Monday night, Americans across the country met a new human meme — and no, it wasn’t Ted Cruz.
Sergio Dipp, an ESPN sideline reporter, made a splash in the opening quarter of this season’s first “Monday Night Football” game with a speech so halting many thought it sounded more humanoid than human.
“Folks, it’s a pleasure to be, with you guys, here on the field, from up close, just watching Coach Vance Joseph from here, you watch him now, on the screen,” he said, with a smile on his face and a pause between his every phrase. Dipp soon picked up steam in his 28-second stint on air and announced that Joseph was “having the time of his life.”
The Internet lit up.
Here was the famous YouTube clip of a young boy in zombie makeup blurting out “I like turtles” mockingly labeled as Dipp’s television debut; there was Miss Teen South Carolina’s voice superimposed over Dipp’s moment in the spotlight. One Twitter user speculated that Dipp would soon meet the sad fate of other men-turned-meme such as Ken Bone and be either transformed into a BuzzFeed listicle or disgraced on Reddit.
Pushback came from commenters pointing out that English was not Baja California-born Dipp’s native tongue. Pair that with nervousness at being on one of the biggest stages on national television, and what do you expect? Pushback to that pushback came from people angry that ESPN would put someone for whom English is a second language on their screens at all.
It’s disheartening that the intensely earnest Dipp felt the need the next morning to clarify that he “meant no disrespect” with his broadcast. As an immigrant, he felt compelled to say, he thought he might be in the perfect position to celebrate the historic debuts of two African American head coaches on a day of patriotism. “Thank you,” a contrite Dipp was bullied into tweeting on Tuesday, “And God bless America.”
Maybe it’s not unreasonable for ESPN watchers to expect that a service they are paying for provide high-quality commentary. And maybe it is understandable that announcers Beth Mowins and Rex Ryan didn’t throw it back to him for the remainder of the game, despite Twitter’s clamoring for an encore. But the vitriolic side of the reaction to Dipp’s appearance would make more sense if he were the only incompetent NFL announcer. He is not.
If what Dipp said was inane, it was certainly less so than a vast amount of what far more famous commentators yammer about every Sunday. The two adjectives most often used to describe Joe Buck are “biased” and “boring,” barely able to add inflection to his tone after even the most electrifying of plays. Phil Simms offers searing contributions such as, “Four new players come in, four go out.” John Madden, perhaps the most famous announcer of all, brought the passion, but the perks often stopped there. “There’s a lot of letters in LaDainian Tomlinson,” he once declared. Or, in another choice insight, “When you have great players, playing great, well, that’s great football!”
And empty commentary can do sports audiences a disservice in more ways than one: NBC’s Cris Collinsworth on Sunday explicitly pledged not to address allegations of domestic abuse against the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliott and “just talk about him as a football player,” giving Elliott, his team, the NFL and everyone who watches it a free pass.
There is probably no simple solution to bad sports announcing. Still, some things are worth paying attention to. For example, though Dipps may have overshadowed the moment, Mowins made history Monday as the first woman to do play-by-play for a national broadcast of an NFL game. Her partner for the evening was former coach Rex Ryan, also in his first appearance. The general consensus? Mowins was much, much better.
Of course, that’s only one case — there are plenty of coaches and players who have what it takes. And even if discarding star power for pure game-calling acumen would fix football’s problem, plenty of fans probably do not care enough to prompt networks to change their tack.
That’s fine. The people want what they want. But the people should also realize that it isn’t the Sergio Dipps of the world who make NFL broadcasts sound like a joke.