Friday, July 19, 2019

Is Hockey the Hardest Sport To Announce?

One thing I've often suspected, but have no way of verifying, is that ice hockey is the hardest sport to announce (that is, do play-by-play) on television. It's fast, chaotic, and the players are swathed in padding that makes them all look identical. Sometimes watching a hockey game I'm blown away at the ability of the announcers to even keep up with the action, much less give informative commentary.

Am I right? On the one hand, I have absolutely no experience broadcasting anything and thus all of my opinions are ignorant. On the other hand, this is the internet -- so why should lack of experience and utter ignorance stop me?

So, with all that in mind, I've created a four-part rubric to gauge announcing difficulty (each element on a five point scale).

1) Chaos: How fast does the action happen? How ordered or disordered is it? Sports which are highly position-oriented might be fast-paced but you pretty much know where everyone is going to be (i.e., the quarterback will, for the most part, always be doing quarterback-y things). Other sports are more free-for-all.

2) Density: How many "announceable actions per minute" are there? Some sports are densely-packed with "things" that need to be announced (i.e., each time there's a pass, you pretty much need to say who the pass was to and from). Others are more leisurely.

3) Spread: How many different things are happening at the same time? In a boxing match, you can pretty much concentrate on what's going on in one spot -- where the boxers are fighting (note how there might be very dense action in a boxing match that's not at all spread out). In a football game, different announceable things may be happening all across the field simultaneously.

4) Opaqueness: How much of what's going on is pretty much intuitive to anyone with a basic understanding of the game, and how much needs explanation? Are there deep rule interpretations that need to be explained on the fly, or is everything pretty much as it appears on face?

I'm not including in my metric difficulties associated with making the sport interesting. Perhaps it's really hard to craft a gripping narrative about golf, but if that was part of the criteria then the most boring sport would be the hardest. I also assume that the announcer has a solid grasp of the sport he or she is broadcasting, and an audience which has basic familiarity with the rules of the game.

Okay -- without further delay:

The reason I think hockey is the most difficult is because the game moves so damn fast. Players are constantly passing and checking and shooting and crashing into each other. And while hockey has positions, outside the goalie any player can pretty much be anywhere at any time. To be able to pick up (underneath layers of padding) that it was Jon Smith who leveled that check in the corner in the approximately .5 seconds you have to react before having to announce who retrieved the loose puck and centered it.... is a task that seems positively titanic.

Chaos: 5, Density: 5, Spread: 3.5, Opaqueness: 2.5. Total: 16

The rules in football are often pretty hard to follow (what makes "holding" different from anything else the defense does?). It's a relatively spread out game, and as the play develops there's a lot to call, but soon the action pretty much converges and it gets a lot simpler. Plus you get lots of long breaks between plays.

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 2.5, Spread: 4, Opaqueness, 3. Total: 12

From an announcing standpoint, it's like slower hockey. Plenty of passing and movement, but not done with the rapidity of a hockey game (and you can see everyone's faces, which helps). Hard to truly appraise penalties when everyone is flopping all the time.

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 2.5, Spread: 3.5, Opaqueness: 2.5. Total: 11

Very similar to soccer. It's a little faster, but also a bit more compact (the larger field size in soccer means you have to keep an eye on more things).

Chaos: 2.5, Density: 3, Spread: 3, Opaqueness: 2. Total: 10.5

One thing to focus on, but that thing can get hectic in a hurry. Boxing also seems to have more than its share of bizarre moments, though for the most part it's pretty intuitive that the person getting beaten up is losing.

Chaos: 2, Density: 3, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 2. Total: 8

Gymnastics and Figure Skating
I think these have the exact same issues for an announcer. They're pretty slow, you've got time to breathe between announceable actions, but the major problem is that outside blatantly obvious falls and flops no lay person can tell what's intentional and what's a mistake. A figure skating announcer could tell me literally anything about the average routine -- from "it's the most dazzling performance the Olympics has seen in decades" to "most middle schoolers could handle this" -- and I'd believe them.

Chaos: 1, Density: 1.5, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 4.5. Total: 8

Another relatively straight-forward sport, albeit one that moves pretty fast.

Chaos: 2, Density: 2, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 1.5. Total: 6.5

Slow-paced, rigidly position-oriented -- people are always pretty much where you expect them to be -- and only occasional need to pay attention to more than one thing at a time (tagging up runners, stolen bases). Baseball also has a couple truly weird rules that come up more than you'd think (infield fly rule, balks).

