Sports comedy

by Chris Haffenreffer | 11/21/00 6:00am

Every other Sunday evening when I relax on my couch in hopes of writing this column, my initial impulse tells me to write something humorous and witty, something that will force the reader to enjoy the words I write. I search the Internet in hopes of finding some information that will point me in the direction of comedic epiphany, but rarely does this actually happen. Most of the time my lack of patience and time forces me to settle for a boring discussion of the most recent developments in the game of baseball, and with the season well over, I am often limited to tedious topics such as the effect of new managers on their teams.

This often seems to be the case in sports journalism -- success is equated with humor. The most successful sports news program on television is more comedy routine than news broadcast. Obviously ESPN's "SportsCenter" is extremely informative, but its appeal lies in the humor employed by the anchors; the various catch phrases thrown in after a home run are deliberately thought up in order to entertain the viewer. Even one of the most successful comedians currently, Craig Kilborn, can trace his roots back to "SportsCenter."

It's interesting to wonder why humor is so prevalent in sports journalism. Peter Jennings isn't pulling Saddam Hussein jokes out of a hat, and we're not going to hear Tom Brokaw busting out Monica Lewinski one-liners. But the subject matter of a prime time news program is not conducive to comedy you might say. This is inaccurate. There is always some humor in national or international news. For example, this whole presidential issue in Florida has comedy written all over it. First of all, you have funny-man George W. Bush cranking out these witticisms like we have never heard before. How can that not offer a bit of comedy to a news broadcast? Second, the entire election process is just about the biggest farce to ever be mentioned on national television.

Furthermore, a sporting event isn't necessarily all that humorous. Sure every once in a while something funny might happen, but comedy can be found everywhere. (George W.) But it's not employed in news broadcasts everywhere. So why is sports journalism required to be funny? Perhaps the comedy is used to entertain the typically less intelligent viewer of the world of sports. This seems feasible, but why then would Dennis Miller be hired for "Monday Night Football"? Miller was obviously picked up for his comedic value, but the intelligence of his humor (although forced and not funny at all) far exceeds the intelligence of the average viewer of "Monday Night Football."

On the other end of the intelligence scale, however, is Fox. I'm sure everyone has seen Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long on the pre-game show, and that requires little explanation: it's one step from a wrestling match. On Fox Sports's "NFL This Morning," the cast provides the sort of low brow humor that one would expect from a sports show. At the broadcasting booth is Chris Myers, former Bills coach Marv Levy and former All-Pro tackle Jackie Slater, while off in the back at the kiddie table are former NFL goons Bob Golic, Sean Jones and Billy Ray Smith, along with comedian Jay Mohr.

By far the most humorous of sports writers is author Hunter S. Thompson who has recently begun writing for ESPN.com. Thompson offers a hilarious account of sports that is unlike any sports journalism seen before. In his first column, Thompson writes about how to shorten the game of baseball. He proposes that we eliminate the pitcher ("Pitchers, as a group, are pampered little swine with too much money and no real effect on the game except to drag it out and interrupt the action"), limit all games to three hours, and allow base runners to run to any base from any base ("First to Third, Second to Home, and with no pitcher in the game, this frantic scrambling across the infield will be feasible and tempting"). In his second column, Thompson reminds us of the criminal nature of the Oakland Raiders of the past. "Raiders of old were vicious and crazy and cruel. Hanging around their locker room was like hanging around the weight room at Folsom. Not all of them were ex-cons, but there were always enough killers, rapists, and bank robbers around to make you nervous." Thompson finishes this column with an unrelated quip: "And the whole Bush family, from Texas, should be boiled in poison oil." Pure comedy.

So why then is sports journalism so full of humor? Part of it is most likely an attempt to entertain the unintelligent viewer, which is why Dennis Miller is not pulling the kind of ratings that a Jay Mohr could in prime time. However, comedy is also employed in sports journalism simply because it can be. With entirely too much bias already involved with the evening news, the networks could not afford the amount of bias comedy brings. So enjoy sports journalism for what it is -- pure, biased entertainment.

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