The 90’s band Living Colour said it best when they sang about the power of personality. “I tell you one and one makes three.” People with personality have a great deal of influence and are pushed to the front, particularly in the sports world. Who remembers the heat Eli Manning took for his lack of personality (Well that was quelched once he won 2 Super Bowls). And yet others such as Brandon Phillips are hoisted up because of their personality (yes he is a good player, but he is being overhyped a bit). This power of personality follows on up from the playing field as well and into the broadcast booth. Which is my point of contention today. Just because you are a former player with a big personality should not entitle you to a spot in the broadcast booth.
Last night while watching the ESPN Sunday night baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds I was once again forced to listen to the “insights” of former players. One exchange in particular caught my attention. The booth of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and John Kruk were talking about the pitching phenom of the Cardinals. Trevor Rosenthal. They were openly wondering how he could last until the 21st round of the draft. Was it his mechanics or was he a late bloomer or control issues? Umm…well Mr. Former Professional player a simple matter of some studying would have made it obviously clear why he lasted so long. Rosenthal was focused on being an infielder until he was forced into action on the mound during a Junior College Tournament. In all he pitched 4 2/3 innings during his collegiate career….yes the reason Rosenthal lasted sooooooo long was simply because he was new to the pitcher. It would have taken all of 1.8 seconds to Google this. Now grant it the media broadcasts typically have spotters and other people that put notes together for the broadcast teams but this just shows why professional players should not automatically be given broadcast jobs. The Sunday night crew had all week to study this game and look for little things of interest. But they don’t care about the minutiae of broadcasting, they are there to give their unique “insight” into the game.
However too often their unique insight is just their personality. They truly do not offer anything valuable to the viewer. Has anyone ever learned anything from Brian Baldinger, Tony Siragusa or Al Hrabosky? I doubt it instead we are subjected to Hungo Awards and Tony telling us his favorite player because he is fat too…and don’t get me started on what Baldinger brings to the game. Instead their broadcast is about them, their stories and not what is happening on the field or why it is happening.
This trend of big personality pro broadcasters grew from John Madden. Madden was a successful coach for the Raiders before jumping into the booth. While I was too young to hear the young Madden I understood he was liked because he simplified things for the audience. Now towards the end though Madden just became a caricature of himself. Playing to the quirky Tur-duck-en and All-Madden teams. Now every program director is looking to capture the next big identity….Keyshawn Johnson, Michael Strahan, Charles Barkley, etc.
I understand that the goal of broadcasts is to bring in and connect with a wide audience. The hard core fans (like me) are going to be there no matter what. But it is annoying that they automatically assume because you played a pro sport you are qualified to broadcast the game. It is the same as star players and coaches, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It is possible to find former players that can develop into great broadcasters. Ron Jaworski, Sean Casey, Chris Collinsworth, Marshall Faulk, Doug Collins and Mary Carillo are all at the top of the broadcast game after playing careers. The one thing all of these have in common. Information. They do their homework, they aren’t afraid to speak their mind (no cowering to teams or individual players) and they stay within themselves and don’t go over the top…Keyshwan Johnson (C’Mon Man, I mean really!?!?!?)
So please program and network directors, look for talented former players that can broadcast. Just don’t hand out jobs because they wore a jersey. Because I can tell you right now although you are looking for personalities to reach a wide audience; you aren’t doing your brand any favors when the fans know more than the commentators. You are just making yourself look silly and uninformed….I mean, C’Mon Man!!!