Tuesday, July 1, 2014

11 comments Bob Raissman Is Surprised American Announcers on an American Sports Network Have a Bias Towards the US Men's National Soccer Team

This article should probably be filed under, "Well, I have to write about something, I'm out of ideas, and I have a deadline coming up, so I'm going to think hard and create a problem where there isn't necessarily one." Bob Raissman is a little disappointed that the ESPN World Cup voices appeared to be siding with the United States Men's National Soccer team. I sort of figured the announcers would have a pro-American bias since ESPN has the American broadcast rights to the World Cup, but perhaps that was just me. Either way, I can't believe I'm going to defend ESPN, but here goes anyway. It shouldn't be a surprise to find out these ESPN voices are invested in the American team doing well. Fans who want to watch the World Cup and happen to live in the United States most likely have an interest in Team USA.

Despite our recent enrollment in Mike (Sports Pope) Francesa’s Institute of Remedial Soccerology, there are still things we don’t get about ESPN’s World Cup voices.

By the way, I want to mention that no matter how the rest of this column goes, I still think Bob Raissman's mustache is absolutely awesome. I wish I could grow one like he has. Seeing as how I'm a pimply blogger living in his mom's attic, I don't get enough sunlight to make my facial hair grow. Don't believe that the sun makes facial hair grow? Then how the Red Sox players grow their beards so quickly last season? 

The exact nature of their role is as confusing as some aspects of the game itself. Are the voices USA fans? Master motivators? Soccer broadcasters?

They are ex-players and broadcasters who are used to either calling or playing in soccer matches. I'm not sure why this is confusing. They are the same type of voices you hear on any other broadcast for a sporting event. Networks hire professional broadcasters used to calling a certain sport, and as the analyst, they will hire an ex-coach or player in that sport. In this case, they are soccer broadcasters and ex-soccer players. 

Their credentials are quite impressive. So much so ESPN proudly displays them graphically.

Then read the credentials and that will tell you exactly who these voices are. Why ask the question if the answer is right there on the screen in English? Wait, the graphics for ESPN are written in ENGLISH? What's the exact nature of ESPN if they are only printing the graphics in English? Are they the network only for fans of the United States or people who can read English? What an outrage!

Unfortunately, the resume of Alexi Lalas, the studio analyst, did not explain where he was coming from during his pregame soliloquy Sunday evening. No sooner had he started in with his “the definition of what an American is” than our eyeballs started to itch.

As a soccer player who was a member of the United States Men's National Soccer team he brought a unique perspective of what it was like to stand on the field and hear the national anthem being played. The fact that Lalas' resume stated he played for the United States Men's National Soccer team in the 90's actually perfectly explained where he was coming from with his little speech. I don't know how his perspective could have been confusing to anyone who can read English. Though I understand how infuriating it is for Bob Raissman that the graphics were in English so a person who speak German couldn't understand where Lalas was coming from. 

Call it an allergic reaction to someone sermonizing, attempting to bring higher purpose and meaning to a sporting event where organizers (in this case FIFA) are making a whole lot of dough.

Any time there is a sporting event with the magnitude (Pop! Pop!) of the World Cup occurring the organizers are making a whole lot of dough. This isn't a reason to get pissy when someone tries to bring meaning to the event. The organizers of the Olympics make a lot of money off them and the city where the Olympics are held make a lot of money in tourism (hopefully) off the event. If Bob Raissman has an allergic reaction to someone sermonizing and bringing higher purpose to a sporting event where a lot of money is being made, then he either never watches any sports with the volume on or watches zero sports outside of a WNBA game. 

Above and beyond everything else, the World Cup is a commercial enterprise and opportunity, not a patriotic experience.

It's also a competition between countries to see which country has the better soccer team. National pride and bragging rights are at stake. The fact it is an event where there is a ton of commercial enterprise doesn't make it a non-patriotic experience just like the Olympics aren't a non-patriotic experience. I can see not enjoying ANY type of large sporting event because it is a commercial enterprise, but criticizing Lalas and the World Cup for mixing patriotism and commercialism seems a bit unfair. I don't think Raissman has the same type of criticism for other large events that are commercialism combined with patriotism.

This fact usually escapes guys like Lalas.

