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Friday, August 15, 2008
Two Olympic thoughts . . .

sort of related to law and public policy.

1) This week, I watched the women's beach volleyball (a sport I actually have enjoyed watching) match between USA's Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh (they of the frolicking with W while Russia invaded Georgia) and a team from Cuba. The match was a blowout and no one expected it to be close, so the announcers naturally had to find other stuff to talk about. Nothing unusual; announcers struggle to fill during bad games all the time.

What struck me as unusual was the content: Stories about how each one met her husband and of their first dates (which apparently involved some confusion about who was being fixed up with whom) and about what happens after the Olympics, when, the announcers told us five different times, both women would like to get pregnant. I am trying to remember watching a men's sporting event in which conversation turned to how the quarterback met his wife or about the point guard's family planning. Now, in fairness, perhaps it is more relevant for women athletes, who must put their careers on hold for at least a few months, although this story in Sports Illustrated discusses the athletic benefits of pregnancy and childbirth. But I could not get past the feeling that the announcers, needing filler, just wanted to talk about the personal lives of two attractive women whose uniform is a bikini.

2) Had the U.S. athletes not taken gold and silver in yesterday's individual women's gymnastics competition, the headlines this morning would have been about bizarre/unfair/corrupt judging. As it was, the judging did produce 1) apoplexy in the American commentators about inappropriately low scores for the U.S. athletes and inappropriately high scores for the Chinese and Russian athletes and 2) the sight of the head of the technical committee (the chief judge, sort of) walking over to the judges' table after the routine of USA's Nastia Liukin (the eventual winner), it would appear to lecture them about how good the performance was and too make sure the scores were not depressed.

I continue to believe that gymnastics is not a sport, because it lacks the possibility of objective scoring or objective determination of victory. And the early grumblings yesterday (which hearkened back to the glory days of the mythical East German judge) show the inherent problem with "judging," especially when what the judges are looking for is so mysterious.

One way to eliminate some of the mystery (and suspicion) would be to require the judges to explain their decisions--to identify precisely what points were deducted and for what mistakes. Adjudication requires explanations for decisions and that transparency helps the parties and the public evaluate decisions and outcomes. And even football referees explain what happened on penalties (some refs in painstaking detail). Why not require gymnastics (and figure skating and diving and other "judged" events) provide explanation, thus bringing some transparency to what is, for most viewers, completely opaque.

Or put another way: When Harry in When Harry Met Sally talks about having sex in front of the Olympic judges and receiving a low score from his mother, disguised as an East German judge, for what "must have been the dismount," it would be better if we knew it was for the dismount.


To your first point, I don't think you watch enough "blow out" sporting events when announcers have to kill time. These folks LOVE talking about random personal annecdotes on players and player's families.

I mean, I'm sure your average football fan can tell you something about Deanna Favre (it says something that I immediately knew her name...) and that your above average baseball fan can tell you about Roger Clemens kids, who's names all start with a K (Koby, Kyle, etc).

I just don't think it comes up as often in mainstream sports where events are closer. (also, it would come up less in team sports settings where there are more "sports related" annecdotes to tell simply because there are more players on the court...)

Does it happen more in women's sports? I have no idea.

I suppose the real test would be a comparison between this match and a blow out tennis match featuring James Blake and some schlub (I'm betting his relationship with that women's soccer player would come up...)

Blogger Frank!!! -- 8/15/2008 5:18 PM  

Tony Romo and Jessica Simpson were not/are not covered by the media? Other than the room number of the resort in Mexico where they vacationed, I think every other angle on that story was covered.

Or did I hallucinate all of that last season?

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 8/15/2008 8:17 PM  

Roger threw at Koby in Spring Training once, bringing a semblance of reality to the line in Major League about "The Duke." (The only other thing I know about Koby is that he went to school with Hillary Duff.)

