On page 36 of this week's issue Jack Nicklaus tells how, after four days of regulation play in the Masters Tournament, he spotted on the TV screen a crucial defect in his putting style that he was able to correct in time to win the next day's playoff. And, beginning on page 92, Roone Arledge, a vice-president of the American Broadcasting Company, offers some shrewd and provocative views on sport and television. As a result more pages are devoted to television than is normal in one issue of this magazine, but we feel the space is well-spent. Television, you see, not only is a competitor of ours, but also our ally.
At about the time SPORTS ILLUSTRATED started in 1954, television was just beginning to delve into sports in a big way. That was the year, for example, that the U.S. Open Golf championship was televised for the first time. Since then important golfing events have reached the viewer on a regular basis along with every other conceivable form of athletic competition. Like this magazine, television has realized that sport encompasses a vast world. As we have brought hunting, fishing, skating, curling, skiing, pool and bridge onto our pages, television has put them on the screen. And, certainly, television has done a great deal to heighten the popularity of such mass spectator sports as football, baseball and basketball.
None of this is to sidestep the fact that we have had our differences with the industry. One of the things Roone Arledge is concerned about is the proper posture for television when covering a sports event. Is television present at the stadium or on the course purely in a journalistic capacity, or does purchasing the rights entitle the network to make demands that in some instances detract from the competitions themselves? Frequently, it seems to both Arledge and us, television cannot make up its mind.
We believe that television is at its best when it restricts itself to the role of journalist, taking the viewer into the stadiums and allowing the events themselves to provide the fun and drama—just as they do for the ticket buyer. When it is reporting or interpreting, TV is sport's best friend.
Unfortunately, TV often finds it difficult to disassociate news from show business, and this attitude spills over into sport. Some of us still wince when we recall the remark of a TV executive who defended the CBS purchase of the New York Yankees by saying: "Mickey Mantle is just an entertainer, same as Jackie Gleason, isn't he?"
If the highest standards of show biz were applied to sport, I suppose every golf tournament would be won by a 35-foot putt on the 18th, every ball game salvaged by the home team in the bottom of the ninth, and every horse race decided by a nose. What a phony, dreary world that would be! And every athlete would have to be judged primarily as an actor, his reward geared to his ability to entertain rather than to the quality of his performance.
It is, of course, wrong for a TV and radio network to own a baseball club or to own anything else that it regularly covers as a journalistic responsibility. It is wrong for a TV network to own any major part of a sport. Conflict of interest inevitably arises and—worse—the temptation to distort one's property into one's own image. Already the millions of dollars that are being poured into sport by TV lead some elements in the industry to think that football, golf, etc. belong to them and should be run their way.
These are real and pressing dangers, but they do not blind us to the fact that every day television does a fine, thrilling job of reporting the sports news.