Friday, January 13, 2006

Nashville Sports Anchor Curtis Apologizes for On-Air Ageist Remarks, but the Cat Was Already Out of the Bag

Cory Curtis (left), ABC's Nashville affiliate sports anchor, may have dug himself a serious public relations hole. WKRN-TV's Curtis punctuated his Jan. 13 Friday night 10 o'clock news report, concerning incoming 80-year-old Buffalo Bills football exec Marv Levy, with the untoward salvo, "He is OLD!" When he returned from a commercial break, Curtis had obviously been admonished by his fellow anchors to apologize. He did. And he apologized yet again before the broadcast left the air.

Yet Curtis' apology, in fact, could not hide the disdain with which his original remark was uttered. And, in a way, his insensitivity only blows the lid off a very interesting, growing problem in our PC world. It's very common, especially in the arena of sports reporting, to hear the guys and gals under 40, TV and radio jocks alike, to throw out regular reminders that they are "too young to remember that..." They often preface their comments with phrases like, "Well, I'm only 38, so..." or, "I wasn't even born when Super Bowl III took place, so..." There could be the germ of humility in these statements, as if these folks are bowing down to the superior experiential and historical advantage that their elders hold. But more than likely, what they are really saying, subtextually, is, "I'm a lot younger than you, sucker, and I have a long career ahead of me, and guys like you have always been in the way of my advancement, and have you ever thought about retirement?" That, at least, is one possible interpretation.

When the Orange Bowl was held recently, it pitted 79-year-old Penn State coach Joe Paterno versus 76-year-old Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. That's 155 years altogether, and the occasion served as a jumping-off point for network sportscaster Mike Tirico (himself an African American) to interview both gentlemen and to discuss the very issue of age. The word "problem" never came up. It was unclear whether Tirico had any views about aged football coaches, but he seemed to be revelling in the rarefied air of these two senior-citizen college football legends.

The Paterno/Bowden age discussion evoked a TV story of celebration and wonder. Both men expressed a firmly held belief that, as long as they were not facing health problems, they saw no reason not to continue coaching. Given the obvious success of their football programs, it's pretty hard to argue against them. Bowden has been amazingly consistent in the victory department for years and years. So was Paterno, until a few years back when his Nittany Lions turned in a couple of subpar seasons. At 76, Paterno was finally hearing the comments about age, and the reasoning went that his teams' records were a direct result of his hardening arteries. Then surprise... this year Paterno turns in an 11-1 record and a #3 national ranking, capped by victory in the Orange Bowl over a "younger man," Bowden.

I suppose if you use the naysayers' reasoning, then Tennessee Titans' coach Jeff Fisher might be too old as well. His last two teams have turned in records of 5-11 and 4-12, but in his case you only hear people wondering about his efficacy. Presumably his gray matter is all there. Fisher turns 48 on Feb. 25.

We're in an age when you can't say anything about anybody. You can't criticize blacks or Jews, because you'll be accused of racism. You can't criticize women, because then it's sexism. In fact, criticism of any ethnic/minority group is out, lest the dogs of PC-ism be let loose on you. (For some reason, you can attack Catholics—because some of their priests have sexual problems, thus making the entire religion fair game—and you can also attack so-called right-wing Christians, because in the view of most media, those people are "stupid.")

Older folks fit into this scenario as well, and no one knows it better than the American Association of Retired Persons, a high-profile super-activist organization that aims to protect the rights, and promote the concerns, of anybody 50 years of age or older. One of Curtis' off-camera co-anchors uttered the dreaded acronym, "AARP," just as Curtis offered his first apology, and who knows what the group will do once they get wind of this little local episode.

I guess since Curtis apologized on-air, he's at least covered his ass a wee bit. But more formal censure could come from the AARP. And frankly, why not? Why shouldn't older folks fight for the right to be treated with the same dignity that political correctness demands of our treatment of blacks, Latins, Asians, Jews, women, the disabled, etc.? We've got a growing-older passel of Baby Boomers in this country—millions of 'em—not to mention guys like Marv Levy, who was born in 1925. In his heyday in the early '90s, as head coach of the Bills, Levy set a record by taking his team to four straight Super Bowls. He never won one, but nobody can say he wasn't an excellent football coach. Apparently, Levy still has all his marbles, and if he's got the health and energy to take on new duties in rebuilding a struggling franchise, who is anybody to make his age an issue?

Of Levy, Curtis could have said, "Wow! What an amazing guy!" But he didn't. And there was almost venom in his delivery.

It's very interesting what we reveal in unguarded moments. But it's somehow always more interesting what gets revealed in moments of unguarded television. Curtis, otherwise a technically fine sports newsman, has issued his mea culpa, prodded rightfully by his savvy on-air colleagues. Maybe now he needs to go find out what, for him, that moment was all about.

And maybe we can all take a lesson from his gaffe: This is America, and it's okay if you're over 65, maybe black, maybe female, maybe dealing with a physical challenge, or maybe even a white WASP male. You're still entitled to use your brains, and work a job, and be a contributor to society, and earn money, too. And you ought to be able to do it without snide commentary from anyone.

Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 and died in 1973. He never stopped working and living to the fullest. We won't all be that lucky, but each of us is entitled to keep going as long as, and as fruitfully as, our energy carries us.

Shame on you, Cory Curtis. Didn't your mother ever tell you to respect your elders?


Anonymous said...

Martin, why don't you give Cory a call to ask him what happened instead of "assuming" he was "admonished" by his fellow anchors. He'd be happy to talk to you. Here's his number @ work: 369-7235.

Martin Brady said...

Somehow I doubt Cory wants to hear from me. But thanks for the phone number, and if follow-up is in order, I'll give him a shout.

I didn't really "assume" he was admonished--you could plainly hear Victoria Hansen talking to him as the team returned from the station break. She clearly said something about the "AARP." So maybe he wasn't being admonished, as in counseled. Maybe "scolded" or "warned" are better words.

I'll confess I don't know exactly what went on during the commercial—but, as simply a TV-watcher, my reporting of what happened on-air is accurate.

Thanks again for writing.

Anonymous said...

If you knew Pablo Picasso you wouldn't tout his "living life to the fullest" to be celebrated. It was Picasso, afterall, who abandoned his children and family in order to promote his lifestyle of mistresses and fame.

Cory Curtis's slip of showing some personality on the air should be taken with the good humor it was intended instead of the PC paranoia that permeates all sectors of society these days.

Anonymous said...

Oh My. People need to lighten up.
I don't think there is anyone out there that would not agree with Cory that 80 is old. I mean, if you were to ask an 80 year old you don't think they would say they were old.

Sad state of affairs that Cory would have to apolgize, more importantly that you criticize him in a blog.
You too need to get a life!!

Comment said...

I went to University with Cory Curtis, we were in the same major together and I knew him very very well. He had a bad tendency to open his mouth before thinking, sorry to see he hasnt changed.

Anonymous said...

Since when is "old" a pejorative term? It's descriptive, and accurate given the man's age. He was stating a simple fact.

The worse crime by far is dramatizing something so minor.

Anonymous said...

I saw the newscast. It was not a big deal. He was trying to be conversational.

People do need to lighten up.

Cory is a doll.