No, he was simply pointing out what it feels like to stand on the field during a World Cup game and hear the national anthem being played. Networks use players and coaches all the time in a studio who have a unique perspective on participating in a sporting event in order to help the viewer what it feels like to participate in that event. It's not unusual for a network to do this at all. I'm not sure why it's a problem in this situation. 

“And I don’t care where you are born (or) if you speak the language,” Lalas said. “What I care about is when you stand up there and put your hand over your heart and you are wearing that (USA) jersey and that song plays that it matters. That you understand that what you are about to do is a reflection on you, and your sport, and your country.”

I think this is part of Bob Raissman's knee-jerk reaction in trying to get a column idea out of Lalas' words, but I didn't take "wearing that jersey" to mean the United States jersey. I took it to mean "when you are wearing the jersey of your home country." I thought Lalas was talking generically as to the feeling in that specific situation, not the feeling as an American in that specific situation. Earlier, he was talking specifically about himself wearing the US jersey when mentioning "the definition of American," but was talking more in generalities about the feeling of representing your country in this passage.

We cannot recite soccer’s offsides rule, but it’s safe to say the players on Team USA know who and what they are representing. Lalas’ monologue was misplaced. Unless it was really designed to motivate viewers, make them cheer longer and louder.

The monologue was on television just minutes before Team USA was to play Portugal. Who the hell else would the monologue be designed for? The players on the field did not have televisions or phones in front of them to where they could hear Lalas speak, so there is no way in hell it was designed to motivate them. It was simply designed to give the viewer at home perspective on the feeling a soccer player gets at that moment when hearing the national anthem being played as you are about to represent your country in the World Cup. I think Bob Raissman's criticism is misplaced. 

Oh, Lalas did neglect to say how Team Portugal should be feeling when its anthem played.

Since Lalas never specifically mentioned the words "United States" and referred to it as "that" jersey I really think he wasn't talking about what it feels like as a member of the United States team, though he was a member of that team, but talking in generalities about how it feels to be representing your country on the soccer field. 

Then again, Team USA’s opponents, Ghana and Portugal, appear to be just a minor details for ESPN.

To be fair, any of the leadup to the game on ESPN would feature mostly coverage of the United States since ESPN is located in the United States. I wouldn't expect Univision to have more in-depth coverage of the Croatian National team than any Hispanic or Latino teams. It's just how it is. 

Sunday, we learned a lot about Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, one of soccer’s greatest players. Ian Darke, the play-by-play voice, even informed viewers Ronaldo was greeted at his hotel by a thousand fans, a “topless model” and “a guy dressed as Donald Duck.”

Bob Raissman doesn't think ESPN is covering the Portugal team enough, now they are covering the Portugal team with too many details. Maybe it would be easier if Bob Raissman would write down what he wants Ian Darke to say so he can say exactly that. 

The rest of Team Portugal was a well-kept secret.

Not true. I knew nearly nothing about the Portugal team but I learned during the broadcast that the guy who scored the first goal of the game played for Manchester United, had not scored all season for them, and had not scored during any of the games leading up to the World Cup either. From watching the match, I didn't really find out anything else about American players that I didn't already know from being a soccer bandwagon fan over the past month. It's not like Darke went on-and-on about Clint Dempsey or Michael Bradley during the match. 

No problem. ESPN, and its voices, are emotionally invested in Team USA.

Yes, but it seems like this is a problem for Bob Raissman. He's writing this entire column about how this is a problem for him.

Late in the second half, with the USA clinging to a one-goal lead, Darke said: “I’m getting the sense that there are people in homes and in bars who can barely watch this now.”

How in the hell is this a pro-Team USA comment? Are there no bars in Portugal? Are there no people in homes in Portugal worried the national team won't beat the United States and could be eliminated from the World Cup? The game was tight and it was tense. So either Bob Raissman thinks no one in Portugal has a home or the entire country has no bars, or he is reading way too much into this comment.

Twellman: “Also the guy next to you. I’m dying here.”

It was tense. Portugal looked to be in trouble and the only reason Bob Raissman thinks Taylor Twellman is openly cheering for the United States in this situation is because he knows Twellman played in America and almost made the 2006 World Cup squad. If Raissman didn't know Twellman had an affiliation with the United States Men's National Soccer team then he very well could have thought he was commenting on how close the game was and how the stakes of a US victory/Portugal defeat were high. 

