Over the past six months, I’ve read roughly 50 to 60 articles directly about the current state of sports broadcasting on television. The articles are basically all the same. After praising a few announcing crews of yesteryear, almost all of the articles conclude that at the moment, sports coverage blows. Hard.

Christopher Zbrozek
Michael Passman

And I can’t disagree. Most of today’s announcing crews just aren’t cutting it. From Joe Buck and his moral high horse to the overall ridiculousness of Bill Walton, the national sports announcing crews are for the most part pretty weak. In fact, most of the better announcing crews are local ones, only because they consistently follow one team and can learn their respective ins-and-outs.

But the far greater problem in the sports broadcasting scene are the studio analysts and talking heads that ESPN loves to parade around throughout the day. Currently, the central problem common to them is that far too many of these “talents” are too preoccupied with making outrageous claims that will garner them attention – rather than making logical points or highlighting important information.

The worst perpetrators of all are Sean Salisbury and Skip Bayless. Salisbury, a journeyman quarterback for eight years in the NFL, is now just a loud meathead who frequently argues about nothing with egghead Jon Clayton on SportsCenter. Bayless, the prized possession of ESPN 2’s “Cold Pizza,” has made a name for himself by pissing everyone off and being an all-around jackass.

The most frustrating part about the act that these guys – and many of their associates – put on, is that it’s an act. Salisbury and Bayless may be the two biggest douchebags on the planet, but I suspect they’re just minor douchebags who play up their douchebagness because they want other people to talk about how much they suck.

But the thing is, I can’t remember this happening prior to the past seven or so years. Granted, I’m not very old, but I’ve always been one to recognize an asshole. And sure, Howard Cosell was by all accounts a dick, and sports writers have been yelling at each other on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” for years, but it was never this bad.

So who’s to blame: The Round Mound of Rebound, one Charles Barkley. The NBA Hall of Famer – previously known for his incredibly bad golf swing, prolific bar fights, massive gambling losses and, most important, “Barkley Shut Up and Jam” for SNES and Sega Genesis – ushered in the new era of sports TV personalities when he joined TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew in 2000.

Early on in the ’00-’01 NBA season, Barkley made a name for himself in the broadcasting world by being Charles Barkley. The man literally has no filter. He criticizes TNT, his coworkers, players, referees and anything else that pops into his mind without thinking of the ramifications. And that’s why “Inside The NBA” is more entertaining than most regular-season NBA games and why Barkley is such a treat to watch. You believe everything he says because he’s just a crazy motherfucker who calls it like he sees it.

So why is this Barkley’s fault? Well, after Barkley attracted tons of attention with his brazen approach, others saw this as a way to make a name for themselves. TV personalities who may not even like Barkley (in fact, many of them frequently use Barkley as a target of their rage) have adopted his over-the-top demeanor to fit them. Because Barkley is by nature an extreme personality, talking heads with tamer personalities saw the success Barkley created and decided to crank up their respective schtick hoping to attain the attention of sports radio hosts and fans across the country. As a result, Salisbury is overly argumentative and militant, and Bayless is overly self-righteous and preachy. They’re all trying to play a character, and Barkley is the only one playing himself.

Now if he could just do something about those T-Mobile commercials . Well, nobody’s perfect.

– Douchebaggery? E-mail Passman at mpass@umich.edu.

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