Monthly Archives: March 2013

It’s Annoying To Watch – Check That – To Listen to Tennis On TV


There was a time when only “big” tennis matches were broadcast on television, and big means the men’s championship final from Wimbledon on NBC and the U.S. Open men’s final match on CBS. Networks did not have a collection of tennis sportscasters in the way they had a stable of announcers specializing in stronghold sports such as baseball and football that were televised daily or weekly. When the networks produced tennis for television, they usually paired a popular and soft-spoken staff announcer with a well-known and personable former player, both of whom would fit well into the elegant country club atmosphere of the venues where the tournaments were played. Back then, CBS chose former NFL player turned announcer Pat Summerall and Cincinnati native Tony Trabert, a retired world No.1 player. NBC assigned Dick Enberg to call the matches with former college player and coach turned sports reporter Bud Collins (although Collins could single-handedly transform the chic atmosphere of any country club). With the tennis boom of the 1970’s, the sport started coming into its own as “made for TV” events were staged and eventually, with the advent of the current crop of specialty sports cable channels, most all of the hallmark tennis tournaments now receive full coverage from start to finish.

That should be good news to tennis fans, right? Maybe not. The expansion of tennis as a television staple is great for tennis aficionados. However, it did not come without growing pains that seem to still be hanging around making it difficult to enjoy the broadcasts with the sound on.  

While no tennis fan with cable access could possibly lament the amount of modern-day television coverage devoted to Grand Slam and other major tournaments, those who recall the skills of announcers/commentators such as Summerall and Trabert (image above) are likely disappointed by the talent hired to fill today’s broadcast booths. In particular, former players assigned to either anchor or comment on the matches seem to focus on one or both of the following: (1) They talk about themselves as much or more than they talk about players in the match they are covering, and/or (2) They are so full of hyperbole with their compliments to the top players that they are more like fan club presidents than analysts. It does not matter if names are mentioned here or not – pick an announcer, any announcer. It is rare for a former player sitting in the broadcast booth to criticize a current Top 10 player on court or scrutinize the match by sharing the insider expertise they were hired to provide.

Except for many of those panel members who sit at the desk for pre- and post-game football and baseball shows, former team sport players who work television games as announcers and analysts do not seem to have this egocentric focus on themselves. Perhaps that is because when playing a team sport, one shares success and failure with others and they recognize the gifts of their teammates. In tennis, the athlete is on the court alone or teamed with only one other player and the focus is almost 100% on them, win or lose. Is it possible that this self-focus carries over to the broadcast booth and they still think of themselves as one of the attractions of the program?

Tennis players spend a lot of time around each other, because they all play essentially the same schedule, attend the same tournament- or sponsor-related social functions, and generally hang out together year round. Thus, they know each other better than athletes in the Big 4 and other sports who may only know their own team members. Is it their closeness to their subjects that make former players so restrained in their comments?  

In addition, unlike locker rooms for most sports, the media are banned from tennis players’ dressing areas. However, for some reason, former players are permitted access to dressing rooms and player lounges, particularly if they themselves are playing in one of the senior-level draws at the larger tournaments. Thus, the announcers are able to pal around with the current players, and perhaps this affects their objectivity.

More professionalism, impartiality, and broadcast technique is needed before these former tennis players can master the craft of being a genuine, bona fide sportscaster.  Until then, tennis fans may want to turn the sound off when watching televised matches. There is an upside to that – with the sound off, one cannot hear the players themselves screech, coo, groan, growl, howl, and roar as they strike the ball.

Brittney Griner challenges gender stereotypes


With March Madness in full swing, it is an exciting time in sports. Many people, however, forget there is a women’s tournament happening as well. With hours of coverage devoted to the men’s games, it’s easy to overlook the women. If ESPN or other media outlets even mention the women’s bracket, it’s most likely related to Baylor star Brittney Griner.

