While I was writing that Champions League piece news started filtering in through my timeline that Fox Soccer have picked up a new commentator. At first glance the name Gus Johnson didn’t register at all (neither did it on the second, third, or fourth glances btw) but it wasn’t until I saw him being compared to the illustrious Ray Hudson (who I hold in rather high regard) that I started to take note. A clip of Johnson calling a match between the San Jose Earthquakes and DC United caught my eye. And ears. I wasn’t impressed. I check the Fox Soccer timeline and see that they are REALLY excited about the arrival of Mr. Johnson and seem to want us to be excited as well. Puzzled, and sensing discontent from some of the folks I follow, I poked around a bit more and found THIS Sports Illustrated piece detailing how Gus Johnson began his career as a soccer pundit. Then came the fury.
To super-summarize that article, Fox Sports won the U.S. broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and wanted to be bold and unique and to most importantly, “brand it with something unique to Fox.” So the President of Fox Sports calls up Gus Johnson. Gus Johnson is a 45 year old professional broadcaster with a vast amount of commentary experience in a variety of sports. None of those sports, however, happens to be soccer as it were. That’s ok though because Fox are giving this guy a crash course in soccer that includes extended trips to Europe and personal mentoring sessions with some of the game’s most knowledgeable and respected figures, as well as a soft and steady introduction to the game of soccer.
The fury has since subsided but even now I still can’t decide where to begin to comment on this. No one likes a Negative Nigel though so instead of focusing on what I consider to be a shockingly disrespectful and excruciatingly inconsiderate move by the Fox Sports President Eric Shanks to hire someone with no prior knowledge/ties/passion/understanding/experience/links/relations to the beautiful game and give that person the soccer fans ultimate dream education, I will instead draw on the positives. Personally I’d prefer for an up and coming young soccer player/fan/writer/coach etc with aspirations of becoming the voice of American soccer to be handed the keys to the castle so to speak and have the opportunity literally handed to them on a silver platter but I can understand (even if I do not approve of) the move by Shanks to go with the top-down approach instead of the bottom-up. By taking someone who is already well known and generally well liked and respected, Fox generates more news than if they’d announced they’d just signed Dike Anyiwo to a log term commentary deal. Even the controversy of hiring a man from the despicable “sport” of baseball plays into Fox’s hands. Its still early doors in this experiment and I bear no ill-will towards Gud Johnson as an individual; I actually respect the depth and scope of the preparation he’s going through to prepare himself. I’ll withhold my final judgment of this whole affair until after this upcoming round of Champions League fixtures that he is scheduled to work. Part of me even wants him to succeed if it leads more Americans to watching and understanding soccer.
I just wonder though… If Fox Sports invested just 1/10 of what they’re putting into this Gus experiment into providing an opportunity for someone who actually knows the game to pursue the same goal, they’d recoup a lot of the animosity amongst us purists that this move has generated. How cool would it be if Fox Soccer continued with their recent “original programming” wave and put together a project similar to that Celtic player trial show but for aspiring writers, analysts, and commentators??