A love-hate relationship with sports television

By Leonard Shapiro
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 12:25 PM

We all have our own personal love-hate relationships with sports on radio and television, so every once in a while it's time to air it out and vent over the good, the bad and occasionally ugly.

Love: The Washington Nationals' television ratings are no longer a national embarrassment. A year ago, they were by far the lowest in baseball. This year, their ratings doubled over 2009 and game broadcasts averaged 57,000 households a night on MASN, which also gets a pat on the back for showing every game in HD. The Baltimore Orioles, by the way, averaged 78,000 households a game watching on MASN, an amazing number for a perennial cellar-dwelling club.

Hate: Stan Kasten walked away as team president of the Nats but never had the good sense to at least comment on the team's decision - really his decision - to fire popular broadcaster Rod Dibble. We all know Dibble went way over the line in his foolishly premature comments on Stephen Strasburg's season-ending injury, but they were not a firing offense for a provocative broadcaster who had a significant local following. The team at least still owes its fans a public explanation.

Love: The fabulous finish to the riveting Ryder Cup on Monday. NBC's cameras were in all the right places on every crucial shot down the stretch and acerbic analyst Johnny Miller, as usual, offered typically pointed and prescient commentary that seemed generally fair to both sides, despite an obvious and understandable U.S. bias.

Hate: The fact that because the horrendous weather in Wales caused long delays in play, the dozen singles matches had to be postponed until Monday. I was up at 4 a.m. Monday prepared to watch it all, and simply assumed NBC would carry the final round, a major mistake on my part. Switched over to ESPN, which aired the first day of rain-delayed action on Friday, but again, no golf. Tried CNBC, then MSNBC and still no Ryder Cup.

At that point in my sleep-deprived morning, I just assumed it was probably pouring again, and the matches might be aired later in the day. Still, they tell us in Journalism 101 never to assume anything, and I paid dearly for violating that cardinal rule. Turns out, the matches were available on the USA Network, also owned by NBC Universal, but who knew?

I dozed off at 4:15 a.m., got up at 7 and finally just happened to surf on to USA by pure dumb luck, and at least got to see the last few hours of play. Several other friends have told me they also didn't realize USA was in the golf mix, and wondered why NBC didn't do a better job of informing the public. A crawl on its morning programming might have helped.

Love: The latest Geico ads, which have not much to do with sports, but deserve a mention anyway. The little piggy crying "wee wee wee" all the way home is a classic, as is retired fireballing pitcher Randy Johnson featured in a snowball fight. Best of all though may be the new woodchuck spot, once and for all answering the age old tongue-tying question "how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

Hate: That Fox NFL reporter Jay Glazer is allowed to appear in advertisements for the Subway sandwich corporation, his latest violation of longstanding journalism ethics.

A former newspaper reporter, Glazer ought to know better, but he's a walking, talking egregious conflict of interest who also has developed a side business training NFL players in mixed martial arts, including contracts with several NFL teams. In short, he has a business relationship with people he's supposed to be covering, and if you don't think he pulls his punches on reporting bad stuff involving his own high-profile clients, have I got a foot-long baloney sub for you. His bosses at Fox say they have no problem with Glazer's extracurricular interests. They should.

Love: Seeing Cal Ripken Jr. working in the studio for the TBS coverage of the major league baseball playoffs. It's amazing that he doesn't get more face time during the season, locally or nationally.

Hate: The Sprint commercial with an injured football player stretched out on an examining table in the training room while the team doctor is totally distracted playing with his high-tech phone. At one point, the doctor tells him he's got a season-ending knee injury, then goes right back to fiddling with his apps. Have we become so callous toward serious football injuries that we make light of a man about to undergo major surgery and possibly have his career cut short. Not funny, especially when it seems to happen every football Saturday, Sunday and Monday night in real life.

Love: Daniel Snyder finally showing his face on the public airwaves a bit more often, evidenced by that goofy commercial he did with Jerry Jones this past summer and his recent mea culpa interview with ESPN's "E-60" show. It would be nice to see him grant more access to local print and broadcast outlets instead of responding to most issues via press releases. But the team's new public relations director, Tony Wyllie, seems to be making some headway in persuading Snyder to finally come out of his bunker after all these years. It's a welcome and long overdue trend, as is his apparent willingness to let his new head coach and general manager do their jobs with no apparent meddling from you know who.

Hate: The Big 10 Network changing the landscape of college football, with Nebraska abandoning the Big 12 (soon to be down to 10 teams) while the Big 10 expands to 12. So what if it wreaks havoc with traditional longtime alliances. Once again, it's all about the money in big-time college sports. But Nebraska in the Big 10? As far as this proud Wisconsin graduate is concerned, there's only room for one Big Red team in the conference, and it's not those Cornhuskers from Lincoln, even if Warren Buffett probably disagrees.

Love: My friend and longtime Post colleague Tony Kornheiser getting a two-year extension to continue his highly entertaining radio show on WTEM (980 AM). We also hear Snyder's Red Zebra company, which owns the station, is negotiating with Andy Pollin and Steve Czaban about continuing their popular "Sports Reporters" show in afternoon drive, despite their often pointed criticism of the team owner in many years past.

Hate: ESPN has hired two full-time reporters for its Web site to follow the Miami Heat 24/7. If you think that "The Decision" on the shameless Worldwide Leader was over-the-top television, it looks as if the network is going all-Lebron, all the time on many of its platforms. Stay tuned.

Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com


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