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Media Meltdowns

No One Needs To See The Face

Live basketball action, and a masked man.

ESPN’s broadcast of a Summer League tilt between the Washington Wizards and the Sacramento Kings broke away from discussing the ongoing action of the third quarter to present a short interview with new Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr., present in Las Vegas in order to get a first on-court look at several young pups newly in the care of his organization. The content of the interview was pleasant but inessential: Unseld is thrilled to have landed his first head coaching job and finds it “really gratifying” that the opportunity should come in his home town. Neat!

The broadcast returned to the sideline interview again in the fourth quarter, when reporter Rebecca Haarlow tracked down new Wizard Spencer Dinwiddie, who is glad to be in Washington and excited to work with his new teammates. Yay! In both cases, ESPN dedicated some sidescreen real-estate so that fans watching at home could see the face of the basketball person answering Haarlow’s questions. As you can see from that screenshot up there, this meant looking at the eyeballs and eyebrows of a person whose facial features were otherwise completely obscured by a mask. For all I know, Washington’s new head coach has the lower facial features of Mileena from Mortal Kombat. Considering these interviews mostly produce just strings of platitudes, this seems like a misuse of the available space on my television screen! Which would otherwise be showing live basketball action!

I can feel your fingers typing out a rude comment down there about how it’s a Summer League contest between the Washington Wizards (gag) and the Sacramento Kings (double gag), that the action on the court can barely be described as basketball, that a viewer should be grateful for anything that diverts their attention away from Jordan Goodwin (?) missing his 10th shot of the night in a dreary exhibition blowout. Stop it! By definition, if you are tuning in for a Las Vegas Summer League contest between the Wizards and the Kings, two teams that occupy a special sickos-only tier of regular-season basketball, you are a maniac freak who craves even the lowest possible grade of professional hoops action. For such a person, cutting away from Chimezie Metu’s triumphant return to Summer League action to show live video of humankind’s first contact with an advanced alien species would be an unwelcome interruption. Obscuring the hoops to show an unfamiliar man’s sleepy eyebrows is an act of outright hostility.

Besides, it’s not like this only happens during Summer League, when the quality of play is horrendous. Nor does it only happen during pandemic times, when there is quite literally no useful or interesting visual information to be presented from a conversation with a person whose entire lower face is covered. There has in fact never been a moment during a live television sporting event when I have thought to myself, “I would happily accept a slightly crappier view of the action in exchange for a medium-shot look at Stan Van Gundy’s nose pores.” However interesting Doc Rivers’s reflections on his team’s performance in the first quarter might be, I actually do not need a live view of his sweaty face in order to appreciate them.

Here is my proposal, and I think it’s a fine one: When the sideline reporter starts the interview, during a break in the action, show the reporter and the coach together. When the coach starts his answer, show the coach’s face. But the very moment the actual sports start up again, go back to a full-screen presentation of the action and relegate the sideline interview to voiceover duty. You have established that an interview is taking place, and you have provided visual proof of its subject. That’s enough! You can keep a camera trained on the coach just in case you need to cut back if his head starts spinning around like Regan from The Exorcist. It’s bad enough to find oneself watching Wizards-Kings after midnight when the games don’t even count, please do not shove a coach’s face into a full third of the screen and make me drag my chair closer to the television and squint in concentration so that I can keep track of who is doing what out on the floor. It’s humiliating, for everyone involved!