For decades, we have been trained to believe that live sporting events should be broadcast in a certain way. In other words, that they should be called and analyzed by an overwhelmingly white, almost exclusively male voice frame.
They are mostly measured, but they obediently get excited at “appropriate” times. Many have dreamed of jobs for years, telling stories of how they silenced television when they were children to play games at home. They create catchphrases and offer their thoughts, repeating what the coaches and one or two players told them at a pre-game production meeting. Some are good, others are tasteless.
In this fight someone who does not look or sound like anybody else in the sports broadcasting booths now entered: Aqib Talib. Talib was at the booth for two Fox games this season, including last Sunday, when the Philadelphia Eagles played the Arizona Cardinals.
Talib drew attention for his colorful custom suit, a nod to the Christmas season, but with a larger audience watching on Sunday than his first game, last month’s Washington-Detroit showdown, he also received much more attention for his words.
For some of us, it is not surprising that those who love Talib and those who hate it fall into two distinct and predictable fields.
I covered Talib while he was with the New England Patriots and he was unlike any other player who went through the locker room in my years. He quickly got used to Bill Belichick’s methods after some difficult years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that season and a half he flourished as a Pro Bowler on the pitch and would later be named an All-Pro by Denver.
Talib was himself, in every way and at all times, and since he was doing this on the field, Belichick never had to try to control him with reporters. He had his own unique way of making observations at times. A longtime Patriots reporter still has Talibism: “People who believe in statistics to make a point probably prefer to read music rather than listen to music” in his biography on Twitter – but when it came to the game, he knew what he was doing.
And he knows what he’s talking about, if you stop to hear what he’s saying. Not everyone is doing this, however.
Do a Twitter search for his name or examine the comments in one of his recent Instagram posts and immediately notice that the vast majority of those who are praising Talib look like him and those who say he is terrible, no.
The reality is that for a not-small population of football fans, the Talib marks the first time that they have heard someone who sounds like them in a broadcast booth. He is literally speaking their language – black English, or as it is called by academics, African American vernacular English, the dialect developed by black Americans over the centuries. It is often cited as another way to denigrate those who use it, because it is not the “accepted” way of speaking here.
Yes, his verbal conjugations are not perfect for you, and yes, he says “man” a little too much. (He is well aware, and promised in his Podcast “Call to the Booth” on Wednesday that he is working on cleaning up before the next game.)
But listen to what he is saying; there is information there. Just as Tony Romo became an overnight sensation due to his game foresight, Talib’s 12 years as an NFL cornerback shine through with observations like this in the fourth period on Sunday:
“What do you do, what do you do!” Said Talib. “Try to do male coverage, you have to protect yourself [DeAndre] Hopkins. Try to play the cover of the zone, Kyler Murray cuts everything. “
Or during a replay of his first game, when he explained why a Lions script was so successful, noting that the pass went to where the Washington blitz came from, leaving plenty of room for the Detroit D ‘defender. Andre Swift.
Talib is no fool: he told Rich Eisen this week that, just as he studied great cornerbacks like Deion Sanders while playing, he studied Romo before entering the booth, noting that Romo has built up his popularity in the biggest deal in the business.
Talib is not like the others and, for some of us, it is invigorating.
At the very least, he is not Cris Collinsworth, whose idea of ”analysis” recently showed an absolute fascination with the fact that women understand football. And he was not caught in a hot microphone denigrating queer people like a former MLB announcer.
But that is condemning him with a slight compliment. Talib said on Wednesday that Fox is encouraging him to remain himself, and he himself is an intelligent, informative and entertaining analyst who seems committed to cleaning up the small problems he has as a newcomer to the field.
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