On Sports Journalism

Those of you who have known me for some time are aware that I haven’t always been a sports fan.  In all honesty I’m still not a “fan” – I enjoy watching certain sports now, but I don’t go out of my way to follow them, and I can’t rattle off statistics or even player names for my favorite teams.

So I don’t have the slavish devotion to sports in general or one in particular that your average sports journalist has, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what they do.  I do wonder sometimes, though, whether it becomes tedious even to them, to have to report on games going exactly as predicted, a football game played tightly and skillfully…

… an endless tennis match.

The Guardian, one of the UK’s “Quality Newspapers”, sent one Xan Brooks to Wimbledon as a liveblogger, and he happened to draw the Isner-Mahut match-up currently going on (and on, and on, and on…) at Court 18.  And as the hours stretched forward, and the sun went down and came back up again, the coverage became less workaday and more… well, something else.

4.05 PM: The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It’s tennis’s equivalent of Waiting For Godot, in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky. Isner and Mahut are dying a thousand deaths out there on Court 18 and yet nobody cares, because they’re watching the football. So the players stand out on their baseline and belt aces past each-other in a fifth set that has already crawled past two hours. They are now tied at 18-games apiece.

On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.

Already having taken on a certain mad poesy, Brooks’s words find their truest inspiration after nightfall.

6.25pm: I’m wondering if maybe an angel will come and set them free. Is this too much to ask? Just one slender angel, with white wings and a wise smile, to tell them that’s it’s all right, they have suffered enough and that they are now being recalled. The angel could hug them and kiss their brows and invite them to lay their rackets gently on the grass. And then they could all ascend to heaven together. John Isner, Nicolas Mahut and the kind angel that saved them.

Or my personal favorite:

7.45pm: What happens if we steal their rackets? If we steal their rackets, the zombies can no longer hit their aces and thump their backhands and keep us all prisoner on Court 18. I’m shocked that this is only occurring to me now. Will nobody run onto the court and steal their rackets? Are they all too scared of the zombies’ clutching claws and gore-stained teeth?

I think the best sports journalism comes when things get really tough for the commentators.  Adversity brings out creativity in us all, doesn’t it?


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