Do American journalists spoil the fun?
The story of how I was almost kissed by a Russian swimmer is a funny one, which probably should begin with an admission that almost is more a nod to my embarrassment than reality.
Evgeny Korotyshkin’s lips did accidentally brush my forehead. In fairness to both of us, he did not intend to kiss me, nor had I intended to be kissed. I was just standing with a group of people he wanted to hug and kiss after his silver-medal performance in the 100 butterfly — Russian journalists. And I did not move fast enough.
Standing with journalists would seem like the safest place to avoid athlete affection. This is not just a random theory. I have years of anecdotal evidence from covering athletic events in the States to back this up. In the past year, I have watched LeBron James, Nick Saban and Michael Phelps do amazing athletic things and never once been in danger of a handshake, much less an awkward hug or kiss.
I would normally say this smugly, proof of journalistic purity.
But the more I watch these hugging, cheering Olympics journalists from everywhere but here, the more provincial and ugly American this coda of “no cheering in the press box” seems. We are the only ones watching these Games with a grimace. The rest of the world is cheering and hugging their athletes and the teams they cover, and I am not so sure they have it wrong.
We need a little more joy in our sports coverage in the United States. I am not talking hugging or kissing or jersey wearing, just a genuine appreciation of the athletes we cover daily and those that represent our country every four years.
The almost confrontational way we cover sports is a very American thing, a constant race to say the snarkiest thing the fastest on Twitter and find controversy where there is none.
Tennis sensation Serena Williams won a gold medal Saturday at Wimbledon, and American media immediately took to criticizing what to me looked simply like a joyful celebratory dance. Just in the last couple of days, the U.S. press corps has typed attacks of American athletes for, in no particular order: a) dancing at Wimbledon, b) being an attractive virgin who people are interested in talking about, c) winning more medals than anybody in a sport we decided was not athletic enough to warrant talk and d) not winning enough medals in a sport we decided was not athletic enough. A day later, I watched Andy Murray win a gold medal and all of Britain celebrate with him — including reporters. The guy I sat next to at Wimbledon was openly cheering.
“Go Ahn-dee,” he yelled a couple of times.
And when Murray finally beat Roger Federer, removing a gigantic monkey from his back, the reporter was on his feet cheering. They all were, so much so that I had to stand to see. They would have likely been kicked out of an American press box for such behavior, certainly shamed and shushed. We like to play this “look how professional we are” game.
I am so professional I do not clap. You think that is impressive? I do not say congrats. You think that is impressive? I do not smile. You think that is impressive? I chronicled Michael Phelps’ history-making race by remarking on how unremarkable it was? You think that is impressive? I tear into Tim Tebow on a daily basis … and on and on and on.
Is it any wonder they hate us?
We act like we are covering war or famine or things that require a certain amount of skepticism and seriousness. In reality, we are covering sweaty guys in shorts playing games, a little polite applause is not going to disrupt the order of the universe and we need to quit pretending otherwise.
They are athletes. They say and do stupid things. They say and do amazing things. They are very much like journalists and really all of us in that regard. So what would be so wrong with doing what the Brits did watching Murray and all weekend at the track? The BBC showed footage Sunday of their broadcasters jumping around as Usain Bolt ran, which was a repeat of Saturday when their booth went absolute bat-snot crazy over fellow Brit and track darling Jessica Ennis after she won heptathlon gold.
If she had lost or choked or embarrassed God and country afterwards by doing something truly controversial, they could have asked the hard questions. What they seem to get, as well as the Russians and Chinese and just about every country not named us if the swimming coverage was any indication, was when none of those reactions are called for it is OK to be impressed, to be happy and to even be excited about watching athletes you cover do well.
Again, I am not advocating kissing or really touching of any kind.
And again, in fairness to Evgeny, he was not trying to hug or kiss me. My guess was he was aiming for the Maria Sharpova look-alike TV reporter standing beside me if he was aiming at all. I was just friendly fire as he impulsively decided to kiss all of the reporters in attendance, even the grizzly bear-looking Russian man with the beard, when they beckoned the swimmer over for questions with clapping and cheering and genuine shared excitement for a medal that had been 12 years in the making.
It was the textbook definition of cheering in the press box, and nobody died. Nothing bad happened at all except they enjoyed the moment they were covering rather than staring it down stony faced and finding a reason to criticize.
I am having trouble saying they are doing it wrong. I am starting to think we are.