Tuned In

Sports on TV: Or, What I'm Not Watching

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Yesterday I ran into my time.com colleague Tony Karon, who hails from one of the regions of the world where they play football with their feet, and he asked what I was planning on blogging about the coverage of the World Cup. My answer–nothing. For a simple reason:

I don’t watch it.

There. I said it. Before you decide this is one of those jingoistic, parochial, why-don’t-they-score-more-often anti-soccer rants, let me clarify: I don’t watch sports. Oh, I watch sports, in the sense of catching the occasional playoff game or the Olympics to keep up for professional reasons, the same grudging, clinical way I make myself choke down a Crossing Jordan or CSI: Miami once a season. But watch-them watch them, in the sense of tuning in regularly, staying from the pre- to the post-game, caring who wins —nope. Not a fan. The one exception is championship figure skating, and before you ask, yes, I fathered two children, the natural way, thank you very much.

I’ll freely admit that this is a shortcoming of mine as a TV critic, if not a man and an American. Sports on TV are a major part of the way we, by which I mean you, absorb pop culture—not just the games, but the catchphrases, the attitude, the advertising. Without being a fan, which is something you can’t fake, you simply can’t experience it the same way. Every year at the network upfronts, when the networks announce their fall schedules, they turn over part of the show to their sports divisions. For me, they might as well say, "And now, the part of the upfronts where we speak in Serbo-Croatian!" The in-jokes, the references, even many of the personalities are lost on me. I can pick Terry Bradshaw out of a lineup, but only because he’s bald and kind of loony.

I’m not proud of it, but it’s a reflection of one of the weirdnesses of the job of TV critic. Unlike, say, movie critics, you can’t reasonably watch everything: any given year, my digital cable box spits out more hours of television than I will have hours of life. So you prioritize and specialize, and some things, you drop. (I have a feeling I’m not alone: in many big newspapers, TV sports are covered by the sports, not the arts, section.) Maybe the biggest thing I miss out on, from a pop-culture standpoint, is the commercials. Between getting screener DVDs and using TiVo, the Super Bowl is pretty much the only time of year I find out what exactly Americans buy nowadays.

That said, I’m making some effort with the World Cup, which is a forgiving sports event for me since, let’s face it, you don’t have to pay attention to most of a soccer game. (OK, that was the jingoistic, parochial, why-don’t-they-score-more-often part.) Since I’m on the clock, sadly, I can’t really enjoy the games the way foreign-born acquaintances and our local satellite-TV-boasting bars tell me they are meant to be enjoyed: stinking drunk.

I have, however, so far been enjoying ESPN2′s Scottish color commentator, who, I believe, is a pirate. ("He’s got about a half yarrrrrrd of space therrrrre!") Yes, I know Univision also covers the Cup; I’m going to work on learning the sport before I start learning a new language, sorry. Anyway, the weekend’s coming up, and I promise to work my best at sampling the World Cup experience.

The drinking part, anyway.