Was this really a controversy?
What am I asking? Of course it was. Everything’s a controversy these days. There’s no more news. There are just outrage injections.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked after the game about two of his players laughing and joking on the sideline in the death throes of their season. "I didn't see that, and I'd be disappointed if that was the case," Whisenhunt said. "I didn't sense, with talking to Derek in the fourth quarter, and from talking with our offensive line, that that was the case. So until I see that, I would be hesitant to say anything about it."
One reporter, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, asked, "I don't mean this to be sarcastic, or pointed, but that went out on Monday night television, and a lot of fans are talking about it right now as a big problem with this team. Can you put into context what was going on at that moment, and what caused you to ..."
Anderson cut him off. "What Deuce and I talk about is nobody else's business."
Somers: "But why was something funny when you're down 18 points n the fourth quarter?"
Anderson: "It wasn't funny -- I wasn't laughing about anything."
Somers: "But the cameras showed you laughing ..."
Anderson (cutting the reporter off again): "Okay, that's fine. That's fine, that's fine, that's fine. That's fine. I'm not laughing about it. You think this is funny? I take this [bleep] serious! Real serious! I put my heart and soul into this [bleep] every single week!"
Listen. Soldiers under fire laugh. Sailors going down with the ship laugh. Pilots watching engines fail laugh. Firefighters, cops, emergency room nurses and doctors laugh. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but laugh at the joke life---or Death---has just played. And if they can laugh in the face of the worst, football players can laugh, even players on a rotten team losing yet another game as a rotten season winds down to its rotten end.
The fact that fans---Fans! That’s very often another word for loudmouthed losers who need to get a life---are outraged by the laughter of the players whose actual money and careers are on the line and reporters think that outrage is worth a response from the coach and players and the coach and the players think they have to deny that anyone would have dared laugh at that crucial moment when a game was being lost, a loss that would result in…result in…well, in a lot of supposed grown-ups being unhappy for a couple of hours…is so depressing that there’s no good way to react to it but…
I love baseball. I enjoy basketball. I used to like football and every now and then I like it again enough to turn on a game and sit through a quarter or two. But it’s getting harder and harder for me to watch any sport on TV. Even baseball gets annoying, with the announcers’ constant yammering and the forty-two replays of routine ground-outs, and the camera angles that isolate the players from each other and thus from the game. Directors call camera cues as though they learned their craft from spaghetti westerns in which every other shot is a close-up composed to hide the fact that there aren’t more than four people in the cast and that’s not Arizona behind the heroes, it’s Italy. It’s as if they think the last thing we want to see when we watch baseball is baseball.
I don’t know who the producers think their audience is, but it’s not people who know and like the game enough to follow it on their own. Slow-witted Martians, maybe, with short attention spans who need constant reminding that it’s three strikes and you’re out.
I lost interest in football years ago when I realized that the quarterbacks weren’t calling the plays. These days, neither are the coaches, at least not on the spot. The reason video games like Madden can be so realistic is that real football games are as programmed as software. Games are simultaneous runnings of competing algorithms and the coaches who write the code days ahead of time are on hand in case bugs develop.
I suspect this is why TV emphasizes the violence so much. The only always unpredictable outcome on any given play is whether or not a player is going to get up after a particularly vicious hit.
Dropped passes and missed receivers are the only other surprises which is why TV coverage also emphasizes failure.
Then there’s the commentary---pre-game, mid-game, post-game---from the sports desks, which is mostly an embarrassing spectacle of middle-aged men, some on the brink of being old men, indulging their man-crushes on twenty-something athletes.
Mainly, though, what I can’t put up with the insistence that something important is going on.
It’s a game.
Football, baseball, basketball, they’re all games and that’s why we love them, because they’re games and games by definition don’t matter. They aren’t important. They are distractions from the worries and troubles caused by what is important.
For the short time we devote to watching or, ideally, playing a game nothing matters except the playing of the game. Emphasis on play.
I don’t mean play as in child’s play. I mean play as in the playing out of the mental and physical activity required to begin, sustain, and complete the game.
The game only matters in and of itself. If anything else begins to matter, it stops being a game.
I think most fans, and probably most players, know this or intuit it. We go to a game, watch a game, play a game, in order to spend some time elsewhere.
Sports take us out of the moment and out of ourselves. In that way they are like art. They let us focus on something that is not important to our selves. They let us not be us for a time. We can simply just be.
But I’m guessing most fans aren’t the targeted audience anymore.
Sports is big business. There’s bundles of money to be made. The trick is getting the people with the money to part with it. You can’t get people to spend a lot on something that just isn’t that important to them.
What you need to do, then, is find or create an audience to whom a game is important, that is, to whom it is not a game. You need to rope in the suckers whose selves will get wrapped up in what’s happening on the field or on the screen.
This is why controversy is integral to the coverage.
Anger is the most addictive of the emotions. Stir up trouble, get people outraged, and you’ve hooked them. They will keep coming back for a fix.
Once upon a time a sportswriter could call it a job well done if he’d written an amusing prose poem about an inside the park home run.
Now, the home run itself is practically besides the point. It’s the excuse to gripe about the pitcher’s mistake, the outfielder’s slip up, the missed cut-off, the blown call at the plate. You don’t write about what happened, you start an argument.
This is why they’re so hot to institute appeals to instant replays in baseball. It increases the time fans can spend arguing.
This is the way politics is covered by the Washington Insiders. It’s increasingly the way entertainment is covered. How many stories about some starlet’s fashion faux pas do we need? Why the hell else do any of us know the name of Kanye West?
The Cardinals are having a laughable season. I’d like to think God is playing a joke on Arizona for its descent into madness and hysteria over the fact that there are a lot of people who speak Spanish living there but many of those Spanish-speaking people are probably Cardinals fans too.
How dare they come here and adopt our culture?
The Cardinals are playing so badly it isn’t funny, except that it is, because what else is it when grown men are so bad at playing a kids’ game?
And who else has better earned the right to laugh at them than the players themselves?
What else are they supposed to do?
All the way to the bank?
Thanks to Stephen Suh at Cogitamus.
The inside the park home run I mentioned above was hit in the first game of the 1923 World Series between the New York Giants and the New York Yankees. The player who hit it was Casey Stengel. The sportswriter was Damon Runyon. The prose poem went like this:
This is the way old Casey Stengel ran running his home run home to a Giant victory by a score of 5 to 4 in the first game of the World's Series of 1923.
This is the way old Casey Stengel ran, running his home run home when two were out in the ninth inning and the score was tied and the ball was bounding inside the Yankee yard.
This is the way—His mouth wide open.
His warped old legs bending beneath him at every stride.
His arms flying back and forth like those of a man swimming with a crawl stroke.
His flanks heaving, his breath whistling, his head far back . . .
The warped old legs, twisted and bent by many a year of baseball campaigning, just barely held out under Casey Stengel until he reached the plate running his home run home.
For the record, Old Casey was all of thirty-three in 1923. Stengel wasn’t happy with the description. But Runyon knew what was important. You could look it up.