UW Health Sports Medicine 

"The Voice" with Matt Lepay

Thumbnail image for the_voiceSM.jpgWhen I was young, I was a spoiled rotten Cincinnati Reds fan.  I say spoiled rotten because those were the days of the Big Red Machine, with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and all the other standout players who were in four World Series in the 1970s, winning back-to-back titles in 1975 and '76.  I bring this up because I also remember really being ticked at the NBC announcers because I was convinced they were rooting against my beloved team.

In my mind, this was especially true in the classic '75 World Series.  I was livid because there was no doubt in my mind that the late Curt Gowdy, a Hall of Fame broadcaster, was pulling hard for the Boston Red Sox.  I thought he was going to cry when Carl Yastrzemski made the final out in Game Seven.

When you are a diehard fan of a team, sometimes logic takes a backseat.  Not always, but sometimes.  It took me a long time to appreciate Gowdy's work, and how good he really was on the air.  It also took me quite awhile to understand that most broadcasters, especially on the regional and national level, really don't care who wins.  They like a good story, an exciting game, but what they truly want to do is put on a good, balanced broadcast.

Is this always the case?  Maybe not.  Trust me, I heard from many upset Badger fans following the basketball team's recent game at Michigan State.  Handling the color on the Big Ten Network that night was former Michigan State star Steve Smith.  I guess viewers in these parts had no trouble figuring out that he had a little more interest in one team than the other.  To be fair, I didn't catch the entire re-broadcast (I was a little busy during the game on the radio side), but what I did hear was Smith singing the praises of Jon Leuer, so he certainly wasn't "All Sparty All the Time."  Nonetheless, even a couple of neutral observers said Smith was a bit over the top for his alma mater.

For lack of a better way of saying it, sometimes that happens.  It absolutely makes me appreciate those who can stay down the middle during a broadcast.  For my two cents, among the best in that area is Shon Morris of the Big Ten Network.  Morris is a former Northwestern player, and now serves as the school's Director of Athletic Development.  Listening to him work a game, you would never know that he has anything to do with Northwestern.  Unless of course he is making fun of himself from his playing days.

I have to believe it is quite a challenge for an ex-player to call games involving his former team.  Let's face it, a young man pours his heart and soul into a program for up to four or five years, and in some cases, such as Smith, donates lots of money to his school.  It can't be easy to be neutral, but that's what a network and a viewer expect.

Sometimes, there is the temptation for the former player to go overboard, at least in the ears of the listener.  A few years ago, I had to laugh when I heard some people say that former Badger Mike Kelley was being too nice to a Badgers opponent.   Former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit hears it from both sides.  If he is calling a Buckeyes game against Michigan, he probably gets equal irate messages from OSU and Wolverines fans, saying he is rooting one way or the other.

In that case, that probably means he is doing his job well.  Gowdy said that a long time ago.  If both fan bases are pounding on you, it must mean you are being fair.  I guess that is one reason why those TV guys make the big bucks--they can handle hate mail from both sides!