After watching nearly two weeks of NBC's prime time coverage of the 30th Olympiad, I just couldn’t take it anymore. You see, I love the Olympics — the summer games especially. But after being force fed certain sports that, in my opinion, have no place in the Olympics, I feel compelled to speak out — particularly when it comes to women's beach volleyball.
Come on NBC, give me a break! Yeah, those girls are good at what they do. But beach volleyball as an Olympic sport, I don’t think so — especially in prime time.
I listened as the commentators described how grueling the conditions were during some of the matches. How intermittent rain showers and 80-degree temperatures had put the athletes to the ultimate test. I took it as long as I could. But, if those people consider a little rain and moderately warm temperatures "grueling," then they need to get a clue.
If they want to know what competing under grueling conditions is really like, then have them participate in a B.A.S.S. event in some of the conditions we're exposed to. And if they'd like to compare physical stamina under harsh conditions, I'll put Pam Martin-Wells up against Misty May-Treaner any day of the week. That lady can handle the absolute worst conditions and still compete with a smile.
By now, I'm sure my comments are beginning to upset some people. They're thinking, who the heck is this guy, criticizing America's Olympic media darling. And perhaps I'm alone in my opinion, but I don’t think so.
Plucking the peacock
In week two, I caught brief snippets of NBC's decathlon coverage, and I have to tell you, it was weak at best. The world's top all-around athletes dedicate their lives to this event, yet they receive minimal air time. To me, that's inexcusable.
No single event defines what the Olympics are about better than the decathlon — or, for women, the heptathlon. Yet NBC decides for us that women's beach volleyball is more important, more riveting — giving it hours and hours of prime time coverage over more challenging sports.
Get serious! These are women wearing bikinis, frolicking in a sandbox! That, to me, proves that it's all about the ratings.
Again, I concede that they're good at what they do. They obviously bring home the gold. And it's evident the sport is popular, as many countries around the world choose to participate. But, to have an event like theirs shadow those that have been such an integral part of the Olympics for so many decades makes zero sense.
What would Jim Thorpe think, if he were alive to witness the downgrading of the decathlon — once the most prestigious Olympic event — an event he won 100 years ago? (For those of you wondering who Jim Thorpe is, he's one of America's greatest all time athletes, and a Native American.) To preempt an event with so much history … it's hard to imagine how that could ever happen.
And what about synchronized swimming? Yeah, those girls sure can hold their breath a long time. But is it truly a sport? It's more like ballet to me. And the "athletes" look more like Las Vegas showgirls than swimmers.
Table tennis is another one. How that ever made it into the Olympics completely escapes me. Yeah, those people have incredible hand-eye coordination and catlike reflexes. But for crying out loud people, it's ping pong! C'mon! What's next, beer-pong?
Angling with athletes
Over the course of my career, I've had the privilege of fishing with some very high-caliber athletes — pros from the NFL, NBA and PGA — and some were talented anglers. But by the end of a long fishing day, almost all of them commented on how exhausted they were.
Some I fished with during practice, others competed as non-boaters behind me. And by the end of the day, almost all were relieved when it was time to head in. It didn't matter how good the fishing was, either. They simply lost their desire after only four or five hours. The experience showed them first-hand how physically demanding professional fishing can be. And keep in mind, most of these outings were under very favorable conditions. Had it been 30 degrees and sleeting sideways, I'm sure they would have been begging for mercy!
Now, before I go any further, I'll admit that some of these athletes tolerate unbearable conditions in the context of their own sports. When something is on the line, they step up. And I love that about true athletes. But when a big-time athlete tells me he's thinking about becoming a professional fisherman because "it looks like an easy way to make a living," I have to bite my tongue. Put that guy in a boat with an Elite Series pro for just one event and I'll bet his attitude changes in a hurry.
Getting it right
Even at this point, I probably haven’t improved my position with some of you. But that's okay. Hopefully I've made my point, and a few of you are inclined to agree.
The bottom line is, I enjoy all sports — even beach volleyball. I just feel the media has a tendency to promote events that play to pop-culture, rather than those that truly define the Olympic spirit.
Remember the old phrase, "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat"? Those were the words used by the great sportscaster, Jim McKay, during the intro for ABC's Wide World of Sports. As America listened, we witnessed the horrific fall of an Olympic ski jumper, tumbling like a rag doll down a giant slope. The image became the program's signature sequence, and for years we never tired of watching it.
To me, it's images like those that should define the Olympics — not two women groping each other between volleys.
To their credit, NBC did provide some solid reporting, such as the background stories on many of the athletes — human interest stories that made us think about the hardships some of them endure in order to realize their Olympic dreams and how some come from places so remote, you wonder how they ever found their way to the world's greatest sporting arena. Those are the stories I want to see in prime time.
So how does any of this have anything to do with bass fishing? I'm not sure. But what I do know is this: if the International Olympic Committee considers shooting sports as a worthwhile Olympic program, then perhaps fishing should get a second look. It's certainly as demanding, if not more so.
Yeah, I know the day will likely never come, but one thing is certain: if it's the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat you're after, our sport serves that up on a daily basis.
For more on the subject, read Kurt Snibbe's ESPN column.