Chaos: 1, Density: 1, Spread: 1.5, Opaqueness: 1.5. Total: 5

One thing happens: a player hits a shot. You talk about it as it soars through the air, until it lands. If it's closer to the hole, that's usually good. Further, bad. Some very obvious traps are also bad. Repeat.

Chaos: 1, Density: 1, Spread: 1, Opaqueness: 1. Total: 4

Not rated: Rugby, Lacrosse. These are two sports that in particular I can imagine being quite difficult to announce, but I don't know enough about them to say for sure.

I Want To Like Soccer

I want to like soccer.

Like most of my generation, I played soccer as a kid (for far longer than Little League or any other sport). I like its international character, especially how even relatively obscure teams always seem to have a few players from some random nation halfway across the world. I like how every country has approximately twenty six leagues, and I like the promotion/relegation system where entire teams can move to more or less prestigious leagues based on their performance. Wikipedia tells me there is a Bethesda Athletic FC that plays in some fifth-level league in Wales, and I'd love a jersey from them (for those of you who don't know, I grew up in Bethesda -- Maryland, not Wales).

But my goodness is the sport boring to watch.

I don't know how people do it. Occasionally, I can get into a match when there's some serious big-game atmosphere. And I appreciate the World Cup as another opportunity to apply my Olympics-rooting-rules (in essence: always root for formerly colonized nations to crush their erstwhile colonial overlords). When Team USA performs well, or there's some other good narrative (I'm a sucker for underdog tales) I can enjoy the story.

Yet by and large, it's just not that interesting a sport to watch. Nothing happens -- nothing even really threatens to happen -- for 95% of the time. The most common "action" is players faking injuries. Fans are so starved for action that they roar in anticipation if the ball even arcs towards the net.

As a spectator sport, I just don't get it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Rules of Racial Standing Hit Ayanna Pressley

In the wake of the latest Trump racism scandal, which targeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley alongside Reps. Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Tlaib, one particularly depressing thing to witness is the simple rote reflexive declaration that they're antisemitic, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and therefore have it coming.

To be clear: None of the women deserve to be targeted by racist vitriol. That remains true even granted insensitive things some of these women have said (though even the worst offender -- Rep. Omar with her "hypnotize" quote -- still hasn't done anything approaching singling out prominent women of color and saying they should remove themselves from America). You'd think that go without saying, though it apparently needs to be said and said again to all but four members of the GOP caucus. I suppose also if it went "without saying", we wouldn't have a racist President saying them.

Yet there also must be made mention of the particular way this discourse is playing out with respect to Rep. Pressley. Pressley has no history of antisemitism, or anti-Israel advocacy, or anything else. Yet in fulminations about the evils of the "squad", and newly-elected progressive women of color, she's treated as an equally valid target of indiscriminate fulminations about left-wing antisemitism.

This is nothing new for Pressley. But, confronted with the evidence that Pressley has never said, done, or implied anything that gives rise to any inference of antisemitic animus whatsoever, those spitting fire at her seem unbowed. They argue that the fact that Pressley is so proximate to Omar, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez means it is incumbent on her to condemn them -- and if she doesn't, she must be endorsing them (it has to be said here that the evidence of antisemitism from AOC is also needle-thin -- from what I can see, it primarily hinges on (a) calling Israel's response to the Gaza protests a "massacre" and (b) a phone call to Jeremy Corbyn).

That argument -- that if Pressley is not vocally denouncing alleged antisemitism by other Congresswomen, she must be endorsing the sentiments -- reminded me of one of Derrick Bell's famous "Rules of Racial Standing", which he published in his 1992 book Faces at the Bottom of the Well. The fourth rule ran as follows:
When a black person or group makes a statement or takes an action that the white community or vocal components thereof deem "outrageous," the latter will actively recruit blacks willing to refute the statement or condemn the action. Blacks who respond to this call for condemnation will receive superstanding status. Those blacks who refuse to be recruited will be interpreted as endorsing the statements and action and may suffer political consequences (118).
I referenced this dynamic a bit in this post, but the point is the manner in which Pressley is being treated -- guilty-until-proven-innocent, on the hook to constantly condemn (to our satisfaction) this or that "outrageous" thing said by her fellow congresswomen, despite no evidence that she shares any such problematic views -- is nothing new. It is a phenomenon of long standing, and it is noticed.