An ESPN article titled “What Brittney Griner Says About Us” by Kate Fagan did a great job illustrating the problem facing women’s sports. Fagan mentions because Griner is so good, people accuse her of being male. This occurs with many talented female athletes. Griner creates a problem for people who argue women’s games aren’t exciting or competitive. Because she actually makes the game exciting, she must be a male.

Females athletes are becoming tougher and more competitive. This contradicts the gender stereotype that women should be feminine and not overly muscular. Fagan writes, “Women’s basketball is maligned for not being as athletic as the men’s game, but as women become more athletic, these players are often labeled unfeminine, and therefore unwatchable.” I feel this perfectly sums up the problem facing women in sport.

Griner has changed the game of women’s basketball, but there is still work to be done. She will soon join the WNBA, which is even less popular than college basketball. Griner has handled all the scrutiny well, and maybe she can be the one to increase the popularity of the WNBA. To fix the problems facing women in sport, more people like Griner need challenge the conventional stereotype of female athletes.

Are You Watching Indian Wells?


This is the time of year when tennis is heating up. As a former player, coach/teaching pro, and fan of the game, this is a time when I would normally be watching what is considered by some to be the “fifth Grand Slam” – i.e., the BNP Paribas Tournament at Indian Wells. But to be honest, I have had difficulty watching that tournament ever since March 17, 2001, when the Williams family faced “one of the ugliest scenes in the sport’s history” (Jenkins, 2013, para. 3). From my perspective, I cannot think of an uglier moment.

In 2001, I was among those eagerly awaiting the live televised match that would feature the Williams sisters playing one another professionally for only the sixth time. I remember seeing them play in their first match at the Ericsson (in 1999) when Venus won in three sets. I also watched as Venus defeated Serena in their 2000 semifinal match at Wimbledon. I could not have been more excited to see their sixth match-up, especially since it was scheduled to be shown live on ESPN. Naturally, I was disappointed to learn that Venus had defaulted – supposedly just moments before the match was scheduled to begin. I don’t remember if they showed another match to fill in the time slot. But I do remember seeing the finals between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters when it was played two days later.

Watching that final match left an indelible mark on me, so I can begin to understand how it must have felt for the Williams sisters. Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez were commentators for the final match. I remember Fernandez said tournament officials knew “something might happen,” and they had warned ushers to be prepared. In light of their forewarning, I could not understand why no one intervened when the ugliness began. The vitriolic booing by fans started as soon as Serena was introduced; it escalated when Venus and Richard Williams entered the Stadium to take their seats for the final. As the match got underway, fans did the unthinkable – for a tennis crowd – they booed loudly each time Serena made an error or lost a point.

In a powerful article on, Elizabeth Newman (2013) argues that “Calls for Williams sisters to return to Indian Wells are wrong.” Newman explains how unusual it is to display such behavior in tennis, writing, “we’re talking about tennis, a sport steeped in etiquette, decorum and protocol; a sport where errant catcalls and whistling are considered low brow” (para. 10). 

In 2001, several things struck me as I watched the Women’s Singles Final at Indian Wells. One was that “no one did anything.” When Serena’s autobiography, On the line (Williams & Paisner, 2009), came out, I was particularly moved by her chapter on “The fiery darts of Indian Wells.” In it Serena wrote that, “Some tournament official could have gotten on the loudspeaker and explained to the fans that Venus had been legitimately hurt, that I had nothing to do with her withdrawal, that every effort had been made to cancel that semifinal match in a more timely manner. Some effort could have been made to quiet the crowd. But no one did anything” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 81). Like Serena, I too was astonished to watch the match and observe that no one did anything.

Another thing that I learned as I read the chapter was that Venus had told the trainer earlier in the day that she was injured and would not be able to play. So why was an announcement not made until four minutes before the match was to begin? At the time, it appeared that Venus was solely responsible for the late withdrawal. To this day, I wonder why the tournament director and/or trainer never acknowledged their complicity in what happened.

