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Original Issue

Let's Bleep Those Bloopers

To err is human, but to fill our TV screens with athletes screwing up is not divine

It was the unctuous Allen Funt who first plugged into the fact that Americans love to see people in embarrassing and humiliating situations, and Funt's Candid Camera ushered in the Age of Bloopers on television more than four decades ago. Unfortunately, it has never been ushered out. The most popular manifestation of the blooper mentality these days is the wildly successful America's Funniest Home Videos, a TV program founded on the premise that the life of today's family—mom, dad, kids and pets—is little more than one giant prime-time banana peel.

The world of sports, being highlight-crazy by nature, has jumped on the blooper bandwagon in a big way. Blooper highlights are a staple of virtually every local TV newscast. Even the respected Marv Albert visits David Letterman each month—and recently showed up on The Tonight Show, too-armed with his version of a sports blooper segment, called "The Albert Achievement Awards." ("Boy, everybody's doing this now," Letterman usually says to Albert.) Each of the major sports leagues produces its own blooper compendium, and a certain weekly sports magazine once welcomed new subscribers by sending them a bloopers videotape as a bonus.

Here's what I think: Enough already!

Let's have no more fielders crashing into each other in mad pursuit of a Texas Leaguer (also known as a you-know-what). No more boxers slugging below the belt or accidentally belting the referee in the jaw. No more dogs on the field. No more birds on the court. No more half-gainers ending in belly flops. No more replays of Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem.

I'm not saying bloopers aren't funny once in a while (though Wrong-Way Roy Riegels, America's most renowned blooper tragic hero, might disagree), but here are my objections.

•We have reached blooper oversaturation. This is hardly a surprise, since American commerce adheres to the doctrine that if something is successful once, it will be successful a million times. Yet for every skillfully produced segment of "The Albert Achievement Awards," there are hundreds of dreadful, humorless blooper moments shown each night on local television. Lose them, and use the time for a short feature on a deserving backpacker, fly-fisherman or race-walker.

•Bloopers present the ridiculous but not the sublime. Sports should be fun, but the blooper mentality suggests that our games are nothing but a collection of pratfalls and gaffes. A TV station in my area recently ran a collection of alleged Little League bloopers, ignoring the fact that "Little League bloopers" is a tautology. In one sequence a young second baseman dropped the ball and looked around for it frantically before locating it right at his feet. Gee, what a scream. That's not a blooper. That's life. That's what happens when you're learning to play baseball. And sometimes it happens when you're playing second base in the major leagues too.

•Bloopers invariably demean sports that don't get enough attention in the first place. Blooper-crazed sportscasters seem particularly enamored of horse racing accidents. Except to utter the words Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown in the spring, they rarely mention anything about the sport yet somehow always find time to show a treacherous tumble at some obscure track in Texas.

The anthologies that present a potpourri of bloopers from around the world nearly always convey a let's-laugh-at-foreigners mind-set. A ski jumper is shown skidding off the side of a jump on his back, arms and legs waving wildly, an enduring legacy of the Wide World of Sports opening. A speed skater unable to negotiate a turn at 50 mph is shown crashing through a wall. Hah, hah, hah. It would be one thing if filmmaker Bud Greenspan, who has spent much of his professional life chronicling the struggles of Olympians, saw fit to balance an in-depth portrait of, say, a weightlifter with a funny shot of him stubbing his toe on a barbell. But it's something altogether different when a talking head who never leaves the studio decides to blooperize an entire sport.

•Along that same line, bloopers often make light of potentially hazardous situations. Recently I saw a blooper show that included a frightening car crash at a small dirt track, complete with overdubbed background noises of screeching tires and breaking glass. Talk about sophomoric. The commentator never mentioned whether the driver had been hurt, but then blooper segments rarely offer anything as complicated as context. Albert's rule for his "Achievement Awards" is never to include auto racing mishaps or clips that show an athlete or animal being injured. "Well, I do show boxers getting hit below the belt," says Marv. "So I guess my rule is: No accidents unless someone is wearing a protective cup."

•Finally, bloopers, like so much of America's contemporary pop culture, appeal to the lowest common denominator. They're quick and easy, a laugh and a giggle, and inherently voyeuristic, a moment of titillation. It's no more journalistically responsible to repeatedly home in on the most ignoble moments of sport than it is to artificially glorify athletes and their athletic endeavors. It requires infinitely more patience and creativity to communicate how the skier who skidded off of that ski jump felt than just to show how silly he looked. But in a world that's falling-down drunk on bloopers, there's no time for that.