What Happened To Neutral Announcing?


I feel like I missed something.  I feel like there’s been a transition in the expectations for sports announcers, especially those on local broadcasts.  I’ve always felt like a big part of professionalism in announcing is neutrality; that even though the announcers are closely affiliated with or employed by the team, they’re not there as fans, but as people there to disseminate the game and share knowledge with the viewing audience.

Fans, by definition, are not neutral.  Fans have a rooting interest in one side over the other, and this will generally skew their view of what happened on the court (or field, or whatever).  Of course there’s a wide range; there are the (more) rational fans who are able to look at a game objectively (and of course every fan thinks he or she falls into that category) and the irrational fans, who tend to be obnoxious jerks who think their team can do no wrong and have never committed a foul/lost a game legitimately/sinned.  These tend to be Red Sox/Yankees/Lakers/Spurs fans.  Every fan spends some time being completely irrational about his or her team.  We all put the fanatic in fan at one time or another; that’s just the way it is.

This is where I get confused.  Because as I watch Suns games lately, the announcers sound less and less like announcers, and more and more like fans.

I know this isn’t limited to the Suns.  I’ve always hated watching Chicago White Sox broadcasts, mostly because I can’t stand listening to Hawk Harrelson.  The way he talks about the players like they’re his bestest pals makes me insane.  I caught a Spurs broadcast on NBA TV and wanted to strangle Sean Elliot, who seemed to feel as though the Spurs should win regardless of how they were playing and couldn’t understand why the officials were helping out this patsy who the Spurs had brought to town for a scrimmage.  But hey–this is a Suns blog and I watch every Suns game, so I’m going to talk about what drives me nuts about those broadcasts.

The Suns have two white play-by-play guys, Tom Leander and Gary Bender, and two black, ex-NBA-player color guys, Scott Williams and Eddie Johnson.  Leander and Bender are pretty much the same guy.  Don’t really seem to know a whole lot, and inevitably devolve into whining about whatever is happening on the court.  I don’t mind Scott Williams so much, but it’s not like he really brings much to the table, commentary-wise.  He gets overexcited about stupid stuff and sort of roots for the team, but is really pretty innocuous.

Eddie Johnson makes me insane.  He does two things during games: talk about Eddie Johnson and talk about what it was like when Eddie Johnson played in the NBA.  Now, Eddie as a player was a pretty solid meh.  A one-dimensional scorer who averaged 16 pts, 4 boards and 2 assists over 17 seasons.  But boy, you would not know it to hear him talk during Suns broadcasts.  Until I looked him up, I was sure Eddie was a Hall of Famer.  Not really, but still…

Anyway, this is about neutrality (or the lack thereof).  Listening to these guys talk during a game always goes from announcers commenting on the proceedings to a barroom argument and a complaint-fest.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard Bender or Leander yelp “NO FOUL?!” when there is little or no contact, but a Sun misses a shot.  That’s the way a fan reacts to a game, but should not be the reaction from an announcer.  In fact, they often do the nutjob fan thing and continue to insist that a foul was committed by the opponent (or not committed by the Suns) despite multiple video replays that show that no, the Suns were not fouled or yes, the Suns did actually commit a foul.  Again, fan behavior.

One of the most ridiculous examples came during last Friday’s Suns-Lakers game.  At one point, Pau Gasol fouled Lou Amundson, hitting him in the head while attempting to block his shot.  Alvin Gentry went off because it looked like a flagrant foul.  Leander and Eddie Johnson went insane, screaming that Gasol had “clotheslined” Amundson and had “just about taken his head off.”  They continued shrieking through multiple replays that showed two things: 1) Gasol was making a play on the ball.  2) His arm, coming through, hit Amundson in the forehead.  Here are things that did not happen: Gasol did not swing *at* Amundson.  Gasol did not hit Amundson in the neck.  Gasol immediately helped Amundson up after he went to the floor.

That kind of play is often called a flagrant foul in the NBA, but it just as often is not.  The definition of a flagrant is that it features a “swing,” which this foul did, but the general interpretation is that the defender does not make a play on the ball.  Gasol clearly made a play on the ball.  Leander and Johnson continued to scream that Gasol had basically tried to kill Amundson, despite replays from every angle showing that, well…he had not.  This, again, is the reaction that I would expect from drunk fans in a bar, but not from the announcers who are paid to talk about the game.

Like I said…maybe I just missed something.  Maybe someone can help me understand this.  Is there an expectation that announcers will be neutral in a game, or has that just gone out the window?  Does this bug anyone else, or is it just me?