New Rules for Sports Broadcasting

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By Leonard Shapiro
Special to
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 3:56 PM

With full credit to HBO's Bill Maher, how about a few "new rules" in sports broadcasting?

New Rule: If you really do want to be taken seriously as a member of the media, you are not supposed to be abjectly rooting for the home team.

During the Washington Capitals recent playoff run, I heard more than one local broadcaster end sportscasts or individual reports on the team with an emphatic "Let's Go Caps!" If you want to scream your lungs out for the home team in the privacy of your own den, knock yourself out. But up in the press box, broadcast booth or your station's studio, knock off the cheerleading and act like a professional.

New Rule: Along the same lines, when you're on the job, and especially on the air, don't wear clothing -- golf shirts, team jerseys, ball caps, whatever -- with a local team logo visible. Similarly, if you're a local sportscaster posing for a magazine cover in your own market, resist all attempts by editors or photographers to be dressed in the colors, jerseys, shirts, sweats of any local team, even if you work for the "official station of the _____." I won't name names this time for recent guilty offenders, but you know who you are. Here's another new rule. No free passes next time.

New Rule: I assume Rob Dibble had a chance to meet Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Bob Wolff when the Nationals honored the former Senators play-by-play man (1947-60) Saturday night at the stadium.

Wolff would be too much the consummate gentleman to tell Dibble to cease and desist in referring to the Nationals on the air as "we," as in "we need a hit here" or "us," as in "they're killing us with three-run homers" or "our," as in "our pitching is dismally dreadful."

So let me suggest in my own loutish way that Dibble simply substitute "the Nats" or "the Nationals" or "Washington." Last time we looked, Dibble never threw a pitch, never swung a bat in a Nats' uniform. Even if he's now being paid by the team, and even if he has been properly critical of the club on the air, we, us and our translates to homer in my book, and likely Bob Wolff's as well.

New Rule: Enough already with Mike and Mike in the morning on ESPN-980, Washington's only all-sports talk radio station. It's not so much the show I object to as its predominately national subject matter.

Yes they get world-class guests on a moment's notice, just as all the ESPN radio hosts do thanks to the power of the so-called Worldwide Leader. But if you're stuck in traffic on the Beltway on the way to work first thing in the morning, wouldn't you rather hear about teams and athletes in the local market, the way it is in many cities around the country?

Sadly, around these parts, the first local sports talk show doesn't come on until noon, when hardly anyone is listening anyway. The best move Dan Snyder's Red Zebra operation could make would be to sign up Tony Kornheiser up for a three-hour morning drive show, and then somehow find a place for Dan Patrick's entertaining but now non-ESPN radio show in mid-afternoon.

New Rule: ESPN SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt, a Maryland graduate and native of Montgomery County, sadly is the latest in a long line of TV sports anchors (Chris Berman, Stuart Scott, Patrick, among others) to shamelessly pitch products in on-air commercials.

These days, Van Pelt appears in advertisements shilling for Titleist golf balls, and he should know better. He's essentially delivering news every night he's on, and often goes out in the field as a reporter and interviewer. Television anchors and reporters don't endorse products on the air. Ever see Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric or Britt Hume, among many others, do commercials? Van Pelt, a guy whose on-air work I've admired since his early days at The Golf Channel, is better than that. Next time, take a pass.

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