This afternoon, in a live broadcast of the 37th Toyota Grand Prix Of Long Beach, Indy car racing league driver Marco Andretti had contact with another car out of the pits. Explaining what happened, Andretti said from inside his auto, loud and clear, “I have no fucking idea.” For a few minutes, the Versus announcers were silent. Then one of them said, “We apologize for the language.” And last week during a game, live cameras caught Lakers star Kobe Bryant calling referee Bennie Adams a “faggot” after being whistled for what the basketball star thought was an unjust foul. Gay rights organizations quickly demanded disciplinary measures, so NBA Commissioner David Stern slapped Bryant with a $100,000 fine. Kobe took to the airwaves to express remorse for uttering a homophobic slur. Both moments were recorded on national TV because so many sports events are covered live. But should they be? After all, a 7-second delay “bleep” button is available to delete offensive material from a live broadcast before it’s transmitted. The button cuts off the video circuit, or the sound, or both, between the recorder and the transmitter.
On the one hand, it can be argued that truly “live” events show people without PR cover, and I suspect both the Indy Racing League and the NBA would have covered up Andretti’s and Bryant’s moments. Now the world knows. On the other hand, many parents are watching sporting events with their kids. I find it interesting that the groups complaining the loudest about the increasing bad language on TV only take aim at scripted shows or live programming and at foul-mouthed writers, actors, musicians, and other celebrities. But sports heroes appear exempt. And does anyone doubt that this kind of anti-showbiz criticism is surely going to escalate during the 2012 presidential campaign when family values become an issue and Hollywood is regularly villainized.
Because of pressure from Congress, the Parents Television Council, and others groups, the FCC went after Fox television stations for two “fleeting expletive” incidents during the live broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards in 2002 and 2003. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2009 upheld the FCC’s indecency policy by a 5-4 vote, concluding that the ban was consistent with its statutory obligations and not arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Justices sent the case back to the lower courts and, last July 13, the Second Circuit struck down the FCC regulations on First Amendment grounds for being “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect.” The result is that Melissa Leo’s use of “fucking” during the live Golden Globes broadcast in January didn’t get NBC in trouble. But, for crissakes, what’s the effing big deal about just using the 7-second delay bleep button on all live events.