The NFL has it right. Commentators for pro football games are Hall of Fame players who have earned their stripes on the front lines, playing the game. Where else can you find people who have won championships talking about championships? This is why when Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw says that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Farve is playing as well as anyone in the league – or when he says that it might be time to bench Carolina Panthers Quarterback Jake Delhomme – it means something. Terry’s been there. He’s done that.
These are the kinds of critics you dream of, those with front-line experience (and the war wounds to prove it). The provide context, give meaning, ask tough questions, and help shape the conversation.
But most of the time, good critics are hard to come by. Truth is, there aren’t many professions with an average retirement age of 35, so critics normally aren’t former stars who left on a high note. Instead, they are often professional commentators, in which case they inevitably walk a fine line between making sense of and asking tough questions about “the show” (the players, the artists, the politicians, the CEOs), and elevating their own stature for their own sake.
It’s hard to predict who will make a great critic, but a good rule of thumb is this: they always recognize that building, creating, dreaming, executing, and falling and getting up again are all exponentially harder than sitting on the sidelines, prognosticating.