Since the Olympics commenced less than 48 hours ago, my eyes have been willingly locked to my television screen. However, while my eyes are being dazzled by these incredible visual spectacles of men and women who appear to be defying our basic laws of gravity with unparalleled grace, my ears, on the other hand, are being filled with the incessant ramblings of a commentator giving a play by play. This realization got me thinking…why do we not have the option to watch sporting events without the constant play by plays and critiques of the commentators, but rather with the same sounds that the spectators hear at the actual event?
WHY IS THERE NOT A COMMENTATOR MUTE?
You might say: “Why don’t you just mute the TV altogether?” Well call me weird…but that squeaking sound of the uneven bars as Gabby Douglas executes a HUGE release move, or that initial breaking of the pool water as swimmers like Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps propel themselves off the mounting blocks at lightning speed, is frankly music to my ears. Those, in addition to the sounds of the screaming fans after an American wins a race or event, are what I most vividly remember from past Olympics, so why can’t I have the option to just hear those sounds?
In the video below, there is no play by play during Gabby’s floor routine (the last event). Watch this video in its entirety and ask yourself: How much more involved do you become watching her floor routine? Are you able to revel in the sound of those solid tumbling pass sticks? Can you hear the give in the floor as Gabby puts all of her weight into propelling herself in the air for a double back? Does the immense cheer that the crowd gives at the end of her routine give you goosebumps?
I think we all would feel a lot more in the moment without these commentators saying “big air” and “that skill has been haunting her” in the middle of these routines.
Additionally, after researching the backgrounds of the NBC Olympic commentators, I realized that many of these announcers have little or no experience in the sport they are curating. Al Trautwig, for example, is providing the play by play for the gymnastics events. Al’s sportscasting background is in the professional basketball and hockey realm, where he gives pre and post-cast commentary for the Knicks and Rangers, and occasionally fills in as the play by play caster. How does that background in any way lend itself to learning the skills of being an effective gymnastics commentator? The pace of a gymnastics competition is entirely different, as well as variable, compared to the constant and fast pace of hockey and basketball. This different pace requires an entirely different style of play by play. When viewers at home are watching Jordan Wieber prepare to execute a high degree of difficulty tumbling series on the balance beam, the last thing they want to hear is the voice of a commentator saying how much trouble she has been having with this pass during warm-ups. Rather, they want to FEEL the tension, the focus, and the swell of silence that builds up in that stadium as Jordan prepares for her series.
We all wish we were in the stadiums watching these Olympic events, but we’re not, so why do the networks not give us the option of making our television watching experience as real as possible?