Pining for “Macavaney”

Whatever the field of endeavour, you don’t need to look particularly far to find some entirely unqualified prognosticator making a declinist argument about its inevitable doom.

Oftentimes, these are not founded in a genuine belief, but are a writer taking a brief moment of pessimism, caused by seeing something even more egregiously stupid than ordinarily visible (like accidentally reading an Andrew Bolt column) and extending the existence of that thing to its logical endgame.

Today: sport. More specifically, AFL. More specifically still, the coverage thereof. It’s hardly a trailblazing notion that the world of those who are paid to prognosticate about footy tend towards the ‘no sharp objects’ end of the IQ spectrum, but the undergraduate misogyny of those reprobates on The Footy Show isn’t where the problem is.

That august Thursday night institution, approaching its twentieth anniversary, is so mired in the grit of its own faux-controversial navel that it is easily forgotten that it was in 1999 that Sam Newman went blackface to attract the maxlols of the suburban intelligentsia. In fact, a little known fact is that ‘Sam Newman Controversies’ has managed to score its own Wikipedia page.

Likewise, the increasing level of exposure that the show has given us to footballers, along with the wider media’s obsession with the foibles of its players off the field, has left the world with a vanishingly small amount of respect for those who play the game.

Frankly, this sucks. I love footy. It is, even after the AFL rules committee have spent several years sodomising it with a broomstick, still one of the most wonderfully thrilling sports in the world. Fast, free-flowing, skillful, tough, graceful, it has everything. Including a bunch of heavily tattooed mouth-breathers making the watching all the harder.

When a sport is diminished by knowledge of the personalities of its players, trouble be brewing.

But this is not about trudging through the vapid sinkhole of scatology and shame that channel nine wheels out every year around March. Nor is it about meatheads who cross-dress while sporting giant phalluses from their skirts. Rather, the problem is the steep, worrying decline of what is ostensibly ‘intelligent’ football coverage.

Footy Classified is channel nine’s attempt at ‘thinky’ television. That sentence alone should be deeply intimidating. But in search of some sanity in the realm of football commentary, and with the rapidly fading memory of ‘Talking Footy’ dwindling in the rear-view mirror, I decided recently to dive in, in the vain hope of hearing someone say something smart about football.

What I was subjected to was an hour of three ostensibly smart men beating their heads against one another while seeing who could most insidiously belittle Caroline Wilson. Wilson, while not exactly Australia’s foremost sportswriter, at least knows how to leverage her Richmond pedigree into access into various footy nooks, and couples it with an ability to couch gossip with a decent veneer of ‘newsworthiness’. Craig Hutchison, Garry Lyon and Grant Thomas, on the other hand, are quite simply an inexplicable presence on our screens.

With segment names like ‘Good Call, Bad Call’ (where panelists are asked to provide two-word assessments of decisions by various players and coaches) and ‘Caro’s Arrow’ (seriously, I don’t even), Footy Classified has managed to take the dumbing down of sports to entirely new pits of despair.

Talking Footy was hardly Walkley Award-winning stuff, but at least it was a sensible conversation about footy between people who simply wanted to have a smart conversation about footy (and Malcolm Blight), and not a collection of fiercely stupid egomaniacs desperately seeking a new way to score points against one another.

It’s a damn shame. And I haven’t even written about channel seven’s actual coverage yet.

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