Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Keith Olbermann is back on sports TV, but politics world still needs him

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Keith Olbermann returned to television last week. Don’t be alarmed if you didn’t realize this. Olbermann is not on MSNBC or Current TV or Al-Jazeera or CNN. He is doing a show on some outlet called ESPN2.

That’s right: Olbermann is doing a sports show that is called “Olbermann,” but has the feel of “Countdown.” “Time Marches On” is the reel of odd videos from the Internet. And the Worst Persons are back, but they are sports-related, and Keith goes out of his way to ask the viewing audience to not take the list literally.

But this doesn’t feel right. Keith Olbermann should have been talking this week about whether to bomb Syria or the possible shutdown of the government. And he should be telling us who the worst people in the world really are.

I am of the generation that remembers the Big Show with tag-team partners and biscuits in baskets and players that are 206 years old. And the new show plays highlights of Olbermann from his earlier stint at ESPN and ESPN2. But I also remember the sports show he hosted on Fox Sports Net (yes, he worked for Rupert Murdoch) where he read these beautiful sports essays. And in those moments, many of which he has had on the air in the last couple of weeks, we find the amazing writing talent that is Keith Olbermann.

Admittedly, some of the potential sports fans were turned off by Olbermann’s politics and perhaps his anger. In politics, those that loved Olbermann for his politics liked that he got angry because they were angry. While sports draws more passion than politics, Olbermann isn’t as angry on this show … so far.

Olbermann gets enthused, passionate about what he is talking about (find the video where Olbermann talks about his father and Satchel Paige). The tone was similar to Olbermann talking about his father’s health care when he was in the hospital. But this Olbermann, so far, hasn’t been as angry. Sports matters, but politics is about real life. And so it’s good for Olbermann that he isn’t as angry as he was on Countdown, especially on Current TV.

When Keith got upset about concussions in the NFL and those players whose lives ended prematurely because of the impact of concussions, you saw some of the passion that was there on Countdown, especially the most recent MSNBC version. It’s great to have that passion and writing skill back on television. But you still feel, deep in the back of your heart, that he still belongs in talking about politics.

Previous coverage of Keith Olbermann on Democracy Soup

On occasion, sports is the topic, but the issues of the day are just underneath the surface. Olbermann spent Labor Day with a tribute to Marvin Miller, who won freedom from the reserve clause from MLB owners. Sure the talk was about players and money, but the labor market and freedom were there if your ears could pull in the proper frequency.

Olbermann was said not to have blown up bridges at ESPN, but to have napalmed them. True to that word, Olbermann does his show in Times Square in New York City, not in Bristol, CT. To be fair, when you can’t drive (Olbermann has a long-time eye injury that doesn’t allow him to drive), New York City makes more sense than Bristol. And ESPN hasn’t evaded Olbermann’s ire on sports topics, calling out his company when appropriate.

Olbermann started an episode obsessing about a New York newspaper sports columnist on some issue with the Jets quarterback situation that was picturesque Olbermann, except that outside New York City, no one cared about the topic. But the tone and controlled anger were sweet music, even if you didn’t care about the signal caller for the Jets.

Olbermann needs to be in a scenario where his anger is prevalent but controlled to an extent. Toward the end at MSNBC and throughout most of his time at Current TV, Olbermann was a little too angry. This made for beautiful TV, but his employers weren’t thrilled.

Tis better to have Keith Olbermann on television more than not having him on television, and sports is better off to have Keith critiquing that world. As a society, we were better off when Olbermann was going after the problems of the world. Keith seems to be very sincere in wanting to do a show about sports instead of politics.

In the first few minutes of his first episode, Olbermann made a joke at his own expense about Chris Christie’s reaction to a NFL-related story. Olbermann pointed out that Chris Christie was right … about the NFL. Perhaps that was a dig at those who love Keith but hate his politics. Or Olbermann’s way of saying “really, things are different.”

When Olbermann left MSNBC the first time, he went back to sports, so there is always a chance that he will go back somewhere someday. But the MSNBC landscape isn’t the same since he left, and Current TV is gone. That world still misses Keith Olbermann, even if he back on television. Sports, hope you appreciate what you have.

image credit: ESPN2
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