Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Polish Prodigy Manifesto

I was flipping through the latest edition of ESPN: The Magazine this past weekend when I stumbled upon a commentary from the seemingly-ubiquitous talking head duo of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic.

As you likely already know, Mike and Mike began as a sports talk show on ESPN Radio during the weekday morning “drivetime” hours of 6-10 a.m. Soon, their popularity grew and they starting being simulcast on ESPN2, presumably to increase the public’s awareness of their radio program. Now the ESPN viewer is subject to relentless appearances by the two across the Worldwide Leader’s multiple platforms. Essentially, you can’t watch ESPN on a semi-regular basis and not know who they are.

Anyway, back to the magazine article. In said piece, which happened to be about the future of the Tour de France, Greenberg and Golic have a written discussion that goes like this:

Greeny: It’s a shame they stopped running the Tour de France. It was a lot of fun back when
Lance was competing. I really do hope they start it up again. I’m sure it would be a great success if they just decided to bring it back sometime in the upcoming years.
Golic: Greeny – it’s still being run!
Greeny: It is? No one told me. Maybe my confusion stems from the fact that no one in the United States cares, or is even remotely interested in it.
Golic: I completely agree.

Now, I could probably pick about 100 aspects of this cute little exchange that bother me, as a sports fan, as an American and as a person. For all of our sakes, I’ll pick out just a few of them and explain why they irk me.

1. “Greeny” – Does every person who is an athlete, or reports on or associates with athletes have to have a painfully unoriginal, supposedly endearing nickname? I get that since the two of them share the same first name, an alternate way of identifying them is necessary, especially on the radio. But before he was “Greeny” he was Mike Greenberg, one of the most staid SportsCenter anchors out there, a man you would never think had a nickname.

Beyond that though, it gives every yahoo who thinks he knows sports just because he listens to Mike and Mike spew their predictable “opinions” an excuse to use the moniker. Case in point: When I worked for the West Virginia Power, the executive VP Andy would talk about the show regularly using sentences that started with “Greeny said…” or “I agree with Greeny because…” He sounded absolutely ridiculous because it came off as if he thought he was tight with “Greeny” because he was using his superawesome nickname. Pathetic.

2. “It’s a shame they stopped running the Tour de France…” – I’m usually skeptical about these kinds of features from the so-called opinion makers (which is an absurd label anyway), but I’ll buy into what they’re selling if they attempt to make an honest argument. However, this unnecessarily sarcastic opening salvo from Greenberg gives me the license to completely ignore whatever follows it.

Think about it. What gives these two guys the authority to tell me what is legitimate and what I should care about? How about if I told you to stop doing what you love because it “didn’t matter?” You’d tell me where to stick it. Keep this in mind the next time some pundit proclaims that this or that isn’t worth anyone’s time and needs to disappear. I don’t personally follow cycling, but I know that millions of people in the world take part in it, and for a significant percentage of those, cycling is a lifestyle.

So why bash someone else’s passion? It’s simple; if Mike and Mike play like the Tour de France, or Wimbledon or the Stanley Cup Final doesn’t exist, it lets them off the hook as far as actually trying to learn something. With the weight of their ignorance off their backs, they can focus on who A-Rod (another horrible nickname) is dating or who the New England Patriots’ fourth cornerback is going to be this season.

3. “Maybe my confusion stems from the fact that no one in the United States cares…” – This is where my being insulted as an American comes in. As if the world at large didn’t have enough excuses to think of U.S. citizens as unconcerned with what goes on in other countries. We sports fans are constantly force-fed the notion that if our nation doesn’t have a dominating presence in an athletic endeavor, then we shouldn’t waste our energy on following it.

