The powerful way Aqib Talib is representing Black Americans in the Fox NFL broadcast booth
For decades we've been trained to believe that live sporting events need to be broadcast in a certain way. This means that they should be called up and analyzed by a predominantly white, almost exclusively male cadre.
They are mostly measured, but they dutifully get excited at the "right" moments. Many have dreamed of this job for years, telling stories of how as children they muted their TVs to call games in their own homes. They create catchphrases and offer their thoughts. They repeat what coaches and a player or two told them in a pre-game production meeting. Some are good, some are boring.
This fight has been entered by someone who doesn't look or sound like pretty much anyone else in sports booths at the moment: Aqib Talib. Talib has been on the booth for two Fox games this season, including last Sunday when the Philadelphia Eagles played against the Arizona Cardinals.
Talib received attention for his brightly colored suit, a nod to the holiday season, but with a larger audience on Sunday than his first game, the Washington-Detroit matchup last month, he also got a lot more attention for his words.
It is no surprise to some of us that those who love Talib and those who hate him fall into two different, predictable camps.
So far, Aqib Talib has been informative and refreshing at the broadcast booth. (Photo by Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
I covered Talib when he was with the New England Patriots and he was unlike any other player who's walked the locker room in my years. After a rocky few years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he quickly got used to Bill Belichick's methods. In those year and a half he developed into a pro bowler on the field and was later named an all-pro with Denver.
Talib was himself in every way and at all times, and since he did it in the field, Belichick never had to try to curb him with reporters. Sometimes he had his own way of making observations. A longtime Patriots reporter still has a Talib-ism: "People who are dry to make a point probably prefer reading notes than hearing the song" in his Twitter bio - 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's saying. But not everyone does that.
Do a Twitter search for his name or scan the comments under any of his recent Instagram posts and you'll immediately see that the vast majority of those who praise Talib for how he looks and those who say he is terrible is not.
The reality is that for a no small number of football fans, Talib is the first time they hear someone who sounds like them in a broadcast booth. He literally speaks their language - Black English or, as it is called by academics, African American Vernacular English, the dialect that Black Americans have developed over centuries. It is often cited as another way to vilify those who use it because it is not the "accepted" language here.
Yes, his verb conjugations aren't perfect for you, and yes, he says "man" a little too much. (He is aware and pledged on his Call to the Booth podcast on Wednesday that he would work to clean it up before his next game.)
But listen to what he says. There is information there. Just as Tony Romo became an overnight sensation for his playful conscience, Talib's 12 years as an NFL cornerback show up in observations like this one from the fourth quarter on Sunday:
"What are you doing, what are you doing?" Said Talib. "Try playing man coverage, you have to protect [DeAndre] Hopkins. Try playing zone coverage, Kyler Murray rolls it."
Or during a replay of his first game when he explained why a Lions script was so successful and found the passport went to where the Washington Blitz came from, leaving Detroit plenty of room for D'Andre Swift.
Talib is no fool: he told Rich Eisen this week that in the same way he studied great cornerbacks like Deion Sanders during the game, he studied Romo before stepping on the booth and found that Romo found his popularity in the greatest US treaty has brought business.
Talib is not like others and for some of us it is refreshing.
At least he's not Cris Collinsworth, whose idea of "analysis" recently became extremely intriguing that women understand football. And he wasn't caught by a hot microphone disparaging queer people like a former MLB broadcaster.
But that condemns him with weak praise. Talib said Wednesday that Fox encourages him to continue being himself, and he himself is a smart, informative, and fun analyst who appears to be committed to eliminating the little problems he has as a newbie to the field.
Hug it man
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