Shooting from the lip/April 18th edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
The NBA had a chance to send a strong message last week, but it opted not to. It should have suspended Lakers star Kobe Bryant for his gay slur at a referee but instead fined Bryant $100,000. That's not pocket change, unless you are Bryant, who makes $24.8 million a year. Even though it was the largest fine the league has ever handed out to a player for improper language, the NBA did not go far enough.
Suspending Bryant for a postseason game would've shown that the league will not tolerate any hateful language toward any group. By not suspending Bryant, the league opens itself up to questions that it gave him special treatment because he is one of its best and most popular players. How can you not ask if the league allowed Bryant to play because it didn't want him to miss a nationally televised game Sunday afternoon and, quite possibly, hurt the Lakers' playoff chances? (As it turned out, the Lakers lost Sunday even with Bryant in the lineup.)
What if it had been a lesser player? What if the slur was about a race of people or a religious group? This is no different. It's hateful and disrespectful language about a group of people. And for a league and a commissioner (David Stern) so concerned with its image, it's surprising that it felt the fine was enough punishment.
As far as Bryant, there's no way to spin this where he comes off as anything but a bad guy. Bryant later apologized, but the apology was so weak that he had to apologize again. There was no excuse for his choice of words. Forget the whole heat-of-the-moment argument. Plenty of players get caught up in the emotion of the game, but they would never consider uttering such a word because it's not a part of their makeup, not a part of how they think. Bryant has since said he wants to "kill'' the word he used. During Sunday's broadcast on ABC, sideline reporter Lisa Salters relayed a conversation from Bryant in which he said he used to beat up the kids in high school who teased his gay friends.
But the damage is already done. The league only added to that damage by allowing him to play Sunday.
Sun Sports sideline reporters Todd Kalas (Rays) and Chris Dingman (Lightning) do solid jobs on broadcasts and, yes, they are the home-team announcers. They are speaking to, for the most part, diehard Rays and Lightning fans. Those fans expect Kalas and Dingman to do their jobs from the perspective of the Rays and Lightning. Neither is calling the game for a national audience so, perhaps, it's unreasonable for them to be totally neutral. In fact, Tampa Bay fans probably want a little bias in their reports. However, each does something that can be grating to some viewers.
Kalas, especially in his postgame interviews after Rays victories, has a tendency to refer to players by their nicknames or first names -- "Longo'' (Evan Longoria), "Zorilla'' (Ben Zobrist), B.J. (Upton), "Shieldsy'' (James Shields) and so forth. It's a little too-close-for-comfort for a reporter who is there to do a job, which is to interview the player, instead of seemingly taking part in a postgame celebration.
Dingman, meantime, has fallen into the pit that many former players fall into, and that's referring to the Lightning as "we'' and "us.'' It's true that Dingman used to play for the Lightning, but he doesn't anymore. To him, the Lightning should be "they'' and "them.''
Look, both are good at what they do, and this might all seem to be a bit nitpicky, especially among fans who want to hear Kalas and Dingman show partiality and familiarity toward the locals. But, for many, that coziness becomes a distraction to an otherwise intelligent and insightful interview, report or analysis.
Sun Sports Lightning analyst Bobby "The Chief''’ Taylor is never afraid to be critical, but it's hard to remember him being tougher on a player than he was in Friday night's Game 2 of the Lightning-Penguins series. He tore into Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson for misplaying a puck that led to Pittsburgh's only goal in Tampa Bay’s 5-1 victory. But it wasn't unfair criticism, and that's the key of a good analyst. He didn't take any cheap shots, he didn't avoid an obvious mistake and he simply did his job. Analysis like that gives Taylor more credibility than those announcers who only look at things through rose-colored glasses.
Nice work by Fox to give some national exposure to Rays Spanish radio announcers Enrique Oliu and Ricardo Taveras. During Saturday's Game of the Week at Tropicana Field, Fox dedicated a half-inning to the story of Oliu, who has been calling Rays game on Spanish radio since the team's inaugural season despite being blind. Fox even turned over a few pitches to Oliu and Taveras so viewers could hear their call. Oliu showed some humor when Fox announcer Dick Stockton explained that Oliu's wife often whispers into Oliu's ear on events he can't see.
"Yes,'' Oliu said, "she tells me things that are outside of my peripheral vision, so to speak.''
Worst sense of direction
Add Fox baseball Game of the Week host Chris Rose to the list of those confused about exactly where the Rays play their home games. In the opening of Saturday's show, Rose said, "Down in Tampa ... ,'' the Rays were hosting the Twins.
Most in-game interviews in any sport don't do much. They are not very enlightening or interesting or even entertaining. Coaches aren't going to reveal in-depth strategy and most just want to get it over so they can go back to work. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau is one of the exceptions. When asked what his team needed to do better, Boudreau told NBC's Darren Pang, "We need to stay out of the penalty box.''
Then came the boom: "Then again … some pretty ticky-tack calls for a playoff game.''
Many don't like Boudreau because he seems full of hot air most of the time, but at least he made Sunday's in-game interview during the Caps-Rangers game worth watching.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Sports Illustrated media critic Richard Deitsch reports that Mike Mayock is going to replace Matt Millen and Joe Theismann as analyst on the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football broadcasts. There's also word that the network is considering replacing play-by-play announcer Bob Papa (right) with Gus Johnson. I've never been a fan of Johnson's over-the-top style, but aside from that, removing Papa, who does an outstanding job, would be a mistake and a major disservice to Papa.
2. The last time the Lightning had a lead in a playoff series was four years ago, almost to the day. On April 16, 2007, the Lightning beat the Devils to take a 2-1 lead in the opening round of the playoffs. It then lost the next three to lose the series in six games.
3. Is it me or do the commercials during the Lightning games seem twice as loud as the volume on the game broadcasts?