Two days ago I was getting ready to make my weekly appearance on “Washington Post Live,” which airs locally on Comcast SportsNet.
I enjoy doing the show and like the people I work with on it—both in front of and behind the camera. My only complaint—as with just about all media outlets in Washington—is the Redskins obsession. Every day of the year—not the season, the YEAR, there is a required, sponsored (of course) Redskins segment.
On Tuesday, Ivan Carter who hosts the show was going through the show rundown with me and with Charlie Casserly, who was the other guest that day. Since it was the day after Maryland-Navy and Boise State-Virginia Tech, there was a segment on those games. There was, of course, the Redskins segment and another on the NFL and a separate segment (God help us all) on Albert Haynseworth. Finally, Ivan brought up the last segment, which is called, ‘leftovers,’ quick items, quick comments on each.
One was that day’s Ryder Cup selections. There were two other football issues that were relevant. Finally, he said, “And Randy Moss is unhappy because he doesn’t think the Patriots are going to offer him a new deal at the end of the year.”
Really? Randy Moss is unhappy? Randy Moss wants a new contract? Has he left camp? No. Is he threatening to leave camp? No. He just says he doesn’t think the Patriots want him back. Well, that’s film at-11-stuff isn’t it? Moss is 33 and wants one last big contract AT THE END OF THE YEAR and this is news?
Of course it isn’t. So, I suggested instead we talk briefly about Patrick McEnroe stepping down as Davis Cup captain after 10 years and the fact that—in my opinion—Jim Courier should succeed him.
Ivan looked at me blankly. “You’re kidding? You think anyone cares about that?”
Casserly shook his head and said, “John, I work for CBS and they televise the (U.S.) Open but seriously, it’s TENNIS.”
I knew they weren’t wrong. I argued briefly that the show was already full of football and what was wrong with talking about tennis for THIRTY SECONDS?
I lost the argument.
Which, of course, gets back to what I keep saying over and over again: tennis has become nothing more than a niche sport. Even with the hours and hours of airtime ESPN is giving the Open, I’m not sure anyone other than Bud Collins and my friend Tom Ross is paying any attention. As I said last week, I’m SURE the USTA will announce record attendance and there will be all sorts of happy talk about how great the sport is doing but if anyone inside the sport every poked their head into Comcast Sports Net—or almost anywhere else—for a minute, they might be in for a rude awakening.
I am now firmly convinced that while some of this has to do with the sport’s complete mismanagement at the top—the people who run tennis remind me of something Lefty Driesell once said about one of this athletic directors: ‘the man could screw up a one-car funeral,’—it also has a LOT to do with the current dearth of American stars.
Oh sure, there are the Williams sisters on the women’s side but they simply don’t move the meter outside the tennis bubble. I once thought some of this might be racial but Tiger Woods has proven me wrong on that. We are (Thank God) finally at the point where most people don’t care what color you are as long as you can play and you can entertain them.
What’s more, the Williams’s have been around a long time now. People are always looking for the next thing, which is why there was so much swooning last year when Melanie Oudin made the quarterfinals. There’s also the grunting factor—especially with Venus. This may reflect a personal bias but the grunting/screaming makes me crazy. It is why, even though she can play and she’s gorgeous, I can’t watch Maria Sharapova play unless it is on TV and I can hit the mute button.
It may also have something to do with the fact that neither Williams sister has ever given an opponent credit after a loss.
Who knows? On the men’s side, there’s no one close to being as good as Venus or Serena. The current crop of American men have won ONE major—Andy Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open. Roddick is now 28 and looks like he’s beginning to fade. James Blake, who never made it out of a quarterfinal at a major, has been beaten up by injuries. Mardy Fish has bloomed late into a top 20 player but no one thinks he’s going to win anything big and Sam Querrey has shown some promise but blew a serious chance to make the Open quarters. The new hot kid is Ryan Harrison, who won his first round match at the Open before blowing three match points and losing a fifth set tiebreak in the second round.
Then he walked off without signing any autographs for any kids or acknowledging the crowd which had cheered him on every point. Sounds like he’ll fit right in as a tennis player.
The point is this: The sport needs American stars. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are great champions and, apparently, pretty good guys. (I always believe Mary Carillo on these matters). But they don’t push the non-tennis-geek meter at all the way Tiger pushes the non-golf-geek meter off the charts or even a little bit. There have to be U.S. stars—real STARS—in both tennis and golf. Golf has plenty of them, tennis, right now, has none.
I’m not saying an American star would fix the ills of the game and the way it’s run but it would be a big step in the right direction. It might even get the sport 30 seconds of time on ‘Washington Post Live.’
I know I am a broken record not just sometimes but often on certain subjects—one being just how bad ESPN can be. It can also be good—like whenever anyone named McEnroe is talking about tennis or when Mike Tirico or Mike Patrick are doing play-by-play. And I like PTI whether I’m fighting with the hosts or not fighting with the hosts.
But the radio stuff is brutal—so shame on me for ever listening. That said, this morning I was en route to the pool when The Junkies went to a fantasy segment (I’d drive into a tree before I’d listen to that) and my two music stations were doing traffic and weather. I took a deep breath and turned to ESPN’s morning pitchmen (seriously, is there ANYTHING they don’t sell?).
They were trying to be funny. I should have gotten out while I still could. After they had made their NFL picks—or some of them, I really don’t know—they announced that next they were going to share with us the picks of their producer’s mother. This has become fairly common shtick on sports talk radio, having mothers or grandmothers or nuns make picks. It peaked four years ago when Tony Kornheiser’s producer’s mother picked George Mason to make The Final Four—and the Patriots made it.
What allegedly made THIS funny is that the producer is British—as is his mother. So, they played back tape of her picking The Browns in the AFC North—“I’ve never heard of them so why not?” (wow is THAT funny or what?) and asking her son if picking a 15-9 score in the Super Bowl was okay.
It was cringe-worthy and un-funny. That’s fine—that’s pretty much what that show is. I would love to hear though how smart the two pitchmen would sound if, say, someone called and asked them to analyze the cases The Supreme Court is going to take on when it goes into session this fall or make state-by-state predictions on the upcoming midterm elections.
That aside though, THIS is what killed me. “She’s WAY into the Jack Daniels at this time of the morning,” one said. “Oh yeah, the other said, probably on her second fifth.”
Really? First, she didn’t sound drunk at all to me. She just sounded like someone who didn’t know football and played along with a joke for her son’s sake. Second, if she WAS drunk at 9 o’clock in the morning or ANY morning (as they implied she was) that’s funny? Seriously? Making fun of someone’s clothes merits a two-week suspension but calling someone a drunk on the air, that’s funny.
Boy do I not get ESPN. Thank God for that.