Familiarity breeds contempt, and never is that more true than with major sports commentators and their massive captive audiences. Mention the names of our four top sports commentators—Cris Collinsworth, Joe Buck, Kirk Herbsreit and Jeff Van Gundy—to a fan and it’s a safe bet to evoke at least one visceral reaction.
They talk too much. They think their so smart. And they have the best job in the world, jerks. We hate our most familiar commentators for a variety of reasons.
Who doesn’t dream of getting paid to watch great games? After a rough day of work, it’s a thumb in the eye to listen to some guy make a living critiquing your team. You may say Collinsworth is smug, but you know what he is saying to be true. It’s not that you really hate him, you just wish it could be you getting paid to pinpoint the weaknesses in your team’s offensive line schemes.
2. We cherry-pick their mistakes.
Don’t act like you’ve never been slow to pickup on a trade or forgotten the score. If these guys make even the slightest error, sports fan react incredulously. How dare Joe Buck say Miguel Cabrera is batting .363. It clearly says .373! One misstep and fans ride the announcer the rest of the game, intently listening in anticipation of the next blunder. Every commentator slips, its just that we see these guys so often we remember all of theirs.
3. We know they know we hate them.
Nearly 5,000 people on Facebook like the “I Hate Joe Buck” page. Kirk Herbstreit faced such vitriol for the few times he criticised his alma mater, Ohio State, that he moved from Ohio to Tennessee. In our hyper-connected age, announcers can’t help but see complaints from fans. What really gets us is when they revel in doing what we hate them for.
4. They are here for good.
polarising commentators are a good thing for networks. We listen more closely to a guy we hate than one we’ve never heard of. We bask in our bashing. Much like NBA fan’s ceaseless, ruthless booing of commissioner David Stern at the Draft, we appreciate those who embrace the role of the heel. A little hate is inevitable when you’re at the top, why not own it.
5. They state the obvious.
This is a particularly weak criticism. Sports are not rocket science, and sometimes the best call is the simplest one. But the obvious should only be stated when of particular importance. A poor commentator will succumb to the urge to speak by rambling. A strong one knows when to speak as well as when not to.
The biggest name is sports announcing history, John Madden, may also be the most mocked. Much like teenagers who fawn over obscure bands, only to eschew them when they make it big, we tend to prefer our local callers. Vin Scully is a god in Los Angeles, but its not hard to imagine national listeners mocking his exquisitely understated approach. Ron Santo was beloved in Chicago, but his Cubs devotion limited him to local calls.
Hate may well be the best sign for a commentator of a job well done. We treat our teams like younger siblings—we can beat them up all we want, but no one else can, even when they are in the right. Great commentators force us to examine games at a high level, and regardless of if we agree with them, that is their greatest service.
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