So here’s the thing: Nobody wants to hear what I’m about to say, so I’m going to say it one time and then wander off into the woods or maybe Walden Pond, with my iPod, my PlayStation 4, my NFL Mobile app and my roll of Sweet Tarts, and stare at some caribou until the caribou stare back.
This excessive sports-on-TV habit we have, I don’t think it’s the healthiest thing in the long run.
Take the NFL, which once had a wonderful Sunday-to-Monday-night ritual. It now wants us to stop midweek and gaze at “Thursday Night Football,” which simultaneously destroys the beauty of the seven-day cycle and any semblance of balance in our lives.
Take college football, which the great Dan Jenkins wrote about in his 1970 book, “Saturday’s America.” If he were to publish an updated volume, it would have to be “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday’s America.” The weekend game has become a weeknight staple.
Take college basketball, of which the dysfunctional family of ESPN networks will broadcast 1,500 games this season, with nearly 500 more available on ESPN Full Court and ESPN3. This makes NBC Sports Network’s 60 college games seem quaint.
Think back to 1968, when UCLA-Houston was the first regular season college basketball game televised nationally in prime time. It was a big deal; I was 9 years old and agog. Today, a 9-year-old might not even get agog if LeBron James walked into his kitchen and gave him a pair of Nikes, “Call of Duty: Ghosts” and a lifetime subscription to NBA League Pass.
(Column Intermission: Springbrook High School’s boys’ basketball season begins next week under my watchful eye. It’s a contract year for venerable Coach Tom Crowell; for the Robinson twins, Andrew and Aaron; and for my I-don’t-take-the-garbage-out-unless-you-get-a-court-order stepson Isaiah Eisendorf. These fellas will roll or heads will roll. Trust me, I’m not driving through traffic and paying five bucks a game to see this team lose. Let’s do it, Blue Devils!)
Pre-cable, sports on TV had a more small town feel to it. A generation ago, a fan would be thrilled to hear Lindsey Nelson on the Sunday morning Notre Dame football highlights show.
There was no outcry for more; it’s just what we knew. We accepted it and — this is important — we were happy with whatever fundamental elements filled up our days otherwise: Family, radio, shopping, movies, even reading.
Yes, sports fans prefer the quantity of choice these days. But the wonder of it all has been waylaid by the volume of it all. There’s too much. If Moses parted the Red Sea every third Friday, would it still be special? And hardly anyone wins in this sports-obsessed culture; it skews our values, sucks away our time and empties our wallets.
On top of the joyless avalanche of games — everyone’s always complaining about something — comes sports-talk radio, sports-talk TV, sportswriter shout fests, message boards, chat rooms, blogs and fan sites, 24-7 social media. We are too wired and too connected. Heck, I just sent out a tweet telling people that I am writing this sentence.
We once were a forward-thinking nation; now, the American ideal is wrapped around the notion, “The previous play is under review.”
The solution? We need to step back. I plead with all of us to consider Howard Beale’s words in “Network”:
“So you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television’s a [expletive] amusement park. We’re in the boredom-killing business. If you want the truth, go to yourselves! You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. This is mass madness. So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off and leave them off!”
Uh, who am I kidding?
We’re trapped in our own lives — working in a box, sitting in a box, watching a box, never thinking outside of or leaving the box. We are goldfish in a bowl, with better plumbing.
At this point, our best hope is that the afterlife’s not wired for cable.
A. Is this a trick question or a rhetorical question?
Q. My grandson is majoring in journalism at the University of Maryland. Could you give him any advice so he doesn’t suffer the same pitfalls as you? (Wilbur Lazernik; Rockville)
A. The locker room is a lousy place to conduct business.
Q. Was Jason Kidd drinking Pepsi or Coke? (Jim Crain; Winnetka, Ill.)
A. Frankly, Jason Kidd in a suit and tie looks more to me like someone working in human resources than an NBA coach.
Q. If Andy Reid were to suddenly take ill, could Wilford Brimley step in unnoticed? (John Swope; Irwin, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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