Better Left Unheard

Do you really want to hear what the coach tells the players during those huddles on the sidelines? It could be nearly incomprehensible talk of strategy and tactics. It could be pep-talk about hustle and focus. It could be unprintable.

The National Basketball Association, for one, is willing to take that risk for the sake of bringing the game closer to fans. It is requiring coaches to wear tiny microphones. What they say will be taped, not played live, and will, of course, be edited. Coaches who refuse face a $100,000 fine levied on their team's owner.

Some players are also going to be miked. And the league wants cameras in the locker rooms (for entrances and exits only, it says.)

Has Big Brother come to pro basketball? No, it's more like big marketing - or frantic marketing. The NBA, it seems, has been losing TV viewers. Maybe, the thinking goes, some would stop switching to wrestling or car racing if they could listen in on what coaches are saying during tense moments, or catch the expressions on players' faces as they ramble in and out of the locker room.

That's doubtful. New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy had it right when he criticized the mike policy as an infringement on a coach's relationship with his players and added that what fans really care about is great playing and great games.

Besides that, why not leave a certain element of mystery in sports? It's better to imagine what a lathered-up coach might be telling the player who just made a bad turn-over - or, to move a little further afield, what the umpire may be telling the hitter who's arguing a called third strike. That's part of the fun of it. And fun is what sports have to be about.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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