Linguistic athleticism

With our annual orgy of college basketball comes the inevitable abundance of marginally literate announcers to announce the games on television. With few refreshing exceptions, these men, the overwhelming majority of them are male, eagerly demonstrate their ignorance of the language they are paid to use as their principal tool of communication. Wait, these are professional communicators, are they not? And they don’t know the language? Yes, they are, and no, they do not, not very well.

Most commonly, these paid professionals come in pairs, one identified as the play-by-play guy who is charged with reporting to the viewer and listener what is taking place in the game. At his side sits the color announcer, often a former athlete, who as an insider is expected to understand the sport better than the rest of us. His job is to explain the more esoteric aspects of the game, such as offense and defense strategies employed by the teams. Many carry this assignment farther, acting as if they are coaches who know what to do better than the players do.

Many of these color announcers are motor mouths, performing as if they are paid by the word, rattling on at length in an effort to demonstrate their inside knowledge of the sport. Both announcers often prefer to ignore what is happening the game before them and instead launch into lengthy discussions of other subjects, such as other athletes not involved in this game, other athletic conferences, tournaments, potential award winners, anything not related to this particular game they are being paid to report on. These off-the-subject ramblings frequently take place when interesting action is occurring on the television screen, a technical foul call perhaps, or a player suffering an injury that stops action. We viewers are left to wonder what has happened.

But I digress a bit. My major gripe with these underqualified men in suits is their limited vocabulary. Two of their favorite words are athleticism and career. The sports announcer fraternity invented athleticism years ago, and it has grown in popularity since. Rather than resort to “athletic ability”, “skill,” or even “prowess,” these guys prefer to use something that sounds more intellectual, an -ism. The common definition of an ism is a doctrine or system of belief, such as communism, Protestantism, or antidisestablishmentarianism. Athleticism is not a word, yet its use persists.

A career is an occupation, a way of making a living, yet we have heard the sports announcing fraternity unanimously misusing the word to describe the period of time a young student athlete spends at his college or university as a career. We also hear of a student athlete’s high school career. We even hear an occasional reference to a middle school career.

Middle school career? That’s about as much as my stomach can take. What is really needed here is a higher level of linguistic athleticism. (Sorry.)

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