Don't expect Vitale to change his tune over next seven years

Media Watch

November 14, 1997|By MILTON KENT

You've no doubt heard that it's better to be lucky than good, but in Dick Vitale's case, a considerable bit of both qualities have served him well.

Vitale, whose college and professional basketball coaching career didn't exactly set the world afire, happened to be available at the same time a new all-sports channel called ESPN was starting up in 1979.

The channel needed someone it could call its own, an identifiable, perhaps even larger than life presence, while Vitale needed work. The two interests dovetailed nicely, and 18 years later, ESPN is perhaps the most recognized sports voice in the United States, and Vitale is one of the most important figures in sports broadcasting.

Coincidence? Probably not, but as Vitale -- armed with a seven-year contract extension to the year 2004 that will take his ESPN term of service to an even 25 years -- begins another season tonight with a doubleheader, pitting Maryland against South Carolina in the opener at 7 p.m., it's not all rosy.

Vitale is dogged by rather pointed questions from some television critics and college basketball insiders that he has become a self-promoting machine, with books and videos and movie appearances, as well as a knock that his "schtick" has worn thin.

Vitale, who describes himself as "very sensitive," says he is hurt by the criticisms, but doesn't know how to do it any differently.

"I'm me. If you're going to get Dick Vitale, you're going to get a lot of pizazz. If I tried to be good, I'd probably get into trouble. I just try to be myself," said Vitale on a conference call the other day. "Obviously, some people like what I do. I must be doing something right. There's too many people in broadcasting who get over-technical in terms of describing things. [They] put people into what I call 'Z-ville.'

"I'm very proud of what I've done. I don't want to offend anyone, but when I talk about the books and movies I've done, I don't take it as self-promotion. I take it as me trying to show that I'm very proud and that if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone."

On the radio side of things, Johnny Holliday starts his 19th season of Maryland basketball play-by-play with tonight's game, with Greg Manning as analyst on WBAL (1090 AM).

The last word

Hopefully, there won't be a need for a waste of space on Marv Albert again, but his "redemption" tour this week, combined with Dennis Rodman's ignorant statement that new NBA official Violet Palmer was a man, brings on this thought:

Credibility, like driving, is a privilege, not a right, and Albert's reprehensible trip through talk shows and Rodman's long-standing acts of buffoonery, ought to place both of them outside the realm of the credible.

With any luck, responsible reporters, editors and photographers will think twice, three times if necessary, before they open a notebook in front of either of these clods or place a microphone in their faces. They can say outrageous things; we in the media just don't have to give them the forum to say them.

Double standard

Back in the bad old days, before the Ravens came to town, the networks and the NFL served local viewers as many Redskins games as they could, with impunity, on some deluded theory that Baltimoreans would embrace our neighbors to the south.

The ratings have proven otherwise, and the diet of Redskins games has slowed somewhat, but not entirely, like last week when a contest with Detroit was beamed here or a few weeks ago when the Bears game was telecast.

Meanwhile, with rare exception, our friends in Washington haven't been forced, er, exposed to the Ravens.

Take Sunday, for example, while the Ravens play Philadelphia at p.m., a perfectly reasonable lead-in to the Washington-Dallas game at 4 p.m., capital area viewers will get the Arizona-New York Giants game.

What's fair is fair, and if Baltimoreans are going to randomly be shown Redskins games, then Washingtonians ought to get Ravens games, or perhaps it's time that people in New York stop trying to make the two cities into one.

By the way, that will be Channel 45's own Steve Davis roaming the sidelines for Fox on the Ravens-Eagles game Sunday.

Around the dial

Sunday's NASCAR 500-mile race in Atlanta (ESPN 12: 40 p.m.) brings the curtain down on this year's Winston Cup series, and pits points leader Jeff Gordon against Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin for the Cup title.

CNN's "NFL Preview" (11 a.m.) has planned an extensive feature on iconoclastic Ravens punter Greg Montgomery.

A two-night prime-time golf event, matching the four Grand Slam event winners -- Tiger Woods (Masters), Ernie Els (U.S. Open), Justin Leonard (British Open) and Davis Love III (PGA Championship) in a 36-hole tournament with a $1 million purse, starts Monday at 7: 05 p.m. on TBS.

Finally, don't miss the HBO movie, "Don King: Only in America" a biopic of the boxing promoter tomorrow at 8 p.m.

The film, which presents King in all his grinning deceptiveness, features actor Ving Rhames in the title role in a performance that should at least earn him an Emmy nomination. He's that good.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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