<
>

The bottom line

12/16/2009
Getty Images

This column appears in the December 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

I like bars. I like sports. I like watching sports in bars. This is a topic
my wife could discuss with you at length.
But I couldn't fully enjoy this hobby if it weren't for an invention more
miraculous than even boneless teriyaki chicken wings: closed captioning.

Closed captioning, or, as many closed captioners spell it, CLOTHES CAP
SHUNNING, is what stenographers type onto the bottom of your screen, moving
faster than a double-parked meth freak, when you press "CC" on your remote.

These people are generally very good
at their jobs, but sports announcers
spew between 150 and 200 words per minute, and most stenographers were
French majors at Swarthmore, so mistakes are made.

I've seen HALL OF FAME LINEBACKER DICK BUTT KISS, and Atlanta Brave Chipper Jones come up to BAT RYE HANDED. (I wonder if Babe Ruth ever did that?) I've watched MIKE PIZZA and MIKE PIZZERIA. I've seen a thousand FIELD GOLDS and a few hundred torn INTERIOR CRUCIAL LIGAMENTS, some belonging to members of the Alabama RIMS AND TIDE.

Good athletes compete for THE GOLD MEDDLE (as does Redskins owner Daniel
Snyder), and bad athletes are JUST OUT OF SINK. Quick-release quarterbacks
GET IT OFTENTIMES (and, here, I believe the subject is Tom Brady).

The point is I ghoulishly relish captioning mistakes. Also, my mouth
relishes beer. No surprise then that a very, very easy column hit me like an
angry wife's 3-iron: What if I spent the entire weekend in bars seeing how
many captioning goofs I could catch?

God, I love this job.

FRIDAY
We must be vigilant in our quest, so we started early -- 3 p.m. PST, just
about when Michael Wilbon of PTI issued this statement about soccer,
according to the captioner:
I EXPECT TO WATCH THE WORLD COUPLE ALL MONTH.
(Exactly which channel will that be on again?)

Then there were these:

Jim Hill, Channel 2, LA: Tiger was found SHOELESS AND SNOWING. (Actually,
the snowing came later, during the cover-up.)

Lingerie football (hey, we said we'd be
vigilant!), Channel 32, LA: HANDOFF
TO THE LOVE SIDE. Also, a second and eight became THE SECOND THEY ATE.

On Channel 9, LA: David Beckham is from YOUR UP (but not from CROW ATE YA).

TIGER WAS FOUND SHOELESS AND SNOWING.

SATURDAY
The 8 a.m. SportsCenter captioner identified Cavs forward Jamario Moon as
GENTLEMAN MARIO MOON. (Perhaps they're in a book club together.) On ESPNU,
Alabama receiver Julio Jones came out JEWEL I DON'T JONES. And on Channel 7
in LA, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller's 4 TDs were sure to get him his
IN-FLIGHT TO THE HEISMAN TROPHY DINNER. (Useful new word: Invite + free
ticket = in-flight!)

CC fun fact: The first closed-captioning message on TV, produced in the
1970s by Bill Kastner of Texas Instruments, was FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY,
STING LIKE A BEE.

Okay, so Saturday was a slow day.

SUNDAY

One of the delicious moments for those of us captivated by captions is the
three seconds between an announcer's saying something ear-twisting and the
captioner's typing it. On ESPN's The Sports Reporters, host John Saunders
said, "The best player
I saw yesterday was [Nebraska's monster defensive
tackle] Ndamukong Suh" [pronounced en-DOM-ah-ken SOO].

I could almost hear the captioner gasp, cough and whimper. But, bless his
or her heart, it was one valiant attempt:
INCOME CONGRESS SUE (an idea, I
think, we can all agree on).

CC fun fact: Real-time captioners for the National Captioning Institute can
clock 300 words per minute. They average 7,000 words an hour, which is a
carpal tunnel-inducing 14,000 keystrokes every 60 minutes.

On the Fox NFL pregame show, the Colts were the FIRST TEAM TO CLENCH ITS
DIVISION. (Don't ask.) And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his team would
UNLEASH HOWL IN DECEMBER. (Poor
dog gets off the leash only once a month?)

And that was about it. Remember, the point here was not to show all the
mistakes the captioners make as they translate hundreds of thousands of live
sports-TV words. The point was for me to drink many, many Coronas on an
expense account.

Anyone complains, and I unleash Howl.


Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here.
Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive.
Be sure to check out Rick's latest project, "Go Fish."