Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sports Commentators

Paul "Dr Z" Zimmerman is the greatest writer currently writing on American Football, if not the greatest ever. Every year, in his column in Sports Illustrated, Dr Z holds his TV Commentator Awards, where he rates the TV Commentators from five stars to no stars whatsoever.

Imagine if that were to happen here - there's be riots in the streets. In my memory, two RTÉ commentators have ever been criticised in the press, Ger Canning by Tom Humphries in the Irish Times in the early nineties, when Big Tom was just starting out, and Brian Carthy by Tommy Conlon in the Sunday Independent two years or eighteen months ago. Both Canning and Carthy sued for defamatory libel, claiming that their ability to earn an living had been unfairly impugned, and they wanted cash on the barrelhead fairly lively.

Maybe the Mandy Johnson libel loss yesterday against The Star will make the Four Courts seem less like an ATM machine, but until then mediocre commentary will continue to rule the waves.

Ignore Dr Z at your peril. Dr Z points out that the trend in US broadcasting is to sell the package and not the game, to hype stars even when those "stars" are tanking, and to generally ignore what's going on the paddock according to whatever marketing plan was decided on by the Marketing (not Sports) Department on Wednesday. As happens in the States, so happens maybe three years later in Britain, and eventually it washes up on our shores. Original ideas are not thick on the ground in RTÉ so you can bet your bottom dollar that if anything new happens on an RTÉ sports show, it's because the boys saw it somewhere else first.

Editorial cowardice doesn't help either. For a long time The Sunday Game analysts were taking the Book of Dunphy to heart. No matter what they saw they didn't like it, and things were always better in the old days. Now, when football has been reduced to a slaparama every weekend, their hands are tied to condemn the modern trend of football in case Somebody's Feelings Are Hurt. Remember Pat Spillane's line about "puke football?" The only instance possibly ever of a man on an RTÉ panel telling it like it was, and he had to drawn in his horns big style since. You can go with one editorial policy or the other, but not both.

The only commentators worth listening to are on the radio, of course. Mícheál is known to all of course, but I would recommend plugging in the radio for this weekend's rugger. In Michael Corcoran, RTÉ have a bone fide star, a man who tells it like it is, and goes utterly ape when it's time to go ape, and not because he got a memo beforehand. Long may he reign.