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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

“A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from Jay Mariotti.”

Jay Mariotti

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THEY GET IT

Jimmy Kimmel, ABC — Rather than light the cauldron at the virus-infested Tokyo Games, I have an idea: Let’s have Kimmel repeat his definitive words about an ill-advised Olympiad that is proceeding recklessly. “NBC is planning to move forward with the Olympics this summer, even if they have to kill every last person in Japan to do it,’’ said the comedian, darkly. Of course, his Disney employers would make the same mega-billions money grab if they had rights to these Games, but at least Kimmel is calling out a rival for its shameful embrace of an event when Japan’s vaccination rate is only 10 percent. It’s more than we’re seeing and hearing from the mainstream U.S. sports media, where cancel-the-Games outcry has been minimal because, oh, many of the journalists assigned to Tokyo don’t want to rankle U.S. and international Olympic officials — or the bosses spending money to send them. I’ve covered 14 Olympiads. There is a media blacklist, and at some point, I’m sure I was on it. And proud of it. Let The Games Die! — so the Japanese people don’t.     

Scottie Pippen, author — A bitter, seething man is writing a tell-all. And he is promoting it by firing poisonous missiles at everyone in sight, referring to Phil Jackson as a racist for granting Toni Kukoc the final shot over a jilted Pippen in an infamous 1994 playoff moment. You don’t have to agree with what he says — Pippen, I might argue, is a racist himself — but last I looked, Jackson has written plenty of material about the long-ago Bulls dynasty after setting up reporting buddy Sam Smith for a book. Michael Jordan has lorded over a self-inflated documentary, as well. Even Dennis Rodman wrote a book. So why can’t Pippen finally air his views? It’s sad that basketball’s greatest dynasty continues to deteriorate into open hostility, including Pippen’s claim that Jordan was disingenous in 1997 when he said in a huddle that Steve Kerr should be ready for a pass that led to a title-winning jumper. “You know all those cameras sitting in the huddle, who they was working for? You know who Michael was speaking to when he said that? That was planned. That was speaking to the camera,’’ Pippen told Dan Patrick on his book-selling tour. “Had John Stockton not came down, trust me (Jordan would have shot). That was building his own documentary because he was controlling the cameras …That was not naturally spoken. That was rehearsed.’’ Pippen once stared at me inside New York’s Plaza Hotel, in an elevator with several relatives, and said, “Why are you such an asshole?’’ He is one of the most unlikable major stars in the history of American sports, but you can’t say he isn’t a fascinating character. Suddenly, I can’t wait for his book.     

Marc Stein, Substack — Welcome to the literary freedom train, Marc. Any writer weary of interest-conflicted bosses, editorial suppression, political leanings, corporate b.s., misleading headlines — I could go on — can find a refreshing, liberating experience at Substack, where Stein is joining other big names and leaving behind the mighty New York Times. This is the new place for self-sustaining, business-leery/weary journalists to control their destinies without interference, as the veteran NBA insider said, tweeting to readers, “This was an irresistible opportunity to cover the league I have tracked for nearly 30 years in a fresh and groundbreaking way … thanks to this deliciously blank canvas, total independence and the closest connection possible to you.’’ I’ve been at Substack for a few months, writing columns four times a week. My only regret is not joining sooner as a labor of love. In Stein’s case, he’s looking to cash in, via subscriptions, with his NBA newsletter. There are options in this industry, folks. Don’t get stuck in a race to see who croaks first: you or your newspaper. Or, you or your website.     

“The Shop: Uninterrupted,” HBO — Say this for LeBron James and his partner in Hollywood multimedia crime, Maverick Carter: They have a way of making subjects relax and forget they’re on camera, leading to some of the most revealing interviews in sports television. On a studio set of barber chairs and honest banter, Tom Brady opened a side rarely seen, dropping F-bombs and exposing his frustration with an unnamed NFL franchise that rejected him in free agency. “One of the teams, they weren’t interested at the very end. I was thinking, you’re sticking with that motherf—-er?’’ Brady said. Was it the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo? The Bears and Mitchell Trubisky? The Raiders and Derek Carr? Point is, this program always makes news, and while it unfortunately furthers the concept of athletes helping athletes control their messages, we’d rather hear the raw truth than empty nothings.     

