Monday, December 6, 2010

The NFL and The Weather

It’s Fall. The leaves have changed, the football season is well underway, and Faith Hill has a new version of “It’s Monday Night” complete with a new, tight-fitting outfit.

After watching a recent broadcast of my beloved Baltimore Ravens as they played the (evil) Atlanta Falcons, I thought about the nature of the commentator job and drew what might seem like an obvious comparison. They are the weathermen of the NFL. No, this isn’t because they “forecast” the game or in most cases, just tell us what we already know is going on. Commentators are the weathermen of the NFL because despite whatever football credentials they might possess, they are paid to describe what (most of us) already know is happening on the field – most of the time with little accuracy and/or extreme redundancy.

“Ray Rice has the ball – he’s going to run with it (you think?) and he has the first down at the 20, he’s at the 10, and he’s got the touchdown. Or maybe he doesn’t. Was he out? I’m not sure. Let’s check the tape.”

Let’s compare.

On any given day, Al Roker, the beloved weatherman of NBC’s Today tells us “Our pick city of the day is Baltimore, Maryland! It’s going to be 30 degrees in Baltimore with a 40 percent chance or rain or drought or snow (narrows it down eh?) That’s what’s going on around the country (no, really just Baltimore) – here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods…”

No difference. Sure, one is football and one is weather but each were obvious and uninformative. Ray Rice is a running back. Running IS his job description so you can bet that if he’s handed the ball – that’s what he’s going to do. And was he in or out of bounds – well, sorry about that fans, you’re on your own for that one. They have the best seats in the house and hundreds of thousands worth of video technology but it’s just not clear from where they’re sitting. As for Mr. Roker? 40% is basically like saying “I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen – I’m not even going to give you a 50/50 because I can’t really narrow it down to two choices.”
This is not to dismiss them as unqualified for their positions. Al (Can I call you Al, Al?) is actually a legitimate meteorologist. I mean, the National Weather Service takes his calls but he really spends most of his time schmoozing the crowd and delivering his signature sign-off. John Gruden, Keyshawn Johnson, and the other guys that typically grace the sports desks mid-game were great coaches and players (or really, the players and coaches who are not prone to violent outburst or bouts of incoherency.) They know a lot about what’s really happening with the plays being called but most of us can’t speak that language. So they tell us what we already know, collect HUGE paychecks, and buy more, heinous custom apparel.
I mean, if Al Roker told you about the scientific reason you may only have a 40% chance of rain, would you understand him? Doubtful. Most of us stayed away from meteorology, astronomy and other sky-based sciences in school. Just too much to learn really – the sky is just too big and so we left that alone. He, too, is speaking a language that we don’t understand.
And so, they’re paid the big bucks to fill a position we seemingly can’t live without – can you imagine a football game with no comments? A news cast without some description of the weather that we’re already experiencing? Of course not. They don’t have to be right, they just have to be there.
So kids, instead of going pre-med and subjecting yourself to the indentured servitude of student loans, study meteorology. Or if you’re athletically inclined, avoid injuries to your face, practice your diction and prepare for a career in front of the camera. Instead of reading books about “The Secret,” just turn on Monday Night Football. It’s all there.

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