The odd obsession of CBS Sports

There is so much going on right now; what should I write about:

Yeah, that’s it: what is it with CBS Sports and the wives and children of PGA golfers?  It’s seemed to me for some time that Jim Nantz and the CBS golf broadcast are inordinately interested in naming, and showing, the wives/girlfriends/children of PGA pros when they win a tournament.  Frighteningly so.  Obsessed, even.

Not that I paid as much attention to golf on television then as I do now, but I don’t remember seeing Nicklaus’ and Palmer’s wives and kids showing up on the 18th green to hug daddy after a win.  Maybe it started with Tiger.  Tiger was such a phenomenon: so young, and so good, a new kind of golfer.  Way back when, the revered amateur golfer Bobby Jones* offered quite a compliment when he said young Jack Nicklaus played a game with which he was not familiar, and Nicklaus famously said the same about Tiger.  And when young Tiger would win, he’d walk off the green and hug his mom and dad.  It was kind of heartwarming, yes…but the TV couldn’t stop there.  Next it was Tiger hugging his bikini model-girlfriend du jour; then it was his fiancée, then his wife, but still his mom and dad.  And then after his dad died, just his wife.

(By the way, the CBS guys only ever call him “Tiger,” no need for last names…it shows they’re tight, I guess. Even if some bluenoses like me think it’s inappropriate for people covering a news event—even a sporting news event—to be quite so familiar with the people they’re covering—or even worse, to appear to be fawning over the people they’re covering—for fear that the presumption of objectivity and fairness will disappear.  Others say it’s better to be honest and not feign objectivity or pretend they don’t have favorites, and that may be the most charitable explanation I can offer for the overly familiar references from CBS, and the rest of the golfing press and TV, too, to be fair.)

Or maybe it was Phil (again, no need for a last name here) because he was hugging and kissing his pretty blonde wife, and later his pretty blonde kids which called to mind the legacy of the 1999 U.S. Open when he lost to Payne Stewart just before his first child was born.  And then even more so when Amy (yes, even some of the wives are first-name only) was being treated for cancer and she showed up to congratulate him at the 18th after a win, and that was sweet, too.

Somewhere along the way, the CBS golf producers got it stuck in their heads that the money shot from any tournament coverage was the winner being greeted by children and wives after sinking the final putt.  Eventually I realized it was happening at every tournament, every week, seemingly without exception.  Yes, some golfers have their wives/girlfriends/families with them on the road all the time; some of them are lucky enough to win a tournament being played near where their families live; but for the wives and kids to be there ever single week?  Too much.

Yesterday at The Barclay’s, the first playoff event for this year’s FedEx Cup, and Hunter Mahan is winning…yep, Cinderella story, comin’ outta nowhere…and Jim Nantz slides into that here-comes-the-fairy-tale-ending tone of his as he almost giddily whispers to a national TV audience that “hey, Hunter’s wife and daughter are HERE—I mean, they ACTUALLY FLEW HERE FROM ANOTHER STATE last night or this morning when it looked like he might win.  Have you ever seen such a thing in your whole life ever?!”  He even managed to slip in that she “NetJet-ted in.”  Imagine, if you can, the frontier grit it took for that woman to actually go to a local airfield and climb aboard a private luxury jet operated by one of her wealthy husband’s sponsors and ride in it all the way from Dallas to Teterboro?  (Yep, Nantz even told me which New York area airport she utilized!)

Mahan made his last putt, congratulated the others in his group, turned to walk off and you could see a little smile of surprise and recognition when he saw his wife and daughter on the other side of the green.  He was also trying to be a considerate competitor and get off the green as quickly as possible because there were still golfers on the course behind him waiting to finish the hole, but the cameras were in his way, hawking around waiting to capture the de rigeur heartwarming image of the man picking up his toddler and kissing his wife.  The camera even followed behind the little family as Mahan walked to the official’s tent to sign his scorecard, and we got to overhear as Mrs. asks “Weren’t you surprised to see us?”  A few minutes later the last group on the course finishes up and Mahan’s win is official; so, cue the CBS reporter for the perfunctory post-tournament “interview,” and damned if Peter Kostis didn’t make it part of the premise of his first question!

