NPR Snobbery: 'Feather-Brained' Men Might Dip Into Porn If Denied Their Sports Pages
National Public Radio commentators can establish one reality very quickly: they won’t cross the feminists. "I am not dumb enough to castigate women en masse," said sports writer Frank Deford in a commentary on Wednesday’s Morning Edition as he blamed them for the popularity of celebrity gossip. But men? That’s easier. They’re diverted from serious news by the sports pages. Sure, Deford said, "there are an awful lot of feather-brained fans who could rattle off the entire roster of the Kansas City Royals before they could name their own congressman." But deny them their sports, and they won’t become C-SPAN fans. "Probably, in fact, their new devotion would be to something more base like pornography."
This is a strange attitude to take for a sports writer. "Hello, my audience, you’re mostly feather-brained potential porn addicts." But it passes for commentary on NPR. It’s funny that NPR signed up Deford to discuss sports, not usually a field for snobbishness, and yet the snobbishness still kicks in occasionally. Deford argued that sports is unique in its celebration of merit and grace, but he has a much higher opinion of sports than he does of sports fans.
The inspiration for the Wednesday commentary was Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason and his attack on celebrity gossip in the news, and how Jack Shafer of Slate.com argued if Gore was courageous, he would insist sports was a waste of time diverting our public attention. Here’s the whole Deford commentary:
Perhaps you heard recently when Al Gore observed that the country was too celebrity obsessed. This, he said, was too distracting to hoi polloi -- or the Boobus Americanus if you're inclined more towards Mencken's own Latin assessment of our citizenry -- from caring about issues that really matter.
Shortly thereafter, though, Jack Shafer, a media columnist for Slate, the online magazine, suggested that the former vice president had missed the greater target. If Gore possessed any real courage, Shafer wrote, he'd attack sports coverage, which, he estimated, must eat up 20 percent of every newspaper's editorial budget.
Fair criticism? Are sports fans really lotus eaters? Well, to be sure, there are an awful lot of feather-brained fans who could rattle off the entire roster of the Kansas City Royals before they could name their own congressman. But somehow, I doubt that these folks would suddenly become as acutely involved as informed citizens if tomorrow, all sports coverage instantly ceased. Probably, in fact, their new devotion would be to something more base like pornography.
On the other hand, while a lot of intelligent folks do think sports are serious business, I doubt that anybody who even conscientiously follows the hijinks of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, et al. ever believed that that stuff really matters. It's just a benign retreat from reality.
Actually -- although God knows this irony surely didn't occur to Mr. Gore -- he was really unintentionally singling out women. Yes, to it is they -- far more than men -- who tune in the celebrity programs and buy the gossip magazines. And oh, please, neither am I dumb enough to castigate eight women en masse, but I do think that a proportionate devotion to sports -- a population which numbers more men by far -- is a healthier escape than the predilection for dunking into the world of boldface.
But remember this, perhaps above all, about sports: In our culture, sport is now the only entertainment where popularity and excellence thrive in tandem. The best movies, the best plays, the best books, the best art, the best music are never nowadays what attracts the most attention. As a matter of fact, popular culture is too often dominated by junk, while true brilliance goes unappreciated.
But sport is different. Those who care about sports are connoisseurs -- the best and most artistic and most graceful of the genre is what attracts the most devotion. Paying attention to excellence is so rare in this tacky universe. Sport is the only discipline on the whole earth -- so far as I know -- where mass and class are conjoined.
This doesn't absolve the many abuses in sport. It doesn't excuse the fans who impart too much of their lives to a mere diversion. It does, though, distinguish sport and elevate it above our other popular entertainments.