Saturday, July 20, 2013

Elephant Bites pt.1: A Closer Look at One of the "Figure Skating is Dying" Claims

I’m finally back to tackle the Elephant Bite that is/was Christine Brennan’s post-Worlds article “Figure Skating is Dying, and Judges Can’t Prop it Up” (here’s the link if you haven’t read it yet). Quite a headline, right? I’ll get back to that.

I should say, at the outset, that I’m a long-standing fan of Brennan’s writing. She penned two books about figure skating in the ‘90s—The Inside Edge and Edge of Glory-- and while some die-hard supporters of the sport seem disinterested in what she had to say via those books, I was not one of them. She gets it, she enjoys it, she respects it—at least she does in my eyes. So I appreciate her continued (occasional) contributions to skating via USA Today, where she also writes about tennis and numerous other sports.

So I look at this particular piece of Brennan’s from this past March, and it pains me to find myself asking “why do I wish she’d written nothing at all?” But I do ask.

It’s not a bad article in that it’s accurate, concise, and well-written... those should be the GIVENS in journalism; they’re not, though, so when it happens it’s surely worth a mention. She discusses 2013 Worlds as a metaphor for the current state of skating itself:

·        The “tiny arena of not even 7,000 seats” in London, ON that often was not quite filled to capacity... ONE YEAR BEFORE THE OLYMPICS (a date she referred to multiple times, presumably to underscore the severity of the problem)
·        The fact that ISU Prez Ottavio Cinquanta didn’t bother to attend
·        The fact that no major U.S. TV network carried the Championships live (ignoring NBC’s week-delayed recap, for obvious reasons)
·        The controversial judging that gave Patrick Chan his third world title despite a seriously flawed free skate
·        The fact that figure skating isn’t as popular in the U.S. and Canada as it once was (guess when??)... and the all-too-familiar speculation as to why
·        The notion that what used to be embraced about figure skating is now more likely embraced by reality/competition shows like Dancing with the Stars—a notion that I, myself, covered in my book Skating on Air (still available for purchase, or at your local library!)
·        The speculation that skating “remains stuck in the past” for all the above reasons... and more.

So... never mind that the men’s and ladies finals were sold out enough that I could not buy a single ticket for the latter when I raided the London box office during my visit. Never mind that it’s unfair to expect Cinquanta to behave like a normal “president,” or person, for that matter. Never mind that the lack of U.S. TV coverage is about as “new” as a post-6.0 judging controversy.  Never mind the irrefutable skating talents taking the ice these days, and their stunning contributions to the sport thus far.

Never mind all that, I guess, when there are (still) Tonya/Nancy references to make...  (still) reminders to give that Worlds was, in that Tonya/Nancy era, able to get higher TV ratings than basketball’s March Madness...  and (still) painful glances to be taken at “skating’s dark underbelly” known as the 2002 Olympic Judging Scandal. It’s all still there, the agony and the ecstasy, waiting to be discussed again and again...

If you are an every-four-years fan of the sport, that is. But if you’re pitching to such fans, as Brennan appeared to do with her article... is the “skating is dying” theme really the one you want to go with? Aside from the obvious drama it creates, what good can possibly come from such a statement? Did she hope a high-powered Player To Be Named Later would see the article, break out the tights and cape, and vow to “save” skating from its demise? Or that it would cause current ISU members to be “scared straight”?

What if, instead, it leads some of those every-four-years fans to say “gee, that’s a shame... guess skating isn’t worth watching anymore”? And now she’s inadvertently giving an assist as skating loses even THOSE fans?

How difficult could it be to get in a lot of great digs about Speedy, and the judging, and the smaller world that skating reaches nearly 20 years after its popularity heyday... but ALSO convey the message that there is so much talent in this sport right now that makes it worth seeking out... even (gasp!) in a non-Olympic year??

Why, it’s not difficult at all. I just typed up the words on the screen, and there it is! How do you like that!

Now, if I can only get a high-powered Player To Be Named Later to convince Brennan to heed such an idea before she pens her next skating article...

NOTE: I’ll post my next ELEPHANT BITES required reading next time, amidst a sea of new program announcements from some of our favorites!