And let's be clear: this is how Pressley is being treated. She's young(-ish), Black, progressive, and so therefore just defaulted to be a threat. The absence of evidence doesn't deter this assessment in the slightest -- it just causes a slight fallback: now if she isn't spending her days railing against AOC, that counts as evidence of endorsement.

Of course, noticing it does little good. Again, it's not like this phenomenon has gone unremarked upon; it's constantly remarked upon and yet repeats itself over and over again. And so Bell's fifth Rule of Racial Standing tells us that while understanding the rules can give one prophetic power of how racism will operate, "[t]he price of this knowledge is the frustration that follows recognition that no amount of public prophecy, no matter its accuracy, can either repeal the Rules of Racial Standing or prevent their operation" (125).

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Calling Something Racist is Worse Than Being Racist, House Edition

Today, the House of Representatives voted 240-187 to condemn "President Trump’s racist comments directed at Members of Congress." A grand total of four Republicans -- Reps. Susan Brooks (IN), Brian Fitzpatrick (MI), Will Hurd (TX), Fred Upton (MI), along with newly-independent Rep. Justin Amash (MI) -- joined every Democrat in voting for the resolution. In case you're curious, Brooks already announced she's retiring, Upton is a major Democratic target in 2020 (and on the retirement watchlist), Hurd -- the sole Black Republican in the House -- is a major 2020 target, and Fitzpatrick is  -- you guessed it -- a major Democratic target in 2020.

In any event, in the course the debate over the resolution, chaos erupted when Speaker Pelosi referred to Trump's racist comments as "racist". Republicans sought to strike that from the record, citing parliamentary rules which forbid calling the President "racist" (see page 190). The rulings against calling the President racist, or saying he's made racist or bigoted comments, or of having run a prejudiced campaign, started popping up in 2016 and 2017 (no such rule can be found in the manual for the 114th Congress). How mysterious. Can't imagine what Paul Ryan and company were thinking when they slotted those in.

We now return to our regularly scheduled political commentary about how liberal snowflakes need to be protected from hurtful speech that damages their feelings and will resort to outright censorship in order to accomplish it.

Monday, July 15, 2019

"Jewish" is an Identity

Donald Trump said some racist things the other day, telling a group of non-White female congresswoman to "go back" to the countries where they "came from" (three of the four targeted women are US-born, the fourth is a naturalized citizen).

I know -- Trump, racism, quelle surprise -- but this time it's actually being called out by name. CNN even showed some actual mettle in doubling-down on the label, running the headline: "Trump denies racist tweets were racist". Kudos to them.

Unsurprisingly, quite a few Jewish politicians and organizations have weighed in on the controversy -- in part because we, too, often are targeted with "go back to .... " bigotry, and in part because Trump decided to rope in Israel into his defense of his racist tirade.

Mostly, the Jewish organizations performed as you'd expect. The conservative ones basically backed Trump. The liberal and centrist ones (that's everybody from the ADL to Bend the Arc, Bernie Sanders to Chuck Schumer) were withering and unsparing. The AJC's statement stood out for its limpness, which is entirely on brand for them at this point ("potshots"?). But I want to take just a second to reflect on the statement of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which wrote the following:
“Every American came from somewhere. Time for everyone in #WashingtonDC to drop the identity politics #racism.”
Put aside the false equivalency -- that this sort of racism Trump is espousing is something that "everyone" in Washington is doing, as opposed to being the virtual sole province of Trump and his backers. What's up with the gratuitous -- dare I say "potshot" -- at "identity politics"?

Here's a news flash: the Simon Wiesenthal Center is a self-consciously Jewish organization (as are all the other groups on the JTA list). Which is fine. But Jewish is an identity! When Jews organize around Jewishness to engage in political action -- whether it's to fight antisemitism, advocate for Israel, defend immigrants, combat White supremacy, urge Holocaust education, or what have you -- that's identity politics! It can be done well or poorly, or in service of good objectives or bad, but there's nothing wrong with it in concept. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one big tribute to the power of identity politics!

I know the Simon Wiesenthal Center hasn't exactly been covering itself with glory during the Trump administration, but this is ridiculous. The problem with what Trump said is that it's racist -- full stop. "Identity politics" has nothing to do with it.