For decades, we have been trained to believe that live sporting events must be broadcast in a certain way. Namely that they should be called and analyzed by an overwhelming white, almost exclusively male voice cadre.
They are mostly measured, but they get dutifully excited at the “right” moments. Many have dreamed of the job for years and tell stories of muting their televisions as children to call games in their own homes. They create slogans and give their thoughts and repeat what coaches and one or two players told them in a production meeting before the game. Some are good, others are bland.
Into this match has gone someone who does not look or sound like pretty much everyone else in sports broadcasts right now: Aqib Talib. Talib has been in the cabin for two Fox games this season, including last Sunday, then The Philadelphia Eagles played Arizona Cardinals.
Talib got attention for his colorful custom suit, a nod to the Christmas season, but with a larger audience watching Sunday than his first game, last month’s matchup between Washington and Detroit, he also got a lot more attention for his words.
For some of us, it is no surprise that those who love the Taliban and those who hate him fall into two different, predictable camps.
I covered the Talib while he was with the New England Patriots and he was unlike any player who passed through the locker room in my years. He quickly acclimatized to Bill Belichick’s methods after a few years of rocking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and for one and a half seasons, he blossomed into a Pro Bowler on the field and later was named an All-Pro with Denver.
The Talib was himself in every way and at all times, and when he got it done on the field, Belichick never had to try to empty him of journalists. He had his own unique way of making observations at times. A longtime reporter from the Patriots still has a Talibanism: “People who have a dry-hump statistic to highlight probably prefer to read sheet music rather than hear the song” in his Twitter biography – but when it came to the game, he knew what he was doing.
And he knows what he’s talking about if you take the time to listen to what he says. Not everyone does, though.
Do a Twitter search for his name, or scan the comments under one of his latest Instagram posts, and notice immediately that the vast majority of those who praise Talib are similar to him and those who say he is awful, does not.
The reality is that for a non-small population of football fans, the Talib marks the first time they have heard anyone sound like them in a broadcast box. He speaks quite literally their language – black English, or as it is called by academics, African American linguistic English, the dialect developed by black Americans through the centuries. It is often cited as another way of insulting those who use it because it is not the “accepted” way of speaking here.
Yes, his verb inflections are not perfect for you, and yes, he says “man” a little too much. (He is well known and promised in his “Call to the Booth” podcast Wednesday that he is working on cleaning up before his next game.)
But listen to what he says; there is information there. Just as Tony Romo became a sensation overnight against his play-calling prescience, the Taliban’s 12 years as an NFL cornerback shine through in observations like this one from the fourth quarter on Sunday:
“What are you doing, what are you doing!” Said Talib. “Try to play man coverage, you have to protect [DeAndre] Hopkins. Try playing zone coverage, Kyler Murray wipes it up. ”
Or during a repeat of his first game as he explained why a Lions screenshot was so successful, noting that the pass went to the place where the Washington blitz came from, leaving plenty of open space for Detroit-back D ‘Andre Swift.
Talib is no fool: He told Rich Eisen this week that just as he studied big cornerbacks like Deion Sanders while playing, he studied Romo before entering the cabin, noting that Romo has recorded its popularity in the largest contract in business.
The Taliban are not like others and for some of us it is refreshing.
At least he’s not Cris Collinsworth, whose idea of ”analysis” recently showed total fascination with women understanding football. And he has not been caught in a hot microphone downgrading queer people like a former MLB TV station.
But it condemns him with faint praise. Talib said on Wednesday that Fox encourages him to continue to be himself, and himself is a smart, informative and fun analyst who seems committed to cleaning up the small problems he has as a newcomer to the field.
Embrace it, man.
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