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Edwin Newman
September 27, 1976
If you ever watched a team struggle to a scoreless tie, you will not be defeated, clipped, routed or smashed by this whimsical and somewhat critical report on the uses of our mother tongue, or what is left of it
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September 27, 1976

Regulated To The Bench, Sportswise

If you ever watched a team struggle to a scoreless tie, you will not be defeated, clipped, routed or smashed by this whimsical and somewhat critical report on the uses of our mother tongue, or what is left of it

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During the 1976 baseball season, Reggie Jackson, after his first game with the Baltimore Orioles, reported that it felt good, because he was moving good and taking the pitches good. The pitches Jackson took did not come from Mickey Lolich, because Detroit had traded him to the Mets. After his second victory for the Mets, Lolich acknowledged that he was old for a pitcher—35—but, he said, "I still throw pretty good." Gus Ganakas, while basketball coach at Michigan State, suspended 10 players: "I feel good compassion between us," he said. Bad compassion, Ganakas must have sensed, had been the downfall of many basketball coaches.

A new generation of broadcasters has already moved beyond good to better things. Consider the former quarterback John Unitas. Unitas has three things to say about a player: He did a fine job. He did a real fine job. He did a super job. About entire teams or categories of players, such as offensive guards, he also has three things to say: They do a fine job. They do a real fine job. They do a super job. No mention of good.

Good shots are disappearing from golf. If a player hits a nine-iron shot to the green, the broadcaster will say, "That was a real fine shot." Sometimes, because he believes the audience is confused about the ball and the green and thinks the game on the screen is water polo, he will say, "That was a real fine golf shot." In exceptional cases, "That was a super shot."

Will super last? Not for long. Not with real super waiting to be waved in. Moreover, the golfer Raymond Floyd has blazed a new trail. After three rounds in the 1976 Masters tournament, he had a lead of eight strokes. Before the final round, Floyd was asked how he had slept. "I slept terrific," he said. There is always something grander beyond the horizon. When the 1974 World Series was under way, in progress and continuing in California, Vin Scully said on NBC about Reggie Jackson: "Granted he has a strong arm velocitywise, it's not so accurate." This entire nation knows what is meant when an outfielder is said to have a strong arm, but velocitywise adds a new dimension to our studiology. California Angels Pitcher Nolan Ryan noted one day during 1976 spring training that he had good velocity. He understated it. Ryan has real good velocity. He is very fast.

I sometimes wonder—this may be regarded as a digression—whether there is not another accomplishment players must have if they are to last in the major leagues. This is the ability to spit with good velocity when the television camera is on them. It seems clear that a method of communication has been worked out between the television crews and the players. This is not necessary when a player is close enough to see the red light that means that the camera is transmitting a picture on the air, but when he isn't, I suppose that his instructions come from somebody in the television crew, perhaps by Navy semaphore flags. As soon as he gets the message, he shifts his tobacco or chewing gum and lets go.

All is not lost in sports broadcasting. It is a matter of getting the right people on the job. It is easy to find someone, almost always an ex-player or ex-coach, who will say, "They're a very physical team" (this is why there are physical injuries), and "I think they're up for this one," or a whimsical one who will refer to the end zone in football as royal soil (royal soil used to be pay dirt). Or refer to the linebackers as the containment committee and the referee as the chief of the spheroid Shylocks. Those who tell you that teams deck other teams, or slam, squeeze past, down, clip, rout, outlast, skin, rock or thump them, while notching another win or upping their mark to whatever the mark is upped to, are thick on the ground.

I learned early about clich�s of sports. In the fall of 1941, I was a member of the Washington bureau of International News Service (later to be merged with United Press into United Press International). That puts it grandly. I was a copy-boy, a position that would now be called at NBC News a desk assistant. I hope it makes a difference. When credentials were available for sports events that INS had no intention of covering, copyboys were able to use them. This meant that you could sit in the press box and pretend to be a reporter, and then call in a brief account of the game in case the deskman in charge wanted to use it.

That fall I was given the credentials for the football game between George Washington and, as I recall, Georgetown. It was a game of no interest between teams of no distinction whatever, and it ended in a scoreless tie. I telephoned.

"What was the score?" the deskman asked.

"There was no score."

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