For so many years NBC has pulled together a broadcast team of qualified disabled athletes who wanted to take a shot at being on TV. Some made it, some never deserved to be there and some found out that it is much different to be in front of the camera doing the work as opposed to being the athlete in the post race interview. I discovered recently that NBC is offering the 2021 Tokyo Paralympians 1200 hours of coverage. Let me break that down for you–this means a couple of highlight shows on NBC, the real NBC where you will see the Olympics. The rest of that time will be on one of those stations up in the 200’s, subsidiary stations that carry overfill and lesser sports, NBCSN more specifically. Now this is fine and many Olympic events will appear there too, such as table tennis, gymnastic dancing etc. Make no mistake though, we are still only really ranking most predominately in the human interest category of the broadcast world.
Frankly I didn’t even care if I ever covered another Paralympic games after the 2008 Beijing Games as I saw we had reached a roadblock in terms of how we were being reported on. I just couldn’t take one more inspirational moment in my life. I have maximum respect for the athletic accomplishments of both Tatyana Mcfadden and Jessica Long, but if I had to hear that tired Russian orphanage story one more time, I was going to quit. I wished that we could just accept them for their outstanding achievements in their given sports and let it stand on those merits. But the big TV producers know what we like as a public, and it is the heartwarming story of overcoming adversity. The other story we most love is the tragic train wreck story. Want to know who the most publicized Paralympian of all time is? Oscar Pistorious. First because he was a very good runner (remember that whole blade runner thing) and then because he allegedly killed his girlfriend on Valentines Day. So many other great stories and athletes, but this was far and above the number one Paralympian most will remember. I remember having a conversation with yet another high ranking coach who refuses to be identified who said how much they worried about a potential crash in the Exhibition 1500 or 800 in the actual Olympics. That would have been the best thing ever for us! What is better than seeing someone want it so bad that they will risk life and limb rounding a corner in a pack, only to end up laying upside down in a crumpled chair!
True story directly from the horses mouth. In 2012, about 3 weeks to the Paralympics I got a call that came across my car display and it was in international number. I knew before I even picked it up what it was going to be. “Hi is this Bob, this is NBC and we are wondering if you are available to do some announcing for the London Paralympics.” Undoubtedly I was stuck somewhere in their database. So here’s the setup, me and 3 others are being flown into Stamford Connecticut to do VO (voice overs) in our respective sports. In my assessment one other person on the team had enough charisma and talent to be there. The other 2, not so much. But alas, they were disabled, they had been to the Paralympics in their respective sports and I guess that checked enough boxes. We did the week in Stamford and collected our checks, however it was a sell out–for me anyway. I had a degree in Journalism, I had worked for NBC, ABC, FOX and ESPN. This was a consolation highlight reel that fulfilled an obligation to the Paralympic Movement by NBC–period. Understand this, the producer, directors and all the NBCSN team were extremely professional and dedicated to the best possible outcome, but it was what it was.
Now while I am far from opposed to either of the talent they have selected to be the main on-air personalities, why would they not give Chris Waddell a shot? I mean that really. You want to show you have faith in the disabled person who got the college degree, excelled in the sports world he is talking about, displays all the traits of a professional? Well that’s Chris Waddell. This would have been a quantum move of trust that the disabled person could actually do this.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy, but I am really tired of what just feel like once again the disabled person with all the qualifications did not get the nod. Yes, he will be doing color, yes the other disabled athletes they hired will be trying to add something special to the sports they loved and competed in. All that being said before we even get started, we somehow fell short of getting the top spot just by virtue of not giving Waddell his earned shot. What a shame.