This is a serious question. I am honestly baffled by this phenomenon.
The other day, I was watching an ESPN video of Larry Fitzgerald trying to explain and demonstrate for the viewers how he runs routes in the red zone. I say 'trying' because host Cris Carter seemed determined to be the star of the short video segment, interrupting Fitzgerald constantly, posing questions in such a way as to highlight his personal knowledge, and ultimately spending half the video segment just yammering incessantly.
I don't know if I'm a typical viewer or not, but when I see a video featuring Larry Fitzgerald, I'd like to hear Larry Fitzgerald talk. When I watch a NFL-centric TV show (which is rare), I don't want to hear a pair of self-aggrandizing analysts telling me how great they are and trying to out-shout the other guy. Is it too much to ask for calm, rational, non-bombastic analysis of the game of football, where the people giving it to you aren't trying to make themselves the topic of conversation? Apparently so, as far as most of the major networks are concerned.
It's not as though there aren't exceptions. I absolutely love NBC's Football Night in America, with Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth and a bunch of lesser lights. (Whether you love or hate Keith Olbermann as a political figure, he was a hilarious football analyst.) They seem genuinely interested in summarizing the day's events and providing insight or criticism, whatever a particular play or game deserves, without artificially injecting themselves into the conversation or resorting to mindless yelling. It never feels like anybody has anything to prove simply by being on television. But the Fox NFL Sunday crowd? The CBS NFL Today herd? When was the last time any of them provided a real insight into the game of football, devoid of bluster or self-promotion? ESPN and the NFL Network are, of course, even worse.
I think a large part of the problem is that many ex-coaches and ex-players never shut up about their playing days. This goes back to Carter's video segment: he introduced himself as "Cris Carter here, former wide receiver with the Minnesota Vikings," then got around to introducing Fitz. Bill Cowher is always referred to as "Coach" or "Coach Cowher" on CBS NFL Today. If Fox NFL Sunday makes it through one show next season without reminding the audience that it has a combined eight Super Bowl rings, and that yes, they were all very successful players and coaches one upon a time (except for Curt Menefee), I will be stunned. They pile it on and pile it on so that viewers find it impossible to forget.
The thing is, I just don't care. It doesn't make any difference to me whether a so-called analyst has NFL experience, if they're not able to put it to use constructively in analyzing the game. Look at Matt Bowen, at Collinsworth, at Mike Pereira or Andrew Brandt or Michael Lombardi. Those former players and executives are able to use their NFL knowledge to help viewers learn about the game, not to act like strident idiots on-camera. Listen to some NFL Network highlight reels and tell me whether Deion Sanders ever actually says anything insightful or helpful to the viewer.
And most often, when Sanders and his compatriots tell the viewer what happened--what coverage the defense was in, whose fault an interception was--it's a total guess. They weren't in the huddle, they don't know the defensive call, they don't know who was whose responsibility, they're just guessing and presenting it as fact. Players mess up and run incorrect routes or coverages all the time, and most of the time fans never get to know or never get an explanation of why it happens. When 'analysts' talk about who deserves blame for the breakdown of a particular play, or what coverage the defense was in, all they're doing is making a best guess.
What's the point of getting all these big names if they don't actually help the viewer understand anything? As cornerback Dominique Foxworth put it to Stefan Fatsis in A Few Seconds of Panic, "If you're not in our meetings and you don't know the scheme of our defense, it's almost laughable. You have no idea. It should be considered entertainment. They should put a disclaimer before any football-related show saying 'This is just entertainment. This is not fact.' They're just saying whatever the hell they want."
Again, I don't know if my values and expectations for good NFL coverage are typical or not. But in the Land of Ideal Football Commentary, analysts don't get in the way of the game. Their job is not self-promotion, but commentary. Get out of the way and let Larry Fitzgerald talk. Stop telling the viewer how much you know and be honest about how much you don't know. TV is just not a medium suited for in-depth explanations, which is what football requires if you really want to understand it; either do it better or don't bother. The job of all those talking heads and "personalities" is to cover the NFL, and the fact that they thrive on argument and self-promotion with just a smidgen of real analysis is what befuddles me.