Trevor Rabin, TNT — So the song sounds like a mashup of an old Western TV theme and a nightly news jingle. For the millions who love “Inside The NBA,’’ the music is effective — and, in a complete shocker, it was created by the former guitarist of the anthem rock band Yes. As profiled by Sopan Deb in the New York Times, Rabin was asked to compose the show theme by Turner Sports executive Craig Barry, who wanted something that viewers “never get sick of hearing.’’ If I still like it after 18 years, the song works. Listen closely, and you’ll hear subtle strains of the Yes classic, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.’’ Host Ernie Johnson, a Yes fan, had no idea Rabin wrote the music. It’s time for panelists Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, after all these years, to publicly thank Rabin, who said, “I remember Shaq saying once he liked the theme just in passing, but no one’s ever acknowledged me. Charles Barkley needs to acknowledge it and give a shout out. Otherwise, I’m never going to support him again.” He was kidding, I think.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Jalen Rose, ESPN — Sometimes, comments are so recklessly misguided that subsequent apologies fade in the stench. My one-time radio partner let racial anger take over his brain when he said Kevin Love, who is white, was named to the U.S. Olympic team “because of tokenism.’’ Said Rose: “Don’t be scared to make an all-black team representing the United States of America. I’m disappointed by that.’’ I’m not defending Love, whose career has plunged into semi-irrelevance, as much I’m challenging Rose to be accurate. Of the last five U.S. men’s basketball teams, four were all-black. It doesn’t appear team boss Jerry Colangelo and his staff have been “scared’’ of much through time. “You know why I’m apologizing right now? To the game. Because I’m what the game made me,” Rose said. He should apologize to his smarter self — and his prime-time audience — for not doing simple research.     

Tony Paul, Detroit News — When an active NFL player decides to come out publicly as gay, his request for privacy should be honored. Let Carl Nassib determine when he’ll speak to the media, as seconded by Cyd Zeigler of the LGBTQ+ site Outsports, who tweeted: “I’ve been told by many people that mainstream sports and news pubs are trying to get the first #carlnassib interview. He asked for privacy and many publications are reaching out to talk.And people wonder why I say the media is a huge part of keeping athletes in the closet.’’ His view didn’t sit well with Paul, who is gay himself and fired back, “Ummm, journalists’ job is to try to get the interview and the story. All he can say is no. … Trying to get the story is the definition of journalism.’’ In Nassib’s case, journalists aren’t chasing a scandal or browbeating a politician — or, as Zeigler tweeted back at Paul, “This isn’t the Pentagon Papers.’’ When the man is ready to talk, presumably next month at Las Vegas Raiders camp, we’ll be all ears. Besides, I’m not hearing widespread clamor to hear from Nassib anytime soon, his announcement drowned out by rumors that Aaron Rodgers wants a trade to Vegas.     

Chicago Sun-Times — Rocky Wirtz, who owns the NHL’s Blackhawks, continues to supply blood for a dying newspaper with periodic contributions. So it should surprise no one that the Sun-Times, after The Athletic and local radio station WBEZ did the heaviest original reporting, didn’t include Wirtz’s name when it finally got around to covering sexual-assault allegations against former Blackhawks video coach Bradley Aldrich. How convenient to piggyback media reports that “then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary’’ knew about the allegations and did nothing — but to not include Wirtz among the accountable parties or even bother to contact him for a comment. The one column written about the case also failed to mention Wirtz, whose son, Danny, announced the franchise had hired a law firm to lead an “independent review’’ of the matter. You can’t call yourself “the hardest-working paper in America,’’ then stop working to protect the rich, old dude who keeps the staff gainfully employed. Wirtz will shut down the paper at some point anyway, so you may as well go down swinging instead of suppressing news and faking it.     

“First Take,’’ ESPN — Stealing from the Charles Barkley hate handbook, hosts Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim Rose took needless shots at the city of Milwaukee for attention purposes. Normally a measured sort, Qerim Rose (Jalen’s wife) was particularly annoying, expressing glee that she didn’t coverSuper Bowl LII in Minneapolis while grouping Milwaukee among her “terrible cities.’’ Now, Smith (and perhaps Qerim Rose) could be spending significant time in the Upper Midwest during the NBA Finals, where the locals will target them and force them to stay in their hotel rooms, which is no way to enjoy a rocking Wisconsin summer. It’s one thing to have fun with a city, quite another to make fun of it.     

Eric Shanks, Fox — The CEO of the network’s sports division repeatedly has signed off on digital sites in recent years, only to encounter repeated complications that suggest dysfunctional leadership. The latest iteration of FoxSports.com included a “fully reimagined’’ site and app last summer, but hints of major content hires haven’t happened, and digital boss David Katz is departing in September. Shanks had a chance to enhance his brand with a go-to, all-encompassing site; evidently, he didn’t see a chance for big revenues beyond sports gambling. Let’s hope Fox chief Lachlan Murdoch didn’t re-direct his digital money in acquiring the “Outkick’’ site, which is more a right-wing reflection of Clay Travis’ views than a legitimate sports destination. There’s something hollow about a sports network that pours all its creative might into TV production, then flees from additive fuel. And, yes, I chatted with the site about writing a column, only to be told no after ripping Skip Bayless here for being Skip Bayless. For me, it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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