In the aftermath of the 2001 Indian Wells final, Richard Williams reported that he heard “racial epithets” and that someone even yelled that he was lucky it was not 1975 or “he would skin him alive” (Smith, 2001, para. 29). Venus heard it. Other fans reported hearing the boos and racist epithets. And yet, Tournament Director Charlie Pasarell’s response was simply to say, “If Richard says he heard racist epithets, maybe he did… but I know that’s not Indian Wells people.” Really? What does that mean? Why was it so important to establish that if there was a racist response from the crowd, it wasn’t “Indian Wells’ people.” It was still racism. Was Pasarell only responsible if Indian Wells’ people were yelling epithets? 

Since 2001, the Williams sisters have (understandably) not returned to Indian Wells, a decision I fully support. Yahoo! Sports’ Merlisa Lawrence Corbett (2013) writes that the 12-year boycott taints Indian Wells tournament – which is not to suggest that the Williams sisters are to blame, but that Charlie Pasarell never stood against “overt racism.”

Johnny Manziel Faces Media Scrutiny


After becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and leading Texas A&M to a Cotton Bowl victory, Johnny Manziel has gained celebrity-like status. His celebratory off-season has garnered much media attention via his Twitter page, and not all of it is good.

It all started when Manziel had courtside seats to both a Houston Rockets game and a Dallas Mavericks game on consecutive nights. TNT analyst Steve Kerr saw Manziel and publically questioned how an amateur college football player could afford such good seats. Manziel took to Twitter to say he bought them as a birthday present to himself.

Manziel has also been questioned for pictures he posted on Twitter. These pictures include him holding a stack of cash at a casino, celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and partying in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It has also been revealed he takes online classes at A&M and drives a Mercedes. None of these things are against NCAA regulations, but have led to increased media scrutiny of his seemingly extravagant lifestyle

Recently, Manziel sparked controversy when he posted a picture on Twitter of what appeared to be a Texas Longhorns tattoo. He later said it was fake, but also took the opportunity to respond to some negative tweets he received. He replied with “you suck” to one follower as well as other mean-spirited responses, including mocking fellow Heisman candidate Manti Te’o.

I’m sure he gets thousands of negative tweets a day, but this is not the way to respond. There is nothing wrong with Manziel having fun, but now that he is a public figure, he needs to be more careful. It’s unfair, but it comes with the territory of being an elite athlete. He represents Texas A&M and the NCAA, and what he does reflects those institutions.

Texas A&M should have a publicist working with Manziel, who can show him how to better represent himself in the media and reign in his social media posts.

World Baseball Classic deserves more coverage


The World Baseball Classic is the only tournament of its kind. It is baseball’s “World Cup,” and is in its third installment this year. While soccer is far more popular than baseball worldwide, the WBC deserves more coverage than it’s getting.

In the U.S., the games are broadcasted, but not on basic cable channels.MLB Network is broadcasting the games, but many Americans do not have the channel at their home. This is especially true for the older demographic, many of whom are baseball fans.

ESPN Deportes is also broadcasting the games, but the games are Spanish. Deportes is also not available on basic cable packages.

ESPN is the major sports channel in our country, but it has elected not to cover WBC games. The network is currently broadcasting college basketball conference tournament games, so that is one factor influencing the lack of coverage.

It is frustrating more fans aren’t able to see an event of such relevance. This may be a sign of baseball’s declining importance in our country, or simply a result of a scheduling conflict with basketball. The true reason will be evident as time goes on.

Embrace debate helping or hurting ESPN


Is it more important for a show to be defined by creditability and integrity, or by ratings and attention? That is the issue for ESPN2’s two-hour morning show, First Take, starring Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Initially, this program was designed to be a lighter, general interest counterpart to ESPN’s Sportscenter. But the ratings never supported the format and First Take was in danger of being canceled. But then came Tim Tebow and the show went from respectable, but irreverent to a joke with high ratings.

