It is archives weekend, people. Flotsam from the past is posted here that might be worth a dusting off.
The Yankees are in Beantown this weekend ( I’m going–Thank you, sweet Timmy, who is eight tomorrow!) and craziness is easily heard on WEEI, sports talk radio in Boston. I am posting an essay I wrote about sports radio around the time that Larry Bird retired from the Celtics in 1993. The names may have changed, but the callers are exactly the same.
It’s a bit long, but I think you may enjoy it.
SPORTS OPERA RADIO
The bookstore has whole sections on men and women with titles that are decidedly biased as to which sex has the communication problems: “How To Love A Difficult Man,” “Maybe He’s Just A Jerk”, “Get Rid of Him” to “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”
There are 20 sections of books on women’s studies and only 4 on men’s studies, and one of those four sections is all one author: Iron-Man Robert Bly. Communication is a problem, they all say. Men aren’t at ease with their feelings like women are; they are emotionally cool rather than hot. Their playground is not words, but ACTION–they’d rather DO something rather than TALK about it. Psychologists call it “alexithymia”, an inability to name or describe one’s feelings.
These authors and psychologists need to spend an afternoon listening to 24 hour-Sports Opera Talk Radio: WEEI-5.90 AM in Boston. Who’s calling? Men. Lots of men. Tom from Quincy, Dick from Wrentham, Joe from Weymouth, Ronnie from Pawtucket, Rhode Island and hundreds more. What are they talking about? Feelings. Soap Opera feelings of passion, betrayal, duplicity, greed, and jealousy. Sports Radio is the true Southfork of men’s emotions. Iron Bob doesn’t need to beat his drum on WEEI. The Wild Man within the Common Man has been reborn, at least, in the privacy of the airwaves.
When Larry Bird retired from the Celtics: Caller #1: “He’s gone. I can’t believe it. He said to us: “Boston, I dedicated my life to you”–and he did–and now he’s gone! I should’ve given him my all, Glenn–I should have clapped harder at the Garden. I should have stayed up late to listen to the west coast games. I should’ve given him more–and, now he’s gone. I can’t believe it. Gone!”
The Wild Men are talking relationships. Nuances. Subtleties.
Caller #2: “Did Larry socialize with Kevin off the court? Caller #3: “Did Kevin feel badly when Larry yelled at him on the court?”
The Iron Men are talking analytical relationships: Caller #4: “My autograph from Larry last year was my one moment to look greatness in the eye. Me–common Joe–meets greatness.”
Primitive Men are giving praise, affirmation:
Caller #5: “His work ethic is what sets him apart, Glenn. No one worked as hard as Larry. NO ONE. There will never be another one like him. NEVER.”
Emotions are volcanic. The word-lava keeps on flowing, spewing into the airwaves: spumes of superlatives, rivulets of verbal excess and microscopic gaseous detail of one man’s passion to play hoops. The word-lava is so thick and glowing that the first time listener sits with mouth gaping while stopped at a traffic light, transforming pedestrians walking on the street into number 33’s stealing an in-bound pass or making a 23-foot jumper.
The emotional value system is, at first, simple and unfettered by ambiguity or gray areas; no Supreme Court Justices seem to be needed here. Play through pain is the mantra. Sacrificing yourself in order to win is a basic requirement; athletic skills are secondary. To win is everything. Drive yourself until it hurts and then suck it up and do not speak of it. Simply fall on your cheekbone, blur your vision, concussion yourself back to the crowd to sink a three-pointer from downtown. Wait for the deafening applause.
But, not so fast. One caller wants to tell the Talk Show Host that Dave Dravecky deserves more accolades for going through 8 months of chemotherapy and coming back to play than Mario LeMieux, who had his last short-term radiation treatment in the afternoon and played hockey the same night. Caller and host spar respectfully about who deserves the Golden Play-Thru-Pain Award. Competitiveness about an athlete’s ability to handle chemotherapy or radiation? Yes. You mean, who did it best? Yes. Well, who did it longer? Yes–but who played on the same day as his treatment? Maybe sports opera justice needs a Supreme Court after all. Statistics can measure, box scores quantify, but who will make the competitive call about white blood cells?
“Pain,” Larry Bird said to Boston on the night of his retirement, “Pain so bad that on some days I thought I couldn’t get out bed…But, don’t feel sorry,” he said. “I did it for you and I had a blast.” Tears from an SRO Boston Garden and more deafening applause.
The term “sport” in biology is used to describe something that varies markedly from normal type, a mutant organism. Sports Talk Radio is another lesson in mutancy: Men talk-it’s not that they can’t, don’t, or won’t-they do, and it’s as emotionally excessive and outrageous as “Oprah” and “Geraldo”, “Days of Our Lives”, “General Hospital”.
The daily drama of winning and losing, the paralyzing excreta of details that absorb the professional observer apparently elicits deep emotion as well as language–no word finding problems here. The common man becomes the Jungian analyst of dreams and recollections, forever wistful about what might have been. Years, literally, after Len Bias, a #1 Draft choice, died: Caller #6: “What if Len Bias hadn’t died in 1986, Glenn? What if the Celtics had his services for the past 7 years? Where might they be today, Glenn? Where?” Caller #7: “Eddie, what if Willie McCovey, a left-handed pull hitter, had played in Yankee Stadium? What would his home run stats have been then, huh, Eddie? Yankee stadium with the shorter right field and a low wall–instead of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park’s 370 foot right field with wind blowing in?
What if, Eddie? What if, Glenn?” “What if?” indeed. Masters of Understatement no more. They can interpret every gesture of an athlete like a teenage girl in love; they can clarify every pause and nuance with trance like dedication. The very innards of man are under the verbal microscope and a sub-atomic analysis of the majesty of victory and the humiliation of failure is underway 24 hours a day. It is all that emotions could ever hope to be: exuberant, petty, excessive, impulsive, warm, affectionate, sad, angry, mundane and, occasionally, lyrical. But, women beware. Though men can talk, they apparently still don’t want to talk to you.
Talk Show Host: “My wife warned me this morning that if I wanted her cooperation in anything I might want in the future, I had to be polite and not intimidate the female callers today. I agreed. But, that doesn’t apply if a woman calls up and wants to talk about the Bruins, does it?….I don’t think women bond with sports like men do. Don’t get me wrong, women have lots of good points, let’s see…they bring cleanliness and health to situations.”
Caller #8: “The Indians had it right, Eddie. Their squaws had to walk 10 paces behind…..With the exception of the headache, Eddie, can you name me anything a woman has invented?”
Eddie says that his predictions about “Ladies Call-in Hour” are correct: “not too many women have called in because women around the New England area grew up in strict Italian, Irish, or Jewish families.”
There are other reasons why a woman may not listen-in, never mind, call-in to Sports Opera Radio, but my need for cleanliness may prevent me from going into more detail. Sports Opera Talk Radio is, however, a bonafide lesson in sexual politics: Men talk, just not to you, ladies; and, if you tune in for an afternoon, consider it a cautionary tale: Be careful, your wishes could come true: Mr. Right could start talking, molting, and emoting a sports aria on demand.
Let the headaches begin.