The morning after another stirring night of action at the Olympics, I tune into my local sports radio station on the way to work. They are discussing whether Eli Manning deserves to be elected to the Football Hall of Fame.
Yes, that might be a valid topic of discussion some day, probably 10 years from now -- but today?
It was as if the Olympics simply did not exist.
Listening to sports radio is like looking at that famous New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg which depicted a New Yorker's view of the world from 9th Avenue in which the rest of the world fades into insignificance. In the middle of America, the only real landmark is Las Vegas. China, Japan and Russia are just insignificant bumps on the horizon.
On sports radio, football dominates year round whether it is being played or not. Basketball is a semi-respectable second. Way behind comes baseball. Hockey is hardly a blip. Golf makes a brief appearance during the Masters, tennis during the U.S. Open. All other sports are ignored -- when they are not being trashed.
Soccer is a particular enemy, the subject of studied indifference that hides a growing insecurity most of the time. That indifference flares into outright hostility when the World Cup comes around every four years.
Women's sports are given short shrift on sports radio, which is primarily the domain of men. And the men who call into these shows love to talk football, football, football. No wrinkle is too small, no detail too insignificant that it cannot be the subject of a three-hour conversation (not counting commercial breaks which happen almost as often as during a football game).
The Olympics presents a strange dilemma for the testosterone soaked, xenophobic world of sports radio. On one hand, it would be unpatriotic to dismiss our American heroes winning medals in the pool or on the gymnastics floor.
On the other hand, those sports are not football, so who cares? The solution is to give them a very brief mention -- and then move back to football. After all, it's week two of training camp and a meaningless preseason game is only nine days away.
There is one exception to this -- yes, Beach Volleyball. This has two big advantages: first, the United States usually wins. Secondly, the athletes wear bikinis.
While sports radio gives a grudging respect to Olympic sports where Americans excel, there are no such strictures for those competitions where we don't usually medal. These can be safely ignored. If we don't play it or don't win it, it has to be meaningless and useless.
Sports radio is a strange, narrow, constrained world of its own that has little to do with the real world. Just last week, I went to see a soccer match in Baltimore between two English clubs -- Liverpool and my own beloved Tottenham Hotspurs. I was amazed to see that 45,000 fans showed up, most wearing Liverpool red. I stood in a sea of Americans singing the club anthem, "You'll Never Walk Alone." Where did all these people come from? And what radio stations do they listen to?
Of course, now you can see English Premier League games regularly on Fox Sports Channel and ESPN. American TV recognizes the growing popularity and commercial appeal of the game. But sports radio? No way! If it aint football, it aint for them.
I love sports -- and I'll watch almost any sport, even football. I love to see the skills, the grace, the teamwork, the grit and determination, the thought and planning, the strategy, the tactics, the primal beauty of athletes pushing the limits of what it means to be a human. I would gladly listen to a sport radio station that shared that kind of view of sports -- an openness to the sheer wonder of it. I would listen to a station that embraced the world of sports with an open heart and an open mind.
I won't listen to parochial, narrow-minded stupidity. Sports radio as we know it is dumb radio -- not for me thank you very much.
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