“That’ll move the chains!”

NBC and Peacock do not care about their broadcast teams at the Tokyo Olympics

Painful journalism continues as naivety reigns in the track and field booth at the Olympics.

Remember the SNL skit where Andy Samberg, playing Danny Hoover, an 11-year old Make-a-Wish winner who gets the opportunity to join Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth of an NFL game, painfully but hilariously repeats the phrase, “That’ll move the chains.”? The first time, the cliche is perfectly placed, and Nantz and Simms think they have dodged a bullet – the boy’s got game! Quickly, they come to realize the natural rhythm and voice of their special guest was an anomaly, and as Nantz becomes overtly frustrated with the lack of cohesion in the booth, we belly laugh.

nfl on cbs andy on snl: andy is a make-a-whish kid...
Jim Nantz only wishes there was no Make-a-Wish.

Joining experienced commentators Bill Spaulding and Tim Hutchings was former 800-meter champion Alysia Montano. Montano is one of my favorite athletes – I mentioned her in a recent podcast I did with my wife because she ran 2:48 while 39 weeks pregnant at the US outdoor championships a few years back, a race I witnessed in person. While she was primed for the big leagues on the track, she appears woefully unprepared for enhancing the viewership experience from the booth. This is understandable. Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to be a video play-by-play or color commentator. It is not the same thing as radio, it isn’t the same thing as being a couch commentator with your buddies, and it isn’t something you can just plunk a great athlete into and expect great results. It is a skill which takes time, study, and practice. I don’t understand why NBC would hang her out to dry like this, and you can feel the tension as the three-person team limps along, attempting to excel at a task which requires harmony and symbiosis within an experienced team. No one in this booth seems to know who has what role.

I have been highly critical, as most distance runners watching their misunderstood and rarely appropriately captured events on national networks are wont to do, of fellow Minnesota native Kara Goucher, the color commentator for the distance events at the Olympic Trials and these games. I might have to rethink my lack of gratitude after listening to Montano’s repeated gaffes, interruptions and talking over of her booth mates, irrelevant and untimely anecdotes, and subsequent awkward silences. I started to make a list of examples, but if I included all of them, this portion of the article would dominate the column. 

I like Montano, but let’s give her a smaller stage to hone the craft, if this is something she truly wants to progress into at this point in her career. Goucher cut her teeth and worked her way up – this is her first Olympics, but it isn’t her first rodeo. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it seems the networks care less about the quality of the product, and more about the image and narrative they are forwarding when they place certain people in the booth. I don’t think this is a win for journalism.

By the way, Montano is not alone. The two dudes in the Peacock studio have done little to amplify what is transpiring on the stage as they fumble over themselves with awkward analysis (“how do those 10k runners have so much energy at the end of a race?”) and inappropriate side comments (“I’ll have to slide into her DM’s….”). I’m left rolling my eyes, shrugging my shoulders, and remembering why I’ll always be the ‘little man’ in sports journalism – I was never a good enough athlete.

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