I got tired of the apoplexy of the commentators about the low scores of women who got the benefit of (in several cases) a lot of doubt about whether they had done the routines they were supposed to be doing. (Most explicitly, one of the "experts" noticed during the routine that a gymnast wasn't completely straight, but didn't mention it when talking about how she would be scored later—and then expressed amazement when she got a "low" score.)

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 8/15/2008 9:25 PM  

Well, whichever team Misty Treanor's husband plays for played the Mets in the past week. While the Mets' announcers didn't talk about the Treanors' plans for a family, the fact that a player's wife was currently in Beijing competing was certainly mentioned.

OpenID alice-q -- 8/15/2008 10:09 PM  

I believe the "abortion doping" mentioned in the linked article has never actually been proven. Unless more evidence comes forward, it still has to remain in the realm of the urban legend.

Anonymous Peter -- 8/16/2008 11:40 PM  

I think India will get at list one Madel from boxing.

Anonymous Sports -- 8/17/2008 12:27 AM  

Fsir comments, all. But I think I would place the Romo-Simpson thing in a different category; that got attention because of her fame, not his. I also want to distinguish stories and reports and features (on ESPN or other TV-news outlets and in print) about players that happen to discuss their wives and families from it being a subject of discussion during a game telecast.

More to the point, I was not trying to argue that broadcasters never talk about male player's wives/relationships in-game--whether images of Federer's fiancee during the Wimbledon Finals or talk of the soccer player Blake is dating or mentioning that the Marlins' Matt Treanor is married to Misty, who is competing in Beijing. What struck me was the content and detail of the conversation: Long stories of how they met their husbands, featuring romantic-comedy-level confusion about who was being set-up with (or hitting on) whom; long stories about their family-planning methods and goals (subtext: After the Olympics, they are going to go home and have unprotected sex with their husbands). My guess is that the baseball announcers who talked about Matt Treanor did not mention whether his immediate desire to have a child.

As I said in the post, there is more ofa direct effect on women's athletic careers from starting a family than on men's careers. Still, it struck me as a desire to titillate that we do not see in men's broadcasts.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 8/17/2008 7:12 AM  

Prof. Wasserman:

Agree that the "desire to titillate" is present here. Also agree that NBC has played that card often.

Perhaps, the attire of the women in the beach volleyball competition makes it easier for the announcers to "get into titillation mode" and for viewers to "receive those messages"?

I still assert that Tony Romo is plenty famous on his own. And you may recall that game last year when there were umpteen shots of Jessica Simpson in a pink Cowboys jersey up in the stands. But if you want other examples, please consider:

Alex Rodriguez and his "l'affaire de coeur" with Madonna. A-Rod is pretty famous on his own.

David Beckham and his wife are both similarly famous. Have there been titillating stories about both of them? Have there been stories about Beckham's alleged dalliances? Yes, and yes. I also recall Beckham's wife being asked if David might have been "enhanced" in the photo taken for his underwear advertisement. That's rather an intimate query, no?

How about Barry Bonds and the allegations of his mistress? He was and remains far more famous than she.

I don't remember which LA Dodgers pitcher it was who allegedly had sex on the pitching mound with one of the reporters covering the Dodgers. But for a while, that was "news".

There are loads of examples of gender bias in sports and society today. I'm not sure this is one of the major examples.

Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon -- 8/17/2008 8:37 PM  

From the Just Sayin' Dept., regarding the gymnastics competition: Putting aside, as you have, the question of whether the Chinese gymnasts were old enough to be eligible in the first place, it occurs to me that the IOC has a vested interest in the Chinese athletes not only doing well in these Games, but doing so specifically at the USA's expense.

Simply put, the Olympics have slowly lost relevance in their biggest cash-cow nation, the USA, ever since the USSR collapsed and took the superpower rivalry with it. China, with its iron-fisted (nominally) Communist government and well-oiled sports machine, is the obvious heir to the old USSR as America's foil - and if I were in the IOC's position I would do everything I could, covertly or otherwise, to encourage that rivalry to keep building momentum, all in the name of keeping that cash cow fat and happy.

Blogger Joshua -- 8/21/2008 1:06 AM  

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