Sporting Goods is an ongoing column that explores the place of sports within the discipline of media studies and everyday life.
The NCAA Basketball Tournaments—March Madness, The Big Dance—have now reached the Sweet 16. Brackets have busted, boss buttons have clicked, “Cinderella” teams have sent heavily favored opponents packing, and thanks to a recent joint contract between CBS and Turner Sports we can now enjoy Charles Barkley’s analysis between games.
Barkley’s ambiguously ironic candor notwithstanding, television coverage of the men’s tournament—from live telecasts of games to commercials that capitalize on the spectacle—constructs an NCAA-approved mythology that situates The Big Dance as a uniquely dramatic and unpredictable event where committed student athletes strive to win their school a national title. Since 1987 CBS has closed its tournament coverage with “One Shining Moment,” a melodramatic musical highlight package that reflects upon and celebrates the event. The ballad, which The Wall Street Journal called “the most famous song in sports,” champions March Madness as an embodiment of the determination players and coaches exhibit in striving to capitalize on the opportunity for glory that the tournament provides. The highlight documents the men’s NCAA Tournament through attaching a set of overwrought feelings to it—players leaping in jubilation after a victory, fans sulking after a loss, exasperated coaches screaming orders. Furthermore, its repetition every year suggests that March Madness—and NCAA basketball more broadly—always exhibits the same positive qualities.
Folk musician David Barrett claims to have written “One Shining Moment” to explain the allure of basketball—specifically watching the sport on television—to a woman who dismissed his fandom as juvenile. With the help of a well-connected friend, Barrett sold “One Shining Moment” to CBS for use after its broadcast of the 1987 Super Bowl. However, when CBS’ post-Super Bowl interviews ran long, the network shelved his song until its coverage of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament a couple of months later.
In 2010 CBS decided to update “One Shining Moment” by hiring Grammy Award winning recording artist Jennifer Hudson to perform the tune. Hudson succeeded a tradition of male singers that included Barrett (1987-1993, 2000-2002), Teddy Pendergrass (1994-1999), and, most famously, Luther Vandross (2003-2009). Though her rendition did not deviate considerably from her predecessors’, it was met with an impassioned stream of derision that prompted CBS to return to Vandross the following year.
Before Hudson’s performance even aired a Facebook group entitled “Bring Back Luther’s Version” emerged to protest CBS’ shift. Viewer responses to her rendition—most of which materialized in the form of Youtube comments—were more explicit in voicing their disapproval. One viewer charged that Hudson “murdered the song” while another questioned how the singer could sleep at night knowing that she “messed up one of the great traditions of the NCAA Tournament.” Professional critics were no more sympathetic. As Yahoo.com’s Ryan Green bluntly claimed, “there are certain things in sports you just don’t mess with. This [“One Shining Moment”] is one of them.”
Many of the critiques focused on Hudson’s visual presence in the highlight package—which featured five brief cuts to her in a recording studio—and suggested that it transformed “One Shining Moment” into an indulgent music video. While Hudson’s presence places greater emphasis on the performer than previous installments, this was actually not the first time the singer had been visibly present. The 2003 version featured two brief cuts to Vandross’ emphatic crooning. Other iterations used glittery effects that built upon the song’s lyrics by making it appear that players were literally shining. Contrary to Green’s claim that the 2010 “One Shining Moment” “messed with” a pristine tradition, the highlight has been revised throughout its history. However, none of these previous versions generated nearly the outrage Hudson’s performance precipitated. Some fans were so offended that they sought to erase Hudson from this tradition of sport media by creating their own “One Shining Moment” videos that edited her out of the highlight’s visual component and added Vandross’ performance as the soundtrack.
Given the facts that CBS had previously included the singer who performed “One Shining Moment” in the highlight package and had made other changes to the production over the years, the key difference between the 2010 version its predecessors is Hudson’s position as a woman. Some of the discourses surrounding the 2010 highlight explicitly suggest that the song—which, at the level of music and lyrics, seems perfectly suitable for a female crooner of even the most feminine variety—loses its intended meaning when performed by a woman. As one viewer noted, Hudson’s version “seems like your little sister telling you how great you are, Vandross’ version is a father or coach telling you that all your hard work will pay off.”
The discourses surrounding Hudson’s performance suggest that her rendition disrupted a sentimentality specific to the relationship between men and sport. The demands that CBS return to Vandross’ version and CBS’ acquiescent response to them indicate that “One Shining Moment” conveys, or at least ought to convey, nostalgia for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that is designed for a male viewership and that is only authentic when delivered by a man. More specifically, these demands suggest that “One Shining Moment” communicates nostalgia not simply for the tournament, but for the act of watching it on television. Like the gendered circumstances David Barrett claims fueled his composition of the song, reception of “One Shining Moment” indicates that the relationship between men and sport, as it is constituted through television, harbors specifically masculine feelings. In doing so, these discourses, along with CBS’ response to them, disregard women both as authentic producers and consumers of sport media, and sport history more broadly. Furthermore, “One Shining Moment’s” recent revisions suggest that the mythic meaning the highlight attaches to the men’s tournament is contingent upon the stability of the gendered television viewing experience it constructs.
That said, enjoy the rest of the tournaments. May your brackets never bust.