October 2, 2022

Tv Sports: Fairer Broadcast for Title Game

But on Sunday, when the United States lost the final to Japan, ESPN did a better job of humanizing the players. Maybe it was a belated recognition that fairness produces a better broadcast. Or an acknowledgment of the suffering of Japan since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in March.

Whatever the reason, it was refreshing to hear the announcers Ian Darke and Julie Foudy play it nearly down the middle, offering praise for the Japanese players and providing personal tidbits about them, as if they were, well, American.

Of course, balanced coverage or not, a game’s excitement is the reason people watch. Japan’s victory was watched by an average of 13.5 million viewers, the most ever for a women’s or men’s soccer game on ESPN. But the record for a United States game is still 17.9 million viewers for the victory by Team U.S.A. in 1999.

That makes you wonder: what if Sunday’s game had been on ABC, the broadcast serf to Mother ESPN? But that’s old thinking, I guess. Still, people without cable could not watch the game live at home (although a broadband option existed on espn3.com).

Although there were moments when one could sense Darke and Foudy were rooting for the United States, they were not openly rooting (although Foudy could have dropped her references to her rising blood pressure during the team’s games). Darke’s voice was as enthusiastic for Japanese goals, and their shots on goal, as he was for the Americans’. (Readers: I do not own a decibel meter; to my ears, he was fair.)

“Sawa does it!” he shouted when Japan scored its second goal. “Homare Sawa, the darling of Japan!”

And the two announcers repeatedly chastised the United States team for its multiple failures to convert scoring opportunities, especially during the first half. Foudy did not resort to contorted alibis for the misses.

“How important will these moments be later on?” Darke asked in the 13th minute.

And not long after Darke predicted that Japan has “players who can pick the locks of any defense,” Kozue Ando slipped through for her country’s first significant scoring opportunity.

Darke is a highly literate, quirky and emotional announcer. You won’t hear American announcers call an “obdurate defense,” a terrific pass a “rapier thrust” or a tying goal the “equalizer.” (Or is it “equaliser”?)

But while it was easy to grasp the focus on the Japanese team’s short stature against the taller United States squad’s, Darke was condescending, evoking stereotypes, when he called one player “the tricky little Maruyama.”

And one must question the logic of a comment like Foudy’s after Abby Wambach kicked a ball off the post. “She hit it as good as she can,” Foudy said, showing perhaps too much reflexive admiration for the star of the team. But if Wambach had struck the ball as well as she could, it would have gone into the net.

As any announcer knows, if you speak long enough, you might say things you wish you could take back. Not words you shouldn’t say but statements of certitude that action can soon subvert. So right after Darke and Foudy praised the Americans for “not losing their gung-ho spirit” (Darke) and demonstrating a “wonderful balance of sophistication and grit,” Japan tied the score at 1-1 on the United States’ bumbling.

Later, with the United States ahead, 2-1, with six minutes left in the overtime, Foudy was wondering if Japan’s patience was “working against them” as an aggressive pass to Yukari Kinga nearly led to a goal.

Foudy’s faith in goalkeeper Hope Solo, who injured her knee late in the game, led her to say before the penalty kicks, “I would take an ailing Hope Solo in my net anytime.” But Solo was faked out on the first kick, and the third one deflected into the goal off her hand. And Darke’s objectivity seem to flee when, after Solo saved the second Japanese penalty kick, he boldly declared, “Hope Solo — hero again!”

Premature. And wrong.

E-mail: sandor@nytimes.com

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