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As sports attractions go, the Olympics are a spectacle that happens only every four years. The Winter Olympics also happen every four years, but with a two-year gap. So this year, we get to tune in to all the drama on NBC, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Minnesota Twins, after a well-chronicled start that removed them from any thought of contention, have improved enough to become very interesting to watch during this second half, and they’ve created a scenario where we simply never know what will happen next. They’ve proven that if you can score enough runs, in enough bunches, your starting pitchers might settle in and do some really good things, and the relievers benefit from the longer starts and from pitching with the lead.
Those two events were predominant last weekend, but when the weekend was over, there was no question in my mind that the best sports attraction all weekend was Brett Favre’s emotional and rambling speech at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was so gripping, and so revealing, that we didn’t even need the meaningless exhibition opener between Green Bay and Indianapolis, cancelled the next night because the field was glued into clumps by attempts to paint the lines and logos in place after the ceremony. Favre was given 10 minutes, and he took 48. And nobody cared. When he was done, we all realized why any team would give any amount to have Favre in control for the deciding drive in the closing minutes.
As for the Twins, we had to give first priority to the Olympics, didn’t we? Watching Al Michaels, or Bob Costas, speak before the fantastic backdrop of the glorious city of Rio de Janeiro, and they would prepare us all for the wonders to come. A couple times, they slipped. Costas once said, “...coming to you live, from Rio.” No, Bob, you’re not live. You are coming to us, thanks to the geniuses at NBC, on a one-hour tape delay. On the West Coast, it’s a four-hour delay.
At first, that idea annoyed me. Then it angered me. Then it hit me right where I thought journalistic integrity should enter the scene. If you want to see a big-time swimming showdown event, or a special in gymnastics, you will find a way to watch it, whenever it is on. But for NBC to think they have to tape the performance, then package it for prime-time showing, smacks of managed news. They can say it’s just sports, and it is, but the results of four years of preparation by athletes from all over the world are news. Period.
So I was prepared to watch the women’s gymnastics, but first...NBC switched to a very well done feature on one of the gymnasts, and her troubled upbringing. It was nice. Then it was time for the event itself, and the performances were nothing short of breathtaking. Should I have been surprised that the gymnast featured in the pre-event interview did very well? Should we anticipate that somewhere, millions of viewers are extolling the brilliance of NBC for selecting an athlete to be features who then came on and was outstanding?
Instead, I was deeply perturbed. NBC could go out and put “in the can” several interviews with top USA competitors, then watch the event unfold and – knowing exactly how it came out and who performed well – select the proper feature and run it before the masses were shown.
It would be a lot like getting the rights to the Twins, putting it on tape delay, and inserting video of Miguel Sano’s outstanding improvement in recent weeks, then going back to the game just in time to show Sano hitting a walk-off home run. We’re not far from that, either. The day might come when some horrible terrorist action happens and NBC’s bosses suggest they should get a crew over there, and hold the news until they can get a live interview with some hero who saved a little kid – then give us the news.
They call it packaging, and they defend it as valid, which shows how far the pretense of objective journalism has fallen at the major networks. NBC defends itself by saying women watch the Olympics more than men, and they care more about the stories and the feature stuff than the results. That, friends, is how I define the word demeaning, when it comes to describing women.
It’s not new, either. In 1980, at Lake Placid, the U.S. was about to play for the Miracle On Ice Gold Medal in hockey. The game was scheduled for afternoon, so ABC television taped it, and showed it to an eager nation in prime time. In Canada, where the Canadian team had been eliminated from medal consideration but the hockey fans have a clue, the network broadcasting the Olympics altered their schedule to show the game live. Those lucky folks living near the border, such as International Falls or Warroad, were able to watch the game live on Canadian TV.
But in this day and age, where people can get on the internet and find all sorts of methods of learning the score of a game, putting it all on tape delay seems ludicrous. It’s worth millions to the network, of course, and money wins, every time. It helps that in men’s and women’s basketball, where the masses might be eager for the result, we can be sure that the margin of victory for both the NBA men and WNBA women will average about 40 points per game. No need to try to find those games live.
When it’s over, we will boast at the medal count, and how many gold medals the USA gathers. And we can get back to normal life knowing that we have the best athletes in the world. Or maybe we should say that we have the best professional leagues and teams in the world. And for sure we have the best television packagers the world has ever known.
At their worst, the Twins were 20-48 at the end of June. Since July 1, they have gone 21-13. Think about that. This collection of not-ready-for-prime-time players are suddenly shining in prime time.
The Twins started the season 0-9, and remained the team with the worst record in the whole American League until Monday of this week, when they climbed to a 46-66 record, an inch (in percentage points) ahead of Tampa Bay’s 45-65. In the entire Major Leagues, Atlanta has been the worst team, and the only one the Twins had risen above. But as of Tuesday morning, the Twins at 46-66 stood above Cincinnati (45-65), Arizona (45-66), Tampa Bay (45-66), and Atlanta (42-70).
Certainly, a couple of losses will leave room for a couple of those teams to get back ahead of the Twins, but the way things are going, and with Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier hitting with consistency, there are a few more teams above them that are within reach of this club.