Woody: Commentators Must Be Able To Comment
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
I once wrote a story in which a prominent NASCAR TV commentator was critical of his network – specifically of some racy ads that it ran during race telecasts.
I called a network executive to get his response to the criticism. Shortly afterwards the commentator called me back and pleaded: please don’t run the story about his critical comments. The network executive had called him and chewed him out.
As a favor to the commentator – an old friend – I killed the story and instead wrote a personal commentary criticizing the racy ads that were being run during family-time race telecasts.
I recalled the heat my commentator buddy caught when I recently read about the continued fallout from comments made by the broadcast crew during the fall Talladega race.
They had the audacity to call a boring race boring.
Their comments were partly in response to Tony Stewart’s radio communication to his pit boss in which he said he was having trouble staying awake because the race was so dull.
I thought the boys in the booth were simply doing their jobs by stating the obvious: It was a boring race, at least by Talladega standards. Part of the problem was caused by NASCAR’s last-minute edict warning drivers not to bump into each other.
To its credit NASCAR was trying to make the race safer, but the commentators were right; it made for a boring race. Drivers tip-toed around the track as the audience yawned.
That was a big story, but NASCAR didn’t want to hear any criticism – certainly not over the airwaves. The commentators got called on the carpet for their remarks.
That raises the question about how open and honest TV commentators are permitted to be.
I always thought the whole idea of having an “expert analyst” in the booth was to give his personal analysis, not just recite the running order.
If he’s not allowed to honestly analyze what he sees – a boring race, for example – then why have him on the air? Just have some guy read the numbers of the cars as they come around the track.
Another concern in the area of objectively is raised by the presence of commentators who own race teams. How objective can they be when reporting/commenting on the performance of their own drivers?
Even if they try to be impartial, there’s always the perception …
NASCAR is one big (and at time dysfunctional) family and I realize it’s impossible to have a commentator who has no close track ties – witness Ned Jarrett’s emotional call of his son Dale’s Daytona 500 victory, and Darrell Waltrip’s similar call of little brother Michael’s win in the tragedy-marred 2001 race. Likewise, Rusty Wallace has a son on the track and Brad Daugherty and Ray Evernham have ownership stakes in some of the teams on which they comment.
I believe they try to be impartial. I also think they try to put a positive spin on most everything that goes on. The guys tend to be too sugary and management-friendly.
That’s why their critical Talladega remarks were so unusual – and refreshing. For once they told it like it was. Howard Cosell would be proud.
NASCAR should have a thicker skin. It shouldn’t insist that its commentators paint a happy face on everything that goes on. When they do, they lose all credibility and become cheerleaders instead of commentators.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments