Tyler, England, and Diversity: The Need to Broaden the U.S. Horizons

martintylerESPN pulled off a minor broadcasting coup this morning, announcing that they will have Martin Tyler heading their coverage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. We can expect Tyler to be calling all the biggest matches. The credibility he provides the coverage will excite those who follow the English Premier League.

I am usually loathe to draw United States’ sports comparisons to what happens in the world football, but in this case it’s the best way to relate the scope of this announcement. Martin Tyler’s level of renown and his association with football in England is readily paralleled to those of legendary Los Angeles Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully. In both cases, when you turn into a game, you feel like the announcer’s mere presence lends credence to the action. As much as the knowledge and technical broadcasting abilities they bring to the game, their most identifiable trait is their respect for the competition and viewer/listener.

While Tyler is a legend, I have misgivings about this announcement. I grow more-and-more concerned about the United States’ media’s tendency to only look toward the United Kingdom for its football information. If you go to Soccernet, the biggest outlet for soccer news for most fans in the States, you see an almost-exclusively British lineup, be it their editorial staff, featured writers, presenters, or the subjects they interview. In a footballing world where diversity is one of the most beautiful attributes, Soccernet provides a disturbingly homogenous representation of the sport. Ives Galarcep is becoming more featured on the site, and they did just start releasing a U.S. Soccer podcast (one that is decidedly inferior in production to their Soccernet podcast, which features almost exclusively British commentators), but the examples of diversity are too rare for my liking.

There is nothing inherently wrong about how Britons approach football, but there is something inherently wrong about thinking the British approach to football is superior or (worse) the only one. Few Britons would say they have a monopoly on football, and the reverence we see from some U.S. media sources is too deferential.

If we keep buying into the idea that Britain represents the measuring stick for analysis and coverage, we’ll continue to wonder why our development programs and federation still produce players and philosophies that look decidedly like (but inferior to) England. While our culture professes to pride itself on diversity, our consumption is decidedly homogeneous.

Ostensibly, U.S. football development and Martin Tyler have little to do with each other, but I see the decision as another symptom of our England-centric outlook. As great as Martin Tyler is, he carries with him the same subtle biases inherent in his footballing culture. Because ABC, ESPN, and Soccernet continuously cast us awash in those biases, I doubt any of us are looking beyond the U.K. for options.

This is not to say that other footballing cultures are without bias. Implicitly, we have already discussed the U.S. bias, and most of us are familiar (through proximity) with some of the biases from México. Though the biases change slightly from country to country, they are inherent in each. England has no monopoly on slant, and (in all fairness) this article is heavy with bias.

Bias is unavoidable, but one of the ways to mitigate its effects is diversity. If you consume too much of a single stream of information, you could start to unconsciously associate it with knowledge. If you exclusively listened to (and trust) Spanish broadcasters in Argentina, you might start to believe the only way to build a football squad is around that advanced, central midfielder whose heart and savvy will overcome any physical limitations. If you keep your ears open to the rest of the world, measure the different sources of information against each other, you will be able to make a more informed judgement on the viability of those claims.

Andrés Cantor was known for his goal call, which got him English-language opportunities on U.S. television.

Andrés Cantor was known for his goal call, which got him English-language opportunities on U.S. television.

Regardless, there should be a place for all views within our footballing culture. There was a time when Andrés Cantor was given a chance on English-language broadcasts, but as football coverage has become bigger business, the ABC-family has gone more mainstream English-language. They’ve gone to the English-tried, English-true. It’s a shame, because just as the ESPN/U.S. market has become a sought-after job for analysts in England, many in South America (Cantor is from Argentina) and Europe would love their chance at the vast and lucrative United States market.

I would love to see ESPN expand its horizons. I would love to see ESPN try to expand my horizons. More importantly, I don’t want to continue to see ESPN constrict the horizons of the next generation of football fans – fans who could have more options than any previous generation of football followers. If we continue to shove England down people’s throats, there are profound effects for our footy culture. We could see the next generation of players, coaches, and fans continue to play, teach, and consume the sport in the same old ways.

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with England. In many ways, Martin Tyler represents all of the good that can come from such a great footballing culture. But we have been ordering from this menu for a long time. We need to change things up. If that means having Phil Schoen call the World Cup, so be it. We could do a lot worse than having Schoen and his GolTV experience giving us a new, distinct set of biases.