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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

Albert Is Back . . . What's the Big Deal?

July 19, 1998|SHAUN POWELL | NEWSDAY

Whether you're angry because someone with a kinky sexual past is back at work, or happy that a beaten man was thrown a bone, there's a greater and more significant issue concerning the resurrection of Marv Albert:

Why is his job being confused with that of a Supreme Court justice?

Let's see. Albert sits with headphones and a mike at courtside, tells us who's winning and losing the game, then gives us the final score. A Supreme Court justice makes crucial rulings on complex cases that ultimately shape the law.

There really shouldn't be a contest here in terms of who makes a difference in your life.

But the same public outcry that began 10 months ago when Albert endured a seedy trial for biting a Virginia woman is being heard again, now that MSG Network has rehired an old friend. There is support, and there is condemnation. It gives the impression Albert is as big a deal as someone who holds the public's trust, and the question is, why?

Oh. Television. That explains it.

For some reason, people on TV are seen as smarter, sexier, more relevant and substantially more meaningful than the rest of us. The jobs they hold are really big too. And they are held to standards higher than those who have daily and direct contact with us. The message is: Hey, he's on TV, so that makes him special.

He hasn't done anything to deserve it.

Just in the sports world alone, Albert is a peripheral figure, someone who doesn't coach, manage or play the game. He never hit 61 home runs, or beat the buzzer in the NBA Finals or rode the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby. No one tunes in to watch Marv, which was proven in June when the NBA Finals had record ratings without him.

He's a celebrity by mistake, a VIP by default. Truth is, he isn't important to the game or society, and therefore, not worthy of being the subject of your argument, pro or con.

But TV does that to folks. TV warps common-sense thinking, makes somebodies out of nobodies.

TV was the undeniable star of this week's news conference to reintroduce Albert. TV was on everyone's mind and influenced everyone's behavior.

There was a question whether Albert would appear without his infamous hairpiece and come clean, so to speak, but he didn't. He had hair. It makes him look better on TV.

Dave Checketts, the Garden president who held Albert's fate with the network, spoke of the importance of TV. "I won't deny that we've made a business decision," Checketts said, "to get improved ratings."

The very first thing Albert did was apologize to the people he hurt. He could've accomplished that without the camera, in private to each one, but no, it carries a greater impact when done through TV.

The whole afternoon was an exercise in public rehabilitation, carried live by TV, of course. Albert talked about therapy and just happened to mention, without being asked, that he'll continue seeing a therapist well beyond the time required by the terms of his plea bargain. He discussed the ordeal and the aftermath and the pain.

"It was embarrassing and humbling," Albert said. "I went through a nightmare, looking at some of the ridicule. It was pretty horrible to go through."

He seemed genuinely remorseful.

"Would I have done some things differently? Sure," he said.

Given the benefit of the doubt, Albert does deserve the opportunity to resume his way of life. Plenty of regular folks, some of whom are guilty of more serious crimes, have been welcomed back into the fold. Albert paid the required price for copping a misdemeanor plea last September. The toll was fairly steep, if not steep enough. The country got to peek through his bedroom and make jokes at his expense. He suffered from public humiliation. He shamed his family and especially his fiancee.

He was out of work, and the major media companies wouldn't touch him. He lost money and returns not as a million-dollar network voice, but as a backup radio play-by-play man for the Knicks and the host of a wannabe SportsCenter on regional cable.

The angry viewer will no doubt have a problem with this and will awaken an old argument: Tainted TV personalities like Albert deserve a permanent ban because they come into my living room.

True, and in your living room, there's a remote. You control it.

Those with a problem with Albert should save their scrutiny for doctors, teachers and other people of substance, not for someone who reads scores.

It's a stretch to call Albert a reporter, even, because he doesn't gather information or investigate anything.

Guess what? He's only a broadcaster. That only makes him famous.

It doesn't make him important.

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