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TELEVISED SPORTS isn't just about the game anymore. It's about the cussin', and the prayin', and the fightin', and all the nasty prime-time promos sprinkled in.
That's not to say that this postseason hasn't served up some baseball for the books. And what would autumn be without football and the unlikely comeback victories we've seen so far?
But there are some aspects of the game and the telecasts that we just don't need to see. Here's one we get all the time:
The center-field camera shows the hitter connecting with a curve ball that didn't curve quite enough. In an instant his body language says this ball is going far out into the night. Then another camera follows its path over the left-field wall.
A third camera angle immediately brings us a close-up of the pitcher who is expressing his frustration with the expletive that you needn't be a lip-reader to understand.
The pitcher, of course, is not alone. He is in good company with the quarterback who just threw an interception, and the basketball player who just missed a key free throw.
For a word that is generally taboo, it sure seems to be broadcast frequently enough into our living rooms.
On the replay of that same home run, the hitter is shown rounding the bases and pointing skyward, apparently giving credit to the Almighty for his good fortune.
He is joined in that ritual, cheapening the meaning of religion, by the defensive back who made the interception and ran it back for a touchdown and the basketball player who just sunk the clutch three-pointer.
When things go wrong, anger is expressed in four-letter words--or worse. Success is strictly a blessing from God, not the result of skills honed through long hours of practice and years of experience.
Are these really the messages we need to be sending to kids? It's not only the players' fault but also the producers for making sure they cut to the right camera shot at the right time. Such sporting events are sometimes family fare at our house, and I cringe when I see ballplayers who kids think are cool leaving them with such impressions.
Why can't professional athletes simply play the game?
As a father, I don't understand the need for such behavior any more than I feel the need to rationalize it with my belief in freedom of speech and expression.
That bench-clearing brawl between the Yankees and the Red Sox last week merely heightened the entertainment factor for many fans and might have expanded the audience to include those who find baseball generally boring.
But I'm not sure it does baseball much good in the long run. It gives ammunition to those who fault the violence in professional sports and the example that is set for conflict resolution.
Emotions are running so high in big-time sports these days that a pitcher can't throw high and tight without the batter charging the mound. In football, any hard-nosed tackle is likely to spawn a fight.
Is this how we demonstrate to kids how to play the game? How do we teach decorum when this is what they see from the pros?
Well, at least there are the commercials to give us a break from all this questionable sportsmanship. Oops, better keep that remote control handy because here comes the promo for Fox's "Skin" again, the one about the pornographer's daughter who falls for the district attorney's son. Now there's a refreshing twist of "Romeo and Juliet."
Be careful, because if you flip to CBS expecting to see football you might instead catch the promo for "Cold Case," the one about the serial rapist who decides to make a comeback.
Better flip back--oh, no--it's a promo for the next lineup of bimbos on the new "Joe Millionaire" or hype for a segment from one of those Hollywood magazine shows about the hot trend of open-mouthed kissing among women.
"Eeeewwwwww, Daddy, let's go back to the brawl!"
If you want to watch sleaze or crime drama or "reality" trash, fine. But it's ludicrous for the networks to promote their most salacious programming during sporting events whose audiences include a large percentage of children.
In an era when image, unfortunately, is everything and nothing is left to the imagination, must we be continuously bombarded with images that tell us how shallow and base we've become?
RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.