Let’s just say Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth would not have a similar exchange late in a tightly contested Super Bowl.

Al Michaels during another commercialized sporting event disguised as a patriotic event,

"Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" 

Sounds like Michaels was openly cheering for the United States in that situation doesn't it (at least from Bob Raissman's perspective based on this column)? Not to mention, there is a difference in a sporting event involving different countries and a sporting event like Sunday Night Football where the two teams competing are from the same country. There just is a difference.

And after Clint Dempsey left the game with about three minutes left and the score 2-1, the voices were having premature visions of a USA win. “In their 20 games in World Cup history that they conceded the first goal, they’ve never won,” Twellman said. “What a comeback!”

He's simply stating a fact. The United States had never won after conceding the first goal and then they (potentially) came back to beat Portugal, of all teams, after conceding the first goal. 

Darke: “So a bit of history (being made) here, uh, they haven’t won this, mind you.”

A few seconds later Darke said: “If it stays like this it will be one of the greatest wins in U.S. (soccer) history.”

IF. The key word there is "IF." Again, Darke was simply stating a fact that a comeback win over Portugal to advance to the group stage would have been one of the greatest wins in United States soccer history. He is simply providing perspective on what a potential win for the United States would represent. 

Then came Silvestre Varela’s header beating Tim Howard, tying the game. And then came Twellman’s reaction.

“I’m sick to my stomach,” he said.

Well, that is clearly a pro-American point of view given the situation. Still, ESPN is an American network so it's not unforeseen they would hire American talent to broadcast the games and this American talent would have a slightly pro-Team USA stance. 

Cannot report if Twellman tossed his cookies. ESPN did not stick a camera in his face. Twellman’s reaction again suggests when it comes to Team USA, impartiality is not a high priority for him or ESPN.

I think the viewer would anticipate that ESPN makes coverage of the United States team a high priority. In fact, the American television rights to the World Cup were sold to ESPN, ABC, and Univision. The AMERICAN broadcast rights. So people who live in American, who presumably will have more interest in Team USA, are receiving coverage of the team that reflects this interest in Team USA. So why in the hell would Bob Raissman take offense or be surprised that ESPN, the network with the American broadcasting rights, would take a more pro-Team USA stance? Is he angry that VGTRK in Russia isn't giving Team USA enough coverage or appear to be more biased towards Team Russia? I highly doubt it. 

So I don't really understand Raissman's point. Other countries have broadcast rights to the World Cup that most naturally would reflect partiality towards the World Cup team representing that country. 

On the postgame show, the team’s key players — and coach Jurgen Klinsmann — were interviewed by Jeremy Schaap. We stayed with the program for a while. During that time there were no interviews with Team Portugal players. Turns out some were interviewed on ESPN Deportes. Perhaps the BCCC faculty believes viewers of “regular” ESPN don’t speak Spanish.

Now this is Bob Raissman's complaint. It's not that ESPN didn't interview Team Portugal players, it's that they were interviewed on ESPN Deportes. I would bet most viewers of "regular" ESPN probably don't speak fluent Spanish. Besides, players from Team Portugal most likely speak Portuguese, seeing as how that is the official language of the country and all. I'm sure Bob Raissman, the same guy who is accusing ESPN of not being educated enough on Team Portugal, knew that already though. 

Or just want the main channel’s commentary colored red, white, and blue. It is not right, but not surprising. When it comes to these international events on American TV, the broadcasts are all USAcentric.

Why is it not right? Univision has the rights to the games also, so if a person doesn't like the pro-Team USA coverage then they can flip over to Univision. Most people who are watching the World Cup in the United States have an interest in how Team USA will do. That is why ESPN has a pro-Team USA slant to their coverage. It's the same reason a Boston area news station will have a slant towards Boston sports and doesn't give the Texas Rangers or Dallas Cowboys equal air time. It's all about what the audience watching the program wants to hear. Viewers watching in America most likely want to hear about Team USA. 

It’s good for business — the 18 million who tuned it tell you so.

