Announcers have been a fundamental part of the live sports experience since they began to broadcast on television. Iconic voices throughout the ages and across all sports have become synonymous with the greatest sporting moments, helping to bring the fans even closer to the action.
As there isn’t a script and it's all live reaction and commentary on the event, we hear the honest emotions of the announcers as they see games and matches unfold, emphasizing every moment as they go. Hair-raising lines like "Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!" and "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" made the incredible moments even more spectacular.
However, now and then, the professional callers get it wrong, creating moments where the audience at home will want to rewind to see if they heard them correctly, or even gasp in shock at what they just heard. As play-calling and commentary are showing an instant reaction to sports that most of the announcers have an emotional investment in, nothing can be censored and, as they’re only human, they can make rather unprofessional mistakes.
Unfortunately for them, it’s live and being watched by people all over the country (and all over the world in some cases). This list of top sports announcer fails covers it all: from incompetence to things that simply should never have been said.
5. Michael Owen: Stating the obvious
In soccer, the English Premier League is growing in popularity in the United States each year, but luckily for American fans, you didn’t have to suffer the commentary of Michael Owen. After muscling in on Sky Sports’ coverage of the English Premier League, BT Sport brought in a team of famous soccer faces to cover announcing and punditry, one of which was Michael Owen.
An English soccer hero with a wealth of experience as a player, Owen enjoyed a storied career with Real Madrid, Newcastle United, and Manchester United after becoming a legend at Liverpool, who are at +225 to win the Premier League next season. So, many expected Owen to be insightful behind the microphone, but they were wrong.
With each passing game, it seemed like Michael Owen was spiraling closer and closer towards insanity, forever stating the obvious or contradicting himself minutes after making a statement to the contrary. At one point, soccer fans in the UK even made a petition to get BT to stop the once-beloved forward from announcing anymore. Eventually, Owen was eased away from doing any live announcing work, occasionally deployed as a pundit for pre-match, half-time, and post-match comments.
Among his most famous lines are "[Soccer players] these days often have to use their feet", "He’s elbowed him in the head, but there’s nothing in it for me", and "If there’s a bit of rain about, it makes the surface wet".
4. Brian Collins: Boom goes the dynamite
It’s poor, it’s cringeworthy, it’s possibly even a little bit sad, but one of the most infamous announcer fails in the history of sports is that of Brian Collins on Newslink at Nine. The poor kid was clearly called in to quickly fill in for a sports segment but struggled to either read his lines or failed in his attempts to add some flair to his commentary.
While four minutes doesn’t sound like much, every second is excruciating for sports fans, and it all begins with Collins aptly stating "Well, the Ball State softball team continued to play this weekend [long pause], and [elongated], they are hoping to continue off their straight three out of four losses".
But the best was yet to come. The now infamous line which has made Collins a sport announcing legend for all of the wrong reasons came roughly two minutes into the stuttering segment when the topic turned to the Indiana Pacers. After almost explaining that the Pacers were after revenge and won, Collins struggled to do any play-by-play calling, until he finally summons some words for a three-point attempt. Once he sees the ball sink into the net, Collins calmly states, "Boom goes the dynamite!"
At the end of the segment, Brian Collins clearly knows that it didn’t go well for him, with the other newscasters offering a sympathetic, if not incredibly sarcastic, 'thanks for trying' sign-off.
3. Mike Smith and Ralph Lawler: Debating Haddadi’s nationality
We live in a very politically correct and progressive age, but it wasn’t long ago that instances of political incorrectness would still slip through to live television. During a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, the long-standing play-by-play announcer and color analyst for the Clippers, Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith, just couldn’t get to grips with the nationality of the new Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi.
After the Clippers add to their tally to make the game 89-102 to the Grizzlies, Smith noticed that a new player had stepped onto the court for Memphis saying "look who’s in". Lawler then questioningly says "Hamed Haddadi" before the Smith explains that he’s the first Iranian player in the NBA, which Lawler dismisses.
Lawler and Smith continue to discuss Haddadi’s nationality, questioning if he’s from "that Iran" and "the real Iran", before unfortunately going one step further to call him "Borat’s older brother". Some more comments were made about Haddadi, being very surprised when the Iranian center pulls off a pass.
The comments made by Ralph Lawler and Michael Smith resulted in the duo being suspended for one game by Fox Sports.
2. Brian Kinchen: That’s kind of gay
ESPNU isn’t among the most elite-level or revered sports channels for fans, but when blunders occur, those at fault are certainly called up on their errors. Possibly the most famous announcer fail in football is that of Brian Kinchen on ESPNU when covering the Northern Illinois versus Iowa game in 2006.
The former NFL player-turned-commentator didn’t make comments about a player but rather how players should aim to make a catch before making an offensive comment about his own comments. The rather peculiar incident occurred when explaining that players should aim to make catches with their hands instead of their shoulder pads for obvious reasons.
Kinchen explained that shoulder pads are "hard and stiff" whereas your hands are "tender and they can move and caress the ball". His co-commentator chuckled before Kinchen checked his words by adding "that’s, that’s, that’s kind of gay".
The remarks prompted an apology from ESPN’s vice president of public relations and from the commentator who was a former Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, and New England Patriots tight end. Kinchen was also suspended for a week from ESPNU due to his inappropriate comments.
1. Kelly Tilghman: Tiger Woods lynch comment
In what is easily the most outrageous and inappropriate comment made in sports by a member of the television broadcast team in recent history, an anchor quipped the term 'lynch' in reference to how to stop golfer Tiger Woods.
In 2007, Kelly Tilghman became golf’s first-ever female anchor when the Golf Channel acquired broadcasting rights to the PGA Tour in a 15-year deal. It was all going well for Tilghman, who was representing some progression in a somewhat backwards-thinking sport regarding gender at the time. But an unfortunate incident while covering the 2008 Mercedes-Benz Championship certainly hindered her reputation and kicked up a huge civil rights storm as multiple news outlets across the nation covered the story.
The broadcaster from South Carolina sat alongside British golfing legend Nick Faldo as they discussed how anyone could stop Tiger Woods’ dominance. Faldo joked that the younger players should gang-up for a while to try to stop him, to which Tilghman slipped in with "Lynch him in a back alley". As you would imagine, the comments by Tilghman ushered in a huge wave of criticism from civil rights activists calling for her sacking.
Tilghman did apologize for her comments, and Woods' agent did say that they didn’t think that the comments had any ill intent behind the words. The Golf Channel eventually backtracked on their initial stance to not suspend Tilghman and instead benched her for two weeks. She continued with the Golf Channel until 2018 when she left, but during that stint, Tilghman also appeared as an announcer on three Tiger Woods PGA Tour video games.
From a string of incompetent comments to some of the most outrageous things ever said on a live sports broadcast, there have been many memorable, for better or for worst, fails made by sports announcers in the past. While there appears to be a bit more professionalism in the job these days, with more scrutiny than ever thanks to the internet, there’s bound to be another major sports announcer fail in the games and matches to come.