Monday, April 21, 2008

From My Seat: Talking the Talk

Posted By on Mon, Apr 21, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Considering you're reading this column, its safe to presume you have, at minimum, a lukewarm interest in sports. More specifically, you're sparked -- to a degree -- by the discussion of sports. Which has to mean you're familiar with a lexicon built on sound-bites, cliches, and overused maxims delivered with the aim of elucidation.

Well, I like talking about, reading about, and yes, writing about sports. I probably take it more seriously than I should, as I'm now feeding this cyber-monster a weekly column for the seventh year. But there are some sports expressions, some casual adjectives and references that I've come to loathe. When I become king, these verbal transgressions will be deleted, bleeped, or blacked out, depending on the medium in which they're presented. Life's too short to hear or read drivel like this any longer.

"It is what it is." (Or it's ugly cousin, “Whatever happens, happens.”) At what point did we decide that we could replace saying nothing with five words? The expression essentially means this: I/you/we can't change what has happened or, for that matter, what is going to happen, so we must accept the current condition as part of our existential dilemma. Or in other words: This sucks. Hardly ever used in a positive light, the expression is spoken into microphones as a dodge by athletes/coaches/owners unwilling to say anything of real opinion or decisiveness. It's a bailout, cowardly and vapid. The sad truth is that it's being uttered by sports personalities who come across as bright and otherwise clever. (I recently saw Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- a billionaire who made his money during the dot-com boom -- lean on this crutch) Every time I hear this, I long for the two most honest words in journalism: "No comment."

"This pitcher must throw strikes." For the love of Grover Alexander, when has a pitcher ever taken the mound and not needed to "throw strikes"? It's the most fundamental, basic requirement for winning baseball games. When you hear an announcer emphasize this "key to the game," he's telling you he can't think of a variable beyond Pitching 101 that might affect the contest's outcome. Therefore, you should enjoy the rest of the game with your television on mute. Now, "The pitcher must throw his curveball for strikes" is a slight but significant variation of the expression. And considering the plethora of big-league hurlers who wouldn't throw a breaking ball on a three-ball count with Mario Mendoza himself at the plate, this is a skill worth highlighting.

"This team is going to play physical." A style of play must have an alternative for it to be considered, well, a style. This boilerplate passage tends to creep up on Saturday and Sunday mornings in the fall, when former football players "break down" the upcoming games on gridirons coast to coast. I've been waiting and waiting for an analyst to suggest a team should NOT play physical. "The Titans, Bill, really need to back off this game, and use a finesse system. When it comes to hitting their opponent, this is not a game the Titans should tackle with more muscle than required." Every football game ever played, even when played poorly, was "physical." Body-to-body, muscle-on-muscle. Chess and poker: games that you don’t need to "play physical."

"Unbelievable shot! Unbelievable performance! Unbelievable win!" Unbelievable blather. This over-abused adjective is especially troublesome, as it is most often uttered by the professionals -- commentators and analysts -- who are paid to make feats of athletic greatness BELIEVABLE for those of us without a 40-inch vertical leap or 4.3 forty. Sports fans tune in and pay for those expensive seats with their fingers crossed that they'll see something they haven't seen before. When it happens -- when Tiger wins that 19th major or A-Rod passes Bonds -- don't diminish the moment by placing it beyond our realm of comprehension. "Amazing! Astounding! Astonishing! Superhuman!" But no, not "unbelievable."

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