Sincerity. Earnestness. Honesty.
These qualities seem rarer to find in modern humans. Beyond outdated, they might be considered downright unwise to espouse.
In an era where misinformation and opinion travel faster than verifiable facts, being detached and ironic feel like prudent defense mechanisms, and maybe even outright necessities to survive with one’s wits intact.
It’s this climate that makes someone like Fred Rogers appear to be a relic from the Paleozoic Era. The Neighborhood’s eponymous Mr. came to mind the other day when a trailer for this summer’s documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ flashed across my Twitter timeline.
Tears flooded my eyes, as I almost reflexively recalled the hold Mr. Rogers had over me as a child. I even remember having an argument with my mom that I didn’t need to go to preschool because I hung out daily in WQED’s Neighborhood.
(Sesame Street gets some credit for my precocious hubris, too. By the way, I never did go to preschool. Don’t get any ideas, kids.)
Can’t blame my mom for trusting Mr. Rogers to help get my education going. The man carried such an air of decency and forthrightness that he was considered old-timey even back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when culture clashes were as common as today.
While reminiscing about my time spent with Mr. Rogers, a thought came to mind about another person who stands out for his utter earnestness, a man I’ve been fortunate enough to develop somewhat of a friendship with: Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick.
I had admired Mike from afar over the years. As a hockey fan, how could you not? Here was a play-by-play broadcaster who both sounded like he was having the time of his life while also describing the action so precisely that you swore he had seen a script beforehand.
Subscribe to the HBO YouTube: http://itsh.bo/10qIqsj He’s Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick – who’s not only hockey’s top broadcaster, but also one of the game’s most recognizable and beloved figures.
But I don’t have to tell you why ‘Doc’ is at the pinnacle of his field. I do feel compelled that he’s just as much of a gem away from the mic. There are some in the sportscasting business who put on an act for the air, but not this guy.
While covering Pirates spring training two years ago, I crossed paths with Mike and completely ‘fanned out,’ chatting with him for nearly an hour under the premise of writing a story. Mike had just guested on the Pirates’ game broadcast, so maybe he was still buzzing, but he seemingly had no desire to get on with his day, and I took advantage. (I did end up writing something, for the record.)
He even graciously offered to listen to a hockey game I’d called and offer a critique, something he apparently does for many broadcasters who are trying to climb the ranks. Pinch yourself, right? The best in the business is going to listen to my work?
To this day, whenever I’ve run into Mike while covering the Penguins or Pirates, he not only remembers me, he asks how my broadcasting gigs are going. As an email from Mike last winter read: “Don’t give up on the broadcasting!” I needed that at the moment.
I’m betting you’re not exactly surprised that Mike is this kind-hearted in real life. You’re also probably not surprised that he’s genuinely obsessed with the Pirates, although I’m guessing the constant references to Kent Tekulve, Andy Van Slyke and friends during NBC hockey broadcasts gave you a hint.
Maybe I’m biased, but Doc’s nature made me immediately think of him when watching some old clips of Mr. Rogers. Yeah, they both have Pittsburgh connections — Mike taught at Geneva College in addition to his fervent Pirates fandom — but that’s mere window dressing. There are more substantial similarities, to be sure.
For one, both men make time for being personable in mediums that so often default to sensory overload. Fred Rogers famously pumped the brakes on the manic world of children’s TV, while Mike Emrick continues to slip storytelling and whimsy into his rat-a-tat call of most hectic sport on the planet.
For another, it’s impossible to miss the utter lack of pretense in their on-camera personas. All are welcome to join in the fun, as Fred and Mike play affable tour guides in their own expansive worlds. One man literally broke into song in every episode, while the other merely uses a sing-song tone to remind the viewer that hockey might be intense, but boy is it ever a joy to watch.
Mr. Rogers passed in 2001, so it’s uncertain the two ever met, but Emrick continues to show the timelessness of authenticity. There is (and was) no putting on airs when they go on the air. I can think of no higher compliment for a public performer.
And when the quality of the individual’s character is high, it’s the best of both worlds. Or, I should say, the best of both neighborhoods.
(Featured photo courtesy of NBC Sports)