When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong

Tracie Marcum with Lou Jones on "The Moment."

Tracie Marcum with Lou Jones on “The Moment.”

There’s a certain I-think-I-can-ism that television seems to facilitate with regard to sports. Maybe it’s the angles or the way long shots compress scenes or simply how the sideline reporters just walk up to coaches during a game to discuss strategy. Professional sports now appear so doable on TV that fans are making the leap to participation.

After a TV viewer was allowed to drop a dime on Tiger Woods at the Masters last week, you have to wonder what’s next. I mean, can I directly text Lebron James at halftime the next time I notice that his elbow is splayed a little more than usual on his jump-shot release? Or can I Tweet manager Eric Wedge the next time the super-slo-mo on FOX reveals the grip on Felix Hernandez’s cutter is slightly off?

Actually, I do know what’s next. I watched the premiere of USA Network’s “The Moment,” a show that inflates the hopes and dreams of America’s overlooked mediocrity. The fact that I never was tall enough or talented enough, and am now about 30 years too old, to play point guard in the NBA doesn’t really matter anymore. As long as I have a friend, spouse, family member or even some random TV viewer who will nominate me for a reality show, my dreams maintain their shelf life.

You couldn’t convince Tracie Marcum any differently. She’s the native Alabaman mommy with a serious Jones for sports and photography, two things right up my alley. They also rank very high on the I-think-I-can scale. The smartphone, after all, has spawned a generation that believes it can take perfectly composed, tack-sharp photographs with just one arm extended.

I wish I could do that.

Actually, I just wish I were Tracie Marcum. She gave up her photography business for parenting, operations management and writing a blog about SEC football – and still was positioned to earn a staff position at Sports Illustrated. Adding to the degree of difficulty – or not – was the 16 positions that SI slashed last summer and the fact that its parent company, Time Inc., recently Ginsu-ed another 500 jobs.

Good thing Marcum had a worthy role model in the show’s host, Kurt Warner, who came back from the dead (aka, Arena Football) to become a Super Bowl-winning, two-time MVP quarterback in the NFL.

Behind Warner’s cheerleading, Marcum not only overcame industry economic trends, she survived a virtual sports-photography gauntlet. She got all of a minute to shoot a bunch of gymnasts, including some harrowing moments on the vault. She had to walk around with four cameras around her neck during a pickup basketball game on Venice Beach, with her Mr. Miyagi, professional photog Lou Jones, screaming, “switch lens!” She had to overcome her fear of firearms to, er, shoot pictures at a gun club. And then Marcum had to cover an air show from, gulp, a helicopter.

All was executed with such aplomb that Marcum took to what I only could interpret as showboating. She used an overhand grip on her lenses, something most of us who have photographed sports could not do because we have to support the weight of our gear to take steady shots. I guess all those one-handed self-portraits must pay off. Also, Erin Andrews-like, Marcum waded onto the court … during … the … game … to get a better shot. The lot of us have “move closer” drilled into our shutters, but none of us in sports have the guts to actually do it. Not to that extent.

Marcum’s version of a breakaway, 360 dunk was convincing a trio of Sports Illustrated editors that it was OK for a self-proclaimed portrait specialist to come away from the air-show assignment without any usable shots of the pilots. Remarkably, she also had a retort for each of their criticisms. It was an amazing performance under pressure. In an equally unbelievable exhibition of judgment, SI extended an offer of employment, based on the one-event portfolio that evoked pained expressions from those who reviewed it.

Of course, the apex of temerity was that, in spite of everything, Marcum accepted the offer and relocated to New York City. She was caught up in “The Moment,” you might say.

I guess it’s plain old-fashioneded to feel like I would have been happy just to get an interview with Sports Illustrated. Or receive two weeks of free tutoring from a seasoned pro like Jones. After living through two yes-we-can Obama campaigns, you’d think I’d know better.

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