Today on my way to lunch I heard on CBS radio that Mahan won the Barclay’s AND OMIGOD HIS WIFE AND LITTLE DAUGHTER WERE THERE TO GREET HIM WHEN HE CAME OFF THE 18TH GREEN—WOWSERS!  This afternoon I was checking facts for this post, and this was the prominent picture on the front page of CBS Sports’ golf section:

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Pul-leeze, give it a rest.  You’re trying way too hard to prove…what is it that you’re trying to prove again, exactly?  Look, the journalism bar is much lower for sports than for news, but there still is a bar, or there should be.  We tune in to watch a golf tournament, not a reality show/soap opera about the golfer and his family.  Nobody’s buying what you’re selling here…not even you, I bet.

(*updated: quote originally, and inaccurately, attributed to Ben Hogan — PR)

Everybody, chip in

I come courtesy of today’s Daily Mail, and was captured using a Nikon D3S camera with a 24-70 mm lens and a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.  What are the words that should appear underneath me?

Woods smashes photog

“Find the secret Groucho and win a hundred dollahs.”

“I got it, I got it!”

“Four?  I only count one.”

“Needed a faster shutter speed…”

“The referee signals it’s good—right down the middle!”

That’s gonna leave a mark.”

“Juust a bit outside.”

You got a good one?  The comments are open…

UPDATE Oct. 10

I didn’t even realize this was a big mystery, but…mystery solved!

Now, can he take it out to the course?

I almost liked the guy, and started to feel a little sorry for him—see what a friendly, honest performance can do for you.  If Tiger Woods had done months ago what he did today at the Augusta National Golf Club, his public image recovery would already be well down the road.

He didn’t provide details about “the accident” or “the affairs,” but he wasn’t asked for any of that, either.  He acknowledged having taken medication (for insomnia) but when asked if that was part of the cause of the accident, replied that the police investigated the accident and fined him $166; not exactly a direct response to the question.

There was only one place where he refused to answer at all: when asked to be specific about the medical condition for which he has, and will, undergo rehabilitation, he replied “That’s personal, thank you.”  Fair enough; he doesn’t owe us a peek into his private medical records.

The guy in front of the camera today wasn’t the same nervous twitch who stood in front of a blue curtain in his dad’s Navy blazer, or the impatient know-it-all watching the clock on those all-you-can-ask-in-five-minutes “interviews” last month.

Today, he came across as honest, composed, contrite.  He seemed open about his professional relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea and the TWoods Masters NCprescription drugs he had used, he expressed his concern about the media attention to his wife and children without scolding the photographers who take their pictures, and he smartly refused to take the bait when asked to speculate about why such-and-such thing happened.

He even committed some news, in matter-of-factly confirming prior injuries that weren’t quite public knowledge, which some day may lead to even more wonderment about what he achieved on the course given that he was playing hurt.

If you want to teach somebody how to deal with the news media successfully, today’s news conference and last month’s interviews are great examples: of what works, and what doesn’t.

The “no information” interview

sham (sham) n. [prob. < a N.Eng. dial. var. of shame] 1. formerly, a trick or fraud  2. a) an imitation that is meant to deceive; counterfeit  b) a hypocritical action, deceptive appearance, etc. (The Tiger Woods interviews on ESPN and Golf Channel were a sham)

It only took seeing the first few seconds of The Golf Channel’s interview to realize something was screwy:

You don’t do a serious interview standing up, in front of what looks like a projected woodlands background, wearing a golf cap; the interviewer raced through questions without seeming to hear the answers; when you’re asked to explain what happened, you can’t just refer the world to the police report!

First of all, in this case, it’s not all in the police report.

Second, even if it were, it’s completely legitimate to want to see and hear him tell the story.  But I didn’t know at the time that The World’s Greatest Golfer Ever had limited the interview to only five minutes.  Kelly Tilghman didn’t have time to follow up: if she asked again—and he stalled again—she doesn’t get to ask any other questions…plus, she doesn’t want to challenge the famously testy TWGGE for fear of losing access later.

Eric Deggans saw what I was seeing: Woods wasn’t doing an interview, he was making something that looked like an interview, and would afford him the option to say “Hey, I already talked about this” and refuse to answer later when a real reporter asked the questions he still hasn’t answered.  (That’s a BS answer anyway, but the sports media lets athletes get away with it all the time.)

I worked in radio (back in the last century) and I understand the professional and promotional value of having the story first.  But the emphasis on “breaking news” comes at the expense of understanding the story: too many media companies use it as an excuse for why they don’t find out what’s really going on in Story A—they’re too busy doing live shots on Stories J and R.

And if they don’t understand that, how do you even discuss the issue of sending out an interviewer who has a private business relationship with the interviewee!

Tiger Woods is no idiot, and smart newsmakers do well to exploit the news media’s self-imposed soft spot to get their story out first—they know that it’s harder to change an impression than to make one.