So ESPN gave viewers the coverage they wanted and this is a bad thing? It hurts me to defend ESPN and I recognize not every person living in the United States is watching the World Cup to see the United States play. I haven't found the coverage of the United States Men's National Soccer team to be overwhelmingly slanted towards Team USA when I am watching the matches. There is a slant, but a lot of the analysis doesn't directly cheer for the United States. ESPN has a pro-Team USA slant outside of the normal World Cup coverage (SportsCenter, etc) but that is to be expected. I don't see the problem that Bob Raissman is trying to create here. 

Sunday, these Gasbags took it to another level. It’s time to switch to Univision.

Then do it. I think Bob Raissman has tried to find situations where he wants to claim ESPN is boldly providing analysis from an American perspective, but in a few of the situations mentioned here in the column I don't see the slant he claims to see. Lalas was talking in generalities from how I took his monologue and any mention of the United States team making history was simply a recitation of facts that was appropriate for the moment.


HH said...

Call it an allergic reaction to someone sermonizing, attempting to bring higher purpose and meaning to a sporting event where organizers (in this case FIFA) are making a whole lot of dough.


Tell that to Senegal, France's former colony that defeated France in the opening game of 2002. Tell it to Bosnia, twenty years after civil war and 20 days after massive flooding, playing a united team made up of formerly warring ethnicities. Tell it to the Ivory Coast, whose warlords signed a cease fire in 2010 so that everyone could watch the games in peace. Tell them all none of this matters.

It's a sport. It's grown men playing a game and someone is making money off it. It might be better if all this energy were used on scientific research, but it's not, so let people enjoy themselves.

HH said...

Raissman reminds me of those people who announce that Valentine's Day is made up by greeting card companies and chocolate manufacturers, like we're all such sheep and they're the only ones who see through the matrix. Guess what: we know that, too, but chocolate is fun, people like cards, and people like caring about sports. Let us enjoy it.

Snarf said...

It's such a cheap criticism, that someone is making money off of an event, product, etc. Production companies make money from a successful play, but I can appreciate it's entertainment/artistic value. A busy restaurant can be rolling in the dough, but I can enjoy the food and respect the skill of the chef. The NFL makes gobs of money, but I still enjoy rooting for my team. Conversely, a playwright can work tirelessly to create a quality production, a chef can love to cook, and players/teams can care about winning and representing their city. An organization/event/activity making money and having some other value attached to it are not mutually exclusive in the least.

Raissman honestly comes off as a college freshman who just took his first Sociology course and regurgitates what he's learned to anyone who will listen to show how smart and evolved he is.

Bengoodfella said...

HH, I probably couldn't have said it better. Enjoy it or don't. Most sporting events involve people making money and sometimes when countries compete patriotism bleeds over. The World Cup is fun and of course people are going to make money.

Snarf, he does remind me of a college freshman who takes a few courses and now thinks corporate America is the real cause for all of society's ill and has a problem with any endeavor that involves making money. That's a good comparison.

Anonymous said...

I hope Raissman did switch to Univision but then got annoyed because they focused too much on portugal, and they spoke spanish and he couldn't understand them. Raissman seems like he thinks he has it all figured out but then doesnt know the people of portugal speak portugese.

These recent articles by Reissman and Shaughnessy exemplify one of my major pet peeves which is the if I don't enjoy something, no one else is allowed to enjoy it attitude.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I sort of have that attitude about Chris Berman. Of course no one likes him, so that's probably different.

Anonymous said...

Although that may not be true if you saw Shaughnessy's column from yesterday where he apparently loves soccer now after watching Brazil vs. Germany.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I was so infuriated by that column I'm not going to write about it. I refuse. What a dipshit and a hack. He writes two columns about how much soccer sucks and then decides he likes the sport. I knew he would do that.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame you, it pissed me off too. It started at the beginning by implying "soccer krishnas", whatever that even means, had been threatning him to enjoy soccer.

I think what infuriated me most was how he tried to make it sound like he was willing to give soccer another chance, although it sure seemed to me like his friend at the body shop had to badger him into watching with them.

Anonymous said...

Are you fucking serious? You see no merit or understand any of the complaints? Lalas is a complete dipshit and purports himself as such. I don't agree with everything Raissman said, but I understand where he is coming from.

I read this article, and his,in order to decide if your blog is worth my time. However, you're so heavy-handed and willing to bash Raissman that I question your analytical skills.

Bengoodfella said...

David, they are American announcers I never thought they would be unbiased. Yes, I am serious.

I apologize the blog isn't worth your time.