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Angry English footy fan (simon askham/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Angry English footy fan (simon askham/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

John Doyle

‘Dear Meathead’ – how TV and sports drive people crazy Add to ...

What with the Olympics on the doorstep, I want to raise an issue and impart grim wisdom. There are two things that make people really, really crazy. One is television. The other is sports. Put the two together – watching sports on TV – and it’s mayhem. Allow me to explain.

I am in receipt of responses to last week’s epistle, the one that lamented the decline of Ezra Levant from notable iconoclast to TV nincompoop.

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This is to be expected. It is known to all and sundry that television can drive people to drink, distraction and to taking strong views that really need to be expressed. Viewers of Sun News are, in particular, expressers of views. Viewers of Sun News feel about the expressing of views the way Huffington Post readers feel about Rihanna’s new bikini-ready body, which featured prominently in the news area – it is something to be embraced.

In the correspondence I have been called many things. Such is the way. But I found it odd to be called, on two occasions, a “Saudi apologist.” In one instance it was put to me that I’m a member of a group of “Yellow belly Saudi apologists.” In another, merely a Saudi apologist.

The basis for the claim mystifies me. Evidence of my role as an apologist for Saudi Arabia is thin to non-existent.

Casting my mind back in search of some possible basis for the suggestion, I recall I was at a soccer match between Saudi Arabia and Ukraine at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. The venue was Hamburg. Terrible game. Ukraine won 4-0 and Saudi Arabia had a goalkeeper who seemed to be having a nervous breakdown because the other team kept kicking the ball at him.

Reason why I remember the match distinctly is that I got lost on the local trains in Hamburg and I had to exit at a distant station and take a cab to the stadium. The lady cab driver cheerfully informed me that she disliked the police and the World Cup but was a supporter of the famous Hamburg soccer team FC St. Pauli. But I digress.

Matters sporting are relevant here, though. It is always bracing to shift gears, write about soccer instead of television, and peruse the reaction. Correspondence to sports writers is rather different from correspondence sent to writers in the Arts section.

The typical negative reaction to a sports column will begin, “Dear Meathead.”

The “Dear” is nicely collegial, if not outright polite. “Meathead” lets you know where the correspondent stands. Generally there follows either a) the suggestion that writer is stupid-thick (hence, “meathead”, obviously) or b) the writer didn’t have the cojones to write about what actually happened at the event in question, an event the letter-writer only witnessed on TV. But only seeing it on TV matters little. You see, writing to the Sports section is a sport too, one to be played in a virile, aggressive manner. Cojones tend to be mentioned.

Television in general can make people irritable. But there’s no “Dear Meathead.” Complaints tend to take a lofty tone of irritated bafflement. There is the “You only write about TV so you’re a know-nothing” complaint. There is “TV is stupid.” There are complaints that there are too many commercials or you can’t hear the actors speak clearly. There is the righteous indignation that something must be done to correct the grammar of Pastor Mansbridge on The National or it is a plain fact the comedy I praised recently is “stupid, insipid and unfunny,” so there.

All I’m saying is that it is always a pleasure to read responses to Sports writing and the TV column. Reactions offer a cornucopia of illuminations and insights into this great country. Readers who react to coverage of both can learn from each other. “Dear Meathead” has admirable pith and greater clarity that an accusation about “Yellow belly Saudi apologists.”

Sports has its fanatics. Television enthralls almost everyone. Both ignite great passion. Get ready for Olympics-sized irritations.

Airing tonight

Frontline: Alaska Gold (PBS, 9 p.m.) is an excellent, new and provocative program tonight – about what is being called the biggest environmental battle of this century. It’s all about The Bristol Bay region of Alaska, considered the last great wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world. We see extraordinary footage of “the phenomenal pulses of life moving up this river” and then learn about the same area being the location of enormous mineral deposits, of copper, gold, molybdenum, estimated at a value of $300-billion. The scale of the deposit – and potential mining of it by the Pebble Mines company – is extraordinary. “It’s the largest contained gold and contained copper concentration in all of North America,” one expert says. But can the giant the mine co-exist with the salmon fisheries? That’s the question brooded upon here. “We live on salmon. We love our salmon ... but it’s not going to pay any of our bills,” a local says. Great bitterness abounds.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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