The show’s tagline “embrace debate” has caused conflict among the ESPN networks. This show should be a flop considering the personalities of it stars. Stephen A. Smith is a loudmouth who wins arguments by talking louder than everyone else in the room. Skip Bayless is considered by many to be a joke. He takes the unpopular opinion just to get attention, not because his opinion is actually logical and correct. He uses his daily two-hour platform to openly cheer for Tebow, call LeBron James overrated and challenge athletes to “debate” him.

Last week, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman took the bait and debated Bayless. Sherman’s main adjective was ripping Bayless during their entire debate. And while Bayless-haters believe this was a win for Sherman, this was really a win for Bayless and First Take. In fact, as ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd explains, this was a “walk-off grand slam” for Bayless because Sherman gave Bayless an endless amount of free promotion and attention.

According to ESPN, First Take has increased its total viewership by 21 percent between 2011 and 2012. The big number is their target audience of males, ages 18-34, which is very attractive to advertisers. Between 2011 and 2012, First Take gained 32 percent in viewership in the male 18-34 demographic.

Given the show’s success, it has impacted viewership for SportsCenter. According to Nielsen data, Sportscenter (10-11 a.m.) led First Take in ratings by 636,000 viewers in September 2011. However, the difference between the two shows decreased dramatically as First Take offered more time to Tim Tebow when he was quarterback for the Denver Broncos. By March 2012, when Tim Tebow was traded to the New York Jets, Sportscenter only led by 182,000 viewers according to Nielson data. First Take is no longer a secondary option; it became Sportscenter’s competition.

Since that time, the morning Sportscenter has taken on a debate flair of its own. Most recently, ESPN analysts debated which win streaks between the NBA’s Miami Heat and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks is better.

First Take has certainly put a dark cloud over ESPN and its flagship program. This is ill-timed considering it will have competition later this year from Fox Sports 1, Fox’s new 24-hour sports network. The ratings are certainly increasing, however the ESPN and Sportscenter brands are losing creditability by the day. The answer is not eliminating First Take as many media writers have suggested. Instead, the morning Sportscenter must improve the quality of its show so it’s not competing with its ESPN2 counterpart. Limit the worthless debate segments and present an intelligent program that Sportscenter is capable of producing.

NFL Teams Question players’ sexual orientation


The NFL Combine typically brings the excitement of scouting new players entering the draft. This year, however, multiple players who participated in the combine came forward with allegations that teams asked them questions about their sexual orientation. The stories quickly captured media attention and have led to an NFL investigation.

After the Manti Te’o scandal involving his fake girlfriend, he received a majority of the media’s attention at the NFL combine. It was widely reported teams wanted to know if he was gay, and it’s believed his scandal will affect his draft position. It is unknown if Te’o’s case is the cause, but reportedly teams have been asking players questions such as “do you like girls?” and “do you have a girlfriend?”

Colorado tight-end Nick Kasa, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, and Michigan State running back Le’veon Bell all came forward with similar stories about being asked questions about their relationship status and sexual orientation.

Multiple sport analysts have weighed in saying, if true, these NFL teams went too far. They also may have violated federal employment laws.

On  Sportscenter, analyst and former NFL coach Herm Edwards said teams “absolutely crossed a line.” He felt teams who asked these questions should be fined or lose their draft picks. ESPN Senior Writer John Clayton agreed lines were crossed. He said if Kasa and the others reveal what teams asked these questions, there could be penalties. Regardless, he expects NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell to issue a mandate saying teams need to comply with federal laws.

The NFL will be investigating the issue, and it will be interesting to see if punishments are handed out or what new procedures will be put into place.

As Edwards put it, it brings up the question: is the NFL ready for an openly gay player? Edwards thinks it is, but given their questions, it seems NFL teams are not. It’s bound to happen, and most likely sooner rather than later. Given this situation, the NFL still has a way to go before it embraces an openly gay player.