Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hide the Old Guy

I just can’t believe it, but I saw it with my own eyes. There, on my television set, at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club, was the moment they’d been waiting for—time to award the 2006 Heisman Trophy to the best college football player of the year. I hadn’t watched much, because it’s generally a boring show, except for the end when the classic trophy is awarded. The three “finalists,” Darren McFadden, the Arkansas running back, Brady Quinn of Notre Dame, and Troy Smith of Ohio State, were sitting there, in their form-fitting suits, waiting for the word.

Then ESPN’s host for the event, Chris Fowler, said, “and now, to present the award,--“ and he mentioned the name of the trustee from the Club, who was there to announce the winner. The gentleman was, I’d say, in his seventies, and confined to a wheelchair. He wore glasses, and, let’s say he’s a man who isn’t the snappiest dresser.

This man began talking about all the people who’d put the evening together and the great candidates. And then, after about 5-10 seconds,…he disappeared. For the rest of the entire speech, which went on for a while, ESPN’s cameras showed everything except the man talking. They panned the audience, they showed longshot after longshot of the stage, they panned the candidates, then cut back to the wide shot of the entire room, but even at the end, when he announced the name of the winner, the camera never returned to this man.

I know that sports is a youth culture, and that television is hellbent on getting the young male viewers. But have we really reached a point where the guy presenting the Heisman Trophy can’t be shown if the show’s producers don’t think he’s pretty enough to look at?

The irony is, ESPN is more than ready to declare itself as the chronicler of sports history. All those honey glazed, or “sepia-toned” biographies of past sports legends seemed to suggest that the network cared about the heritage and traditions of sport, as well as its youth culture. Maybe they’d have left this guy on if he’d had better lighting.

In the meantime, I simply hope I’m mistaken. I hope there’s some reasonable explanation for cutting away from this speaker, the way they take that wide shot at the Oscars, when he was performing the only real function of the evening.