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Retired sports stars start new life in television

Players-turned-broadcasters show that coaching is not the only option for retired athletes

Poster of MBN’s baseball program “Back to the Ground” (MBN)
Poster of MBN’s baseball program “Back to the Ground” (MBN)

More Olympic medalists and sports icons are showing up on television, starring in a variety of shows.

Though many retired athletes have returned as broadcast commentators or coaching staff in the past, sports stars today are making small-screen appearances in a wide range of shows, from sports-related shows to comedy and reality TV.

Cable channel MBN’s sports show “Back to the Ground,” which aired its first episode on Tuesday, centers around retired baseball players who form a team to play against independent baseball teams in Korea.

Big names from the Korean Baseball Organization, including legendary pitchers Dustin Nippert, Yoon Suk-min, outfielder Yang Joon-hyuk and more, are set to debut once again on the diamond field after their retirement.

Some stars are also pursuing careers as sports coaches, but not at a professional level.

With the rise of TV sports programs, retired players get to coach beginners and share their expertise and experience in the shows.

Korean basketball legends Hyun Ju-yeop and Moon Kyung-eun star in JTBC’s “Jump like a Witch” as coaches of a newly formed basketball team made up of female celebrities from different fields.

Members of the South Korean national team in the 2002 World Cup, such as Lee Chun-soo, Lee Young-pyo and Choi Jin-cheul are managing their own football team in SBS’ hit Wednesday-night program “Kick a Goal.”

Meanwhile, retired LPGA legend Pak Se-ri starred in MBC’s reality show “I Live Alone,” presenting a different side of the charismatic professional golfer.
LPGA legend Pak Se-ri’s daily life is shown on the MBC reality show “I Live Alone.” (MBC)
LPGA legend Pak Se-ri’s daily life is shown on the MBC reality show “I Live Alone.” (MBC)

Culture critic Jung Duk-hyun said the phenomenon was a matter of the right timing.

“Sports stars appearing in television shows is nothing new. But the long COVID-19 pandemic changed Korean television contents, bringing sports stars to regular programs, rather than one-time special appearances,” Jung told The Korea Herald Tuesday.

The critic said these shows serve to quench the viewers’ thirst for sports broadcasts, which have been suspended for a prolonged period amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The retired, iconic sports stars, who once rose to stardom, are familiar to the public just like television celebrities. The athletes can freely show their professional sides or their as yet unrevealed charms through the programs. This is a key reason why sports stars are welcomed by both broadcasters and viewers,” Jung said.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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