It is this kind of attitude that plagues a substantial segment of the American population, an attitude that simply isn’t acceptable in the modern climate of globalization. As I watched this past weekend’s epic Wimbledon men’s final, I stopped to marvel at the fact that at no time did anyone on the broadcast or in my tennis-mad family lament that there was no American presence in the tournament’s later rounds. It was simply No. 1 Roger vs. No. 2 Rafa – the matchup everyone wanted to see, regardless of the fact that Federer is Swiss and Nadal hails from Mallorca, Spain. International presence is a major part of tennis, hockey, baseball, golf and soccer; consequently, it is no coincidence that those five sports are my favorites.

While this ultimately inconsequential commentary from Mike and Mike no doubt raised my blood pressure, I’m thankful for the resulting opportunity to detail my unique character as a sports fan.

I don’t do pretense. I don’t tolerate xenophobia. I don’t tell people what to like. I don’t delegitimize anything because if I had been born into different circumstances, I would have passions at least somewhat divergent from my current ones.

If I accomplish anything with The Polish Prodigy, I hope I encourage a few people to think for themselves and not be afraid to like what they like. It’s not easy in a world and a sporting culture that rewards homogeneity; I always have to remind myself not to accept the agendas set before me by “traditional” media outlets.

The great thing about this place in time is that there are so many sources of information and opinion available, primarily through Al Gore’s Internet. Heck, if you’re reading this, you’re already aware of at least some of those sources. Not to be preachy, but the bottom line is that you’ve got to find your own truth, not just in sports, but in all facets of life that matter to you. The Mike and Mike’s of the world can have their opinions, and they definitely will, but don’t give them any more credibility than Uncle Ed at your family’s Fourth of July barbeque.

In the words of Public Enemy: Fight the power!

Coming This Week
Podcast No. 3 will be coming your way soon, featuring the soon-to-be Mrs. Polish Prodigy, Jillian Heeren. We'll get her perspective on growing up a sports fan in the great state of Michigan, as well as her experiences as part of a minor league baseball host family. We'll also hopefully find out what she really thinks about marrying a future low-income media professional.

Also, I keep promising a thorough treatment on the Pirates' recent successes and failures, and it is still in the works, as is a summary of my thoughts on Rafa taking Wimbledon in the best tennis match of all time.


Brian said...

Here's the problem with your argument , though (not to start a fight or anything). Those at ESPN are in the business of talking about stories that the mass audience wants to hear. You can argue that the Tour is worthwhile, which it is, but you have to look at the television ratings. Nobody knows it is on in the U.S.

That is why we will hear about Brett Favre and A-Rod and Madonna for the next month. ESPN radio is in the business of discussing stories, not necessrily topics if you get my drift. Cowherd argues this often and it is one of the rare things I agree with from his perspective. That is why there is no mention of hockey during the regular season or NASCAR unless there is a fight.

I'm finding Dan Patrick to be a much better program in the morning anymore if you haven't given him a try.

Matt Gajtka said...

Thanks for the input, BD.

I actually don't listen to Mike and Mike at all, but I'll give Dan Patrick a shot per your suggestion.

As for your comment, I'm not necessarily arguing that the Tour de France would get a great response from the audience on the the whole. If ESPN doesn't want to cover it, that's its decision. However, I don't agree with negative coverage just because the consensus is that "nobody cares" about the given sport/league/event.

It really gets tiresome for me to hear that Major League Soccer, the NHL, the NBA, etc. needs to be "saved" by some player/rules change/league realignment. The so-called "fringe" sports are actually consuming a greater percentage of the public's attention than ever before, yet the coverage from national outlets like ESPN is either tongue-in-cheek or downright condescending.

Us tennis/hockey/golf/soccer/cycling fans deserve much better.

Brian said...

That's what Versus is for, right?

(And I go running out of fear from your mighty comeback)

Matt Gajtka said...

LOL...not bad!

I suppose I should be happy that hockey is on TV somewhere.

I suppose in the end all I'm looking for is variety - that's just my personality I think. Also, I've always associated with alternate ways of thinking and questioning the norm.

Just a rebel...