buttoned-up. When you see WASP in an article, it only has one implication: Those fair-skinned Episcopalians just don't know how to cut loose! It sucks when DEAD WHITE MEN aren't dead.

But predictable anti-WASP inferences aside, let's examine the demographics of Fairfield County. From Wikipedia, here are the demographics of its five most populous towns:


Bridgeport is less than 1/2 white. Hispanics comprise at least 1/5 of the population in four of these towns. And there seems to be a fair bit of OTHER.

Pieces like this also forget or just ignore that the P in WASP stands for Protestant. Yeah, about that: of the Fairfield residents with a religious affiliation, 70% identify as Catholic, which is, you know, sort of what Protestants were protesting by becoming Protestants. 

“Connecticut ranks among the highest, and possibly the highest, in total unfunded pensions and retiree health care per taxpayer in the nation.” 

CT may be the “most unequal state in the country,” but not because it’s a tax haven; CT has the third highest tax rates in America. Underfunding is the result of fantastical projections/promises made by sociopathic politicians and bureaucrats (some of whom, it turns out, aren't WASPs!). I wonder if the writer will bother reconsidering the premise that high taxation leads to broader distributions of wealth...

And though this isn't stated in the article, buttoned-up and WASP is typically shorthand for "conservative" (see the 1,000,000^15 articles scrutinizing Orange County's demographics). Probably worth pointing out that Fairfield hasn't gone Republican in a Presidential election since 1996. Connecticut hasn't gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

Nothing is stuffier and more button-up than articles decrying the perils of the now completely imaginary WASP elite.