Sports commentating has a very distinct, unique subculture. There are the universal favorites like Al Michaels, Hannah Storm and Chris Berman. We’ve observed the eccentric balls of energy like Jon Gruden and Dick Vitale. We’ve listened to the golden voices of Harry Caray, Vin Scully and Bob Costas. Fans also get to see Erin Andrews and Alex Flanagan report from the sidelines. Here in the Bay Area, there are plenty of personalities and voices to listen too, as well: the Giants have Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, the A’s Mel Kuiper and Ray Fosse, the Warrior’s Bob Fitzgerald and Jim Barnett and of course, the beautiful baritone voice of Jon Miller for Giant’s radio.
One nationally recognized commentator always seems to be the man to pick on, Joe Buck. Buck is always at the center of criticism for his style of commentating: lackluster energy, oversimplified comments and saying little to nothing in his play-by-play commentating roles. Even with all the criticism, he’s still one of the main voices fans hear during playoff baseball and playoff football. Though Buck is known to be a man of few words, he is also known to be a man who sticks to sports. Buck said that he tries his best to avoid political commentary during games because he doesn’t want to anger viewers. He never goes outside of the game he’s commentating on, and that’s one of the reasons he recently spoke out and said, “Stick to sports!” Buck told Sporting News, “I think people watch these games to get away from that stuff. I think you risk alienating, and upsetting, a lot of people when you start going down that rabbit hole.” I can respect that he wants to provide fans with the best sporting experience he can provide. There almost seems to be a divide within fans, some of whom are for the intrusion of politics in sports TV and others who are fully against.
I myself am not too bothered by any political commentary because I’m still able to watch and enjoy a game for it’s pure entertainment value. When Kaepernick’s national anthem protest and the 2016 election were at the forefront of a lot of sports news stories last fall, viewers voiced their displeasure. Across all sports media platforms, there almost seemed to be hesitation because of the line that sports tries not to cross. That is, to create conversation that divides. Most times when you hear sports arguments, it’s about players and their performance, exciting and historic moments or this team versus that team. But do politics have a place in sports?
Sports journalist Jason Whitlock has his own take on things. Whitlock has worked for ESPN, AOL Sports and Fox Sports and believes sports and politics have always had a working relationship. However, Whitlock believes that sports media is very left-leaning. He told Sporting News, “Sports writing has moved far left. The media used to cater to New York, the hub of traditional liberal values. Journalists used to be obsessed with working at a New York newspaper, magazine or TV network. Now the entire industry is obsessed with going viral and how words will be received via social media. Who determines this? San Francisco/Silicon Valley, the hub for revolutionary, far-left extremism, the home base for Twitter and Facebook.” Whitlock’s view is up for debate, but it is hard to argue that we live in a world where instant gratification is what’s preferred and news comes to people in rapid fire from various outlets.
Do what Whitlock and Buck have to say reflect the current feelings of fans? Do fans not want to hear their commentators opinions? That’s up to each individual fans taste and preferences. Looking back to old and recent storylines though, sports always makes their way into politics. Of the 68 New England Patriots players invited to the White House, only 34 showed up. Some players say they had other obligations, others outright said it was because they didn’t want to go because of the current president. In the ‘70s, Title IX was introduced to give women more opportunities for scholarships, afterwhich, there was a 600 percent increase in women playing college sports.
So no, Joe. Sports figures and commentators probably won’t be letting up anytime soon. I’m almost certain of that, considering how much sports media influences the youth. But it can be healthy, it can be beneficial. Think of Stuart Scott, who interviewed Bill Clinton and shot around with Obama to humanize these politicians. Instead of asking, “Does politics have a place in sports?” the question should be, “Why don’t the two have a better relationship?”
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