UPDATE: And here is another reason it might not be the best idea to have ESPN cameras everywhere, especially in places that are hardly used to them.
After ESPN cameras captured Cypress Bay coach Mark Guandolo slapping quarterback Lucas Tellefsen on the side of the helmet, an outcry arose, and Guandolo was suspended for two weeks.
First, I am no apologist for abusive coaches. You'll find a Rutgers basketball blog to that effect a while back. But I also have little patience for knee-jerk reactionary whiners.
I divided my time between both the Cypress Bay and Heritage sidelines on Sunday, and while there was no way for me (sadly without a crew to carry my notepad and tape recorder) to see everything that went on, I can tell you that I saw no outcry, no upset, no controversy at the time, or in the post-game handshake line, or among media members conducting on-field interviews.
Former players took to social media to voice their support, with the quarterback's parents telling the South Florida Sun Sentinel they were "110 percent" behind Guandolo, 55 and a coach for more than 30 years. I've met the coach. (You can find out more about him by clicking 'coach' and reading the Sun Sentinel story). He seems like a good guy.
That's my surface impression. That's also all that you'll get watching the video in the above link (click on the word here.) On the face of it, I've witnessed much worse. Yes, the coach slaps the kid on the helmet. That's not exactly an earth-shattering action on the football field. Was it dumb? No doubt, especially in the presence of the ESPN cameras that had heightened emotions in the first place. (Missing from the 40-second video clip is the hug that immediately followed the head slap, as well as any sort of comment from the coach or the player, neither of which would have been difficult to attempt to get.)
But spare me the outrage. You weren't there, and neither was ESPN, for more than nanosecond it took some cameraman to get a shot that is "good" because it has generated web hits. I don't know what happened. And neither does anyone who watches this clip.
So I'd argue for suspending judgment. But there's no need for restraint, when the video has already gone viral.
I'm feeling a bit discombobulated, and it's not because I stood in the sun for six hours.
I spent today covering a high school football preseason doubleheader, part of a two-day, nine-state, 13-team event broadcast live on ESPN. I was happy to be writing about football. But that's about as far as the positive feelings go.
High school football games should not take three and a half hours (but they do, when ESPN's endless TV timeouts are added to the mix.) They should not feature kids who make great plays and then run to their sidelines yelling, "ESPN Top 10!" They should not feature high school bands who play, relentlessly, again and again, Da-da-da, Da-da-da, the six-note opening theme to SportsCenter that is ingrained on the brain of pop culture. It shouldn't feature lowered heads and flying helmets as another kid thinks about making the show's nightly countdown of Top 10 plays.
The kid who made the one-handed interception, then broke a few tackles on the return, was understandably excited, and he was fun and a good interview, a convenient entry to a story that was supposed to be as much about atmosphere as scoring drives. But something about it just rankled me.
It's the same thing that rankles me - or used to - when I watched - or used to watch - 12-year-olds throwing curveballs in nationally televised Little League games. It's what rankles me when the questions being fired at a 16-year-old kid turn from "Tell me about that touchdown" to "How firm is your (verbal) commitment to (add school here)?" It's what rankles me when a network that seems increasingly bent on world domination pulls its support from a long-awaited, labor-intensive documentary - one that its own writers have spent countless hours working on - taking a hard look at how the NFL has dealt with concussions.
As I watched the star quarterback of a state championship contender writhe in pain with what turned out, thankfully and luckily, to be a cramp, I wondered just how much this touted "exposure" would be worth to the program if he was lost for the season. I also wondered, several times, just how that exposure is quantified. ESPN does not pay these schools anything substantial to schedule one more game and risk more injuries. I overheard one coach say what the school did receive didn't cover the cost of the buses. And I would like to see some numbers on just who, outside of those associated with the schools or their players (or perhaps the colleges they have tenuously, verbally committed to) tunes in to watch all three and a half hours of a high school preseason football game.
The crowd was great. The aforementioned atmosphere was great. I just think that should be enough, and I don't know if, in this day and age, either would be what it was without those TV cameras there, without that six-note serenade omnipresent in the scorching air.
I'm old-fashioned. I grew up on fall football jamborees, when a bunch of local high schools played shortened quarters and nobody kept score and there was a bonfire sometime afterward. That served the same purpose of energizing a community for the return of one of the South's greatest religions - high school football - without prostituting it for nebulous reasons.
There is a hypocritical edge to this, as I'll be glued to the TV - and an ESPN affiliate of some sort - on Thursday night, living and dying with my South Carolina Gamecocks in their season opener. Lord knows I have issues with the college game and its treatment of its cash cows - er, players - and its governing body's often incomprehensible positions and rulings.
But I'll still watch, and as long as I do, as long as all of us do, the cameras aren't going anywhere.
I just didn't enjoy everything I watched today.