North American major sports are riddled with colourful, quirky commentators, many of whom incite rage amongst viewers, ready to put their heel through their 32 inch Sony. Baseball has Tim McCarver, basketball has Charles Barkley, and hockey has Don Cherry and the subject of this article, Pierre McGuire. All of these men fall into the category of sports commentators that everyone loves to hate.
The real question is, if everyone hates these people, then why do they keep them highly compensated and front and center on our TV screens? The simple answer is the one that embodies pop culture in one sentence: “Controversy and conflict sells and everyone loves a good train wreck.” The greatest measure of the success of a news story in this day and age is by the amount buzz created, even if 99% of the comments are vile streams of hatred and condemnation. Networks don’t care if you tune in because you love the program or if you tune in just so you can spew insults at the TV. Ratings are ratings and until those numbers plummet, these guys are here to stay.
For the most part, I can stomach most of TV’s most hated sports commentators. Tim McCarver is a good old boy who harps on the code of the game and how things used to be. He rubs the players the wrong way because he tries to impose his 1960s spiel on them about respect and unsolicited advice, but at least he played the game and has been through the wars.
Charles Barkley is a walking disaster and extremely outspoken. He is obnoxious but in the same token, he is one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. He is cocky and opinionated, but he is generally respected because he speaks from experience and accepts that people are either going to either love him or hate him.
The same can be said about Don Cherry. “Grapes” is the epitome of that old school grandfather who fought in WWII and grew up in an era where men went to work with a blunt object in their right hand and women wore petticoats and made sure dinner was on the table when they got home. He is what he is and his views may be biased and outdated, but at least he played the game and his expertise and ignorance comes from a career in the trenches.
The one person I just can’t seem to accept, no matter how hard I try to be objective is NBC hockey analyst/commentator Pierre McGuire. To me, he is awkwardly gimmicky and his presentation is unnatural and forced. His obnoxious comments and overuse and accentuation of “Hockey Terms”, condescends viewers and screams insecurity.
Why do I think Pierre McGuire is insecure? I think it has to do with the fact that he’s overly conscious of the fact that he doesn’t possess the resume of the majority of his counterparts. The fact is Pierre never played at a high level, where most colour commentators have. Colour guys provide the glimpses behind the scenes and fill the dead air with interesting stories of what it’s like to be a professional athlete. Since Pierre hasn’t been in the heat of the battle, he uses this time to name drop, fluff up his man crushes and create McGuirisms like “Double Dion” and “McGuire’s Monsters” to dazzle assumingly clueless viewers.
It’s clear that his shtick is to be enthusiastic and passionate about hockey but it’s the method of presentation that comes across as insulting. He’s desperate for people to acknowledge that he belongs in the NHL. The ridiculous idea of placing himself at ice level among the players is just an extension of his pathetic desire to be accepted into the herd.
Network executives who line their walls with marketing degrees and MBAs are always looking for a new way to freshen up the product. The idea of bringing the fans closer to the game sounds great from an outsider’s point of view, but in reality lengthens the divide between the players and the media. All you have to do is watch the now infamous clip of prominent NHL star Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings rolling his eyes and skating away from Pierre McGuire as he scampers after him like a clumsy puppy. The guy just doesn’t command respect. By pissing off the players, he is simply reducing the level candidness during interviews, essentially cutting them off from public access.
For Pierre, whose career as a coach was riddled with controversy, this is another way for him to re-inflate his depleted ego. After being unceremoniously ushered out of his only head coaching experience in the NHL via a player ultimatum, McGuire has been desperately trying to find another way back into the fold. His insecurity and arrogance continues to annoy players and coaches, detracting from what a sports reporter’s job entails.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to be so short-sighted as to think that all commentators and reporters should have played the game in order to be successful. To support this view is to dismiss some of the greatest game callers of all time. My criticism towards McGuire stems from the fact that his ego prevents him from displaying humility and deferring when necessary in the way that broadcasting greats like Bob Costas and Al Michaels do. He lacks the grace of a polished journalist and doesn’t have the background to relate the emotions of the players in the way that a good colour man should. He wants to be a part of the old boys club and conducts himself as if he’s The Grand Poo-bah.
It’s perfectly fine to have a brute personality when you possess the background to back it up. Quite often these “Brute and the Poet” tandems are wildly successful. Take Don Cherry and Ron MacLean for instance. Cherry provides the outspoken brash stance on a subject while MacLean eloquently mops up the mess. When you have Pierre McGuire, blasting on about how the Calgary Flames are showing impeccable “Puck Maintenance” or how Jarome Iginla is exhibiting “Superior Spatial Conceptualization”, it just feels like getting scammed at the garage when you know the mechanic thinks you’re too dumb to know the difference.
The stark reality when it comes to obnoxious public personalities is that you may as well find a way to deal with them. If history tells us anything, it is that running your fingernails on the chalkboard is still one of the best ways to get attention. Gilbert Gottfried, Kim Kardashian and Snooki are all reminders that the general populace craves a target to direct their public fury upon and that the threat of disaster is still the best way to boost ratings.