Let’s just admit it right now. We live in a knee-jerk, reactionary culture ruled by group think. Public opinion is like some sick game of Jenga where the generally-held viewpoint is eroded block-by-block until the whole thing comes crashing down in one obnoxious swoop frequently caused by one or two events that make people decide all has gone too far. There’s always going to be protestors and crusaders on each side of the fence, but the truth is public opinion is ruled by the wishy-washy masses in the middle. Just like most elections, the end result is ultimately decided by the boobs who haven’t bothered constructing a viewpoint until the issue is suddenly hurdled to the forefront.
This week, that issue is whether sports should be televised live or on a seven second delay, and the two events in question are Kobe Bryant’s usage of a gay slur during the Lakers’ game and Marco Andretti’s dropping of an f-bomb during a fender bender at the Toyota Grand Prix. Deadline’s Nikki Finke weighed in on the drama yesterday in a column in which she concluded, “what's the effing big deal about just using the 7-second delay bleep button on all live events?” Well, Nikki, let me tell you what the big fucking deal is.
When I was thirteen years old, I sat in front of the television with my father, and we watched the Los Angeles Lakers play the Portland Trailblazers in game seven of the 2000 NBA Western Conference Finals. Portland was up fifteen points a little way through the fourth quarter, but slowly, that lead started to erode. The Blazers couldn’t buy a basket, and the Lakers were on fire. As the gap narrowed, my dad turned to me and said, “If the Blazers blow this, they will never emotionally recover. They’ll be done.” Of course, they continued to miss shot after shot, and the Lakers poured it on. I remember, for the first time in my life, being keenly aware that I was watching something epic, something way bigger than just a basketball game. I wondered what it must have felt like to be there, what the coaches were telling their teams during the huddles. Most of all, I wondered if something, anything could change the momentum and prevent the collapse that, in retrospect, seems like destiny. That game-altering moment never came. The Staples Center got louder and louder. Shaq and Kobe grew more confident. Ultimately, the Lakers sealed it on the most famous alley oop of all-time, and as the game ended, I thought about all the people who watched it with me. I thought about what they must have been thinking, how upset the city of Portland probably was and how euphoric LA must be.
For that forty-five minutes back in 2000, I watched a basketball game alongside millions. I saw the Lakers start a dynasty and the Blazers lose all hope. I saw lives change and legacies alter. I remember exactly where I was (on the edge of the love seat in my old living room), who I was with (my father) and what I was eating (macaroni n cheese and hot dogs). I remember it all so vividly because I knew as it was happening that something special was going on, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it.
Unlike a scripted program, the whole point of professional sports is that the outcomes aren’t written down on paper in advance. No one knows what’s going to happen before or during a sporting event, and nothing can ever replace watching it as it’s happening. When Shaq slammed home that alley oop, I jumped out of my seat at the same time as twenty-thousand did at Staples Center. As my father and I high-fived, the players did the same with their teammates. We were all in it together. It didn’t matter that I was a thousand miles away, I was still a part of it.
Over the years, that same story has played out with dozens of different teams. I cheered as Ray Bourque hoisted his first Stanley Cup and violently shook my head as the Bears came up short in the Super Bowl. I soaked in the spontaneous USA chants inside a bar after Michael Phelps won the relay gold medal and sneered as the Montreal Canadians’ fans booed our National Anthem. I may not have been there, but I was still a live witness to the proceedings.
Seven seconds may not seem like much, but in truth, it’s everything. I don’t want to wonder what the players just did, I want to wonder what they’re about to do. I don’t want to think I hope they just scored, I want to watch them actually try to score. For the love of all things decent, I want to be a part of the action live, as it’s happening. I want to sit inside that moment, not see a highlight of it seven seconds later. Are we really willing to throw that all away because we’re worried a microphone might pick up someone saying “fuck” in the heat of the moment? What the fuck, society? How are we not more sensible than this?
A sporting event is a living, breathing entity played by real people. It’s filled with danger, intrigue and drama. Millions of dollars are on the line for every single playoff game. Wins and losses affect not only players’ abilities to support themselves but also their legacies, self-esteems and even the mood of entire cities. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, they swear or fight or embarrass themselves. Good. I’m glad that they care enough to behave emotionally.
A few year’s back, I was watching the Buffalo Sabres play the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres captain Chris Drury was blindsided with a vicious blow to the face that knocked him unconscious. I, along with the crowd, players and everyone watching at home, stood up in horror. He was eventually helped off the ice, and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff responded by putting five of his toughest players on the ice for the ensuing face-off. A full-on melee ensued complete with a goalie fight. The crowd roared its approval. I stood up and swung haymakers into the air, venting my frustrating. After it was all over, the Senators coach screamed at Lindy Ruff, who turned and said, very audibly, “Don’t go after our fucking captain.” No statement in the world could have better summed up my feelings. I would have dropped an f-bomb too.
Over the next few days, you’re going to hear plenty of people tell you why the cost of swearing outweighs the positives of televising sporting events live. Please don’t listen. Sports are meant to unfold as they happen. If every once in awhile an athlete foolishly uses a gay slur, use that as a teaching moment to explain to your kids why that word is offensive; don’t knee-jerk respond with blame toward live television itself. If I ever have kids, I want to prop them on the love seat with macaroni n cheese and let them see history happen live alongside millions of strangers. If they hear an f-bomb every now and again, so be it.
Watch the video of Lindy Ruff screaming “Don’t go after our fucking captain” below…