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Sports Hoards Virus Tests While America Waits In Line

With NBA boss Adam Silver having the most to gain — or lose — leagues are using tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests and unproven protocols at a time when hospitals are slammed and Americans are struggling to secure tests at overwhelmed sites.

Jay Mariotti

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We’ve entered the infection phase of this ill-advised, money-grabbing, Ghostbusters-like battle to resume sports amid a pandemic, as a familiar soundtrack hums ominously: “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ I wasn’t shocked to hear from an agent friend confirming that one of his NBA players had tested positive for the coronavirus, which, I assumed, would prompt the league or the player’s team to immediately test the agent and any family members and friends who’d been in close contact.

I assumed wrongly.

“Those of us who have been around him haven’t been tested yet,’’ he texted Thursday, saying it was difficult “to get in anywhere’’ in a virus-pounded state.

A day passed. “Still haven’t been tested yet,’’ he wrote.

Another day passed. Finally, he decided to proceed urgently without the team’s help. “Pulled up to (a public testing site) and got lucky. 30-minute wait. (The team) was taking too long,’’ he wrote, adding that the player’s girlfriend and others also were tested and nervously awaiting results.

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My thoughts turned to Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner. He’s the one league boss positioned to be remembered as a miracle-worker … or the madman who oversaw a colossal disaster in his Let’s Save Society Bubble at Disney World. Unlike Major League Baseball, the NFL and college football — whose seasons are imperiled by too much human interaction with the outside world — Silver has created an isolated environment that seemingly gives his league a chance to complete its postseason in early October. Yet already, before players arrive in the Orlando area, there is a crack in the plan, concurrent with a 65 percent rise in U.S. coronavirus cases over the last two weeks.

Why couldn’t the NBA or the team secure tests for an infected player’s inner circle? According to league protocol, a player who tests positive “will remain in self isolation until he satisfie(s) public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.’’ Understood. But what about loved ones, their health and the health of those with whom they’ve been in contact? It’s disturbing they had to wait days before finding their own pathway to tests, increasing their risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.

As it is, the $200 billion sports industry is hoarding medical resources — including tens of thousands of tests — as surges overwhelm hospitals, strain laboratories and force desperate test-seekers in hard-hit Florida, Arizona, Texas and other states to wait for hours in chaotic car lines, often to no avail. The ongoing fear is that the country’s health-care systems will implode, and, in an ideal world, sports would set aside its zeal to recoup lost fortunes and use its influence to help America get well. But hey, the commissioners keep telling us, the White House has urged sports to play on, never mind that some of those leagues — hello, NBA — have excoriated President Trump for years. For that matter, consider the protests of Texas Rangers employees who say they fear for their health — “We are terrified for our safety,’’ one told ESPN — and feel pressured to report to work at new Globe Life Field in an organization blitzed by the virus.

Those are glaring examples of how a fraught, delusional venture into the unknown represents a daunting whack-a-mole game for sports, a dam that could burst at any moment in coming weeks. In what feels like only Round 2 of a 15-round brawl, these houses of cards depend entirely on testing protocols that will determine whether seasons are miraculously finished or collapse in an avalanche of infections and spreads. Yet with preseason training set to begin, the NBA and MLB appear to be viewing coronavirus infections — which can cause victims to become violently ill or die; have the potential to spread wildly through teams, leagues and communities; and do particular damage statistically within Black America — as no less severe on a diagnosis scale than a sprained ankle.

Test positive, self-quarantine for at least seven days and no longer than 14 days, then return to your NBA team.

Test positive, self-quarantine, produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, show no symptoms for 72 hours, then return to your MLB club.

Suck it up, get your ass back out there and risk your life because — to paraphrase the immortal Mike Gundy — we need to run money through the leagues and broadcast networks.

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Sports reflects a divided America, split politically and geographically about the dangers of the pandemic, with leagues bullrushing back to a desired new normalcy. Are the owners and commissioners any different than the Mask Truthers who create the cultural disconnect? “It appears America isn’t just dealing with a deadly strain of coronavirus — it’s also dealing with a deadly strain of stupidity,’’ said the social commentator, Trevor Noah. It’s still difficult to wrap my brain around the lunacy that baseball and basketball seasons are starting, soon to be joined by football camps, while infection numbers are exploding, states are backtracking on reopenings and people continue to die in large numbers.

In one corner, we have Malcolm Jenkins, the activist and NFL Players Association committeeman, speaking the truth: “Until we get to the point where we have protocols in place, and until we get to a place as a country where we all feel safe doing it, we have to understand that football is a nonessential business. And so we don’t need to do it. And so the risk has to be really eliminated before … I would feel comfortable with going back.” In the opposite corner is Tom Brady, idolized by millions as the greatest quarterback ever, recklessly disregarding virus-related orders in ravaged Florida by continuing to hold workouts in public settings with Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammates. Apparently believing that his TB12 wellness plan is bigger than All Things COVID-19, Brady — now a month from his 43rd birthday — used Instagram to post a photo of himself drinking water beside a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’’

Tell that to the families of at least 123,000 dead Americans, who might want the NFL to call out Brady and another COVIDiot, Russell Wilson. It was good to see DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, strike first. “They’re not in the best interest of protecting our players heading into training camp, and I don’t think they are in the best interest of us getting through an entire season,” Smith told USA Today.

It’s one thing to test perilous waters, quite another to attack COVID-19 as some sort of heroic war mission. If so, the leagues are kamikaze pilots venturing into a harrowing air raid. Emboldened by business and athletic egos that have pushed them to become massive successes, the leaders of this resumption movement are striving to somehow be larger than the health crisis of our time, as if they’re action figures trying to take down Godzilla, King King and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They actually think they can pull off the historic upset, in the tradition of major sports upsets such as Miracle On Ice, which suggests their audacity to proceed with live games involves more than financial interests. Never mind that competitive integrity will be shredded. The traditional purpose of sports — crowning a champion — has been blown out by the overriding goal of finishing a season, making back lost money and conquering the virus.

In Silver’s case, legacy is largely at play. Aware that he was the first commissioner to shut down a league, after Rudy Gobert’s positive test on March 11, Silver and his messengers aren’t afraid to send a bold message: The NBA’s plan is too big to fail, which sounds much like, “I ain’t afraid of no COVID.’’ But when they say that, are they aware Gobert says he hasn’t fully recovered? The Utah Jazz center told the French sports publication L’Equipe, “The taste has returned, but the smell is still not 100 percent. I can smell the smells, but not from afar. I spoke to specialists, who told me that it could take up to a year.’’

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A year, he said. How is that newsflash going to fly among teammates — including Donovan Mitchell, who still thinks he caught the virus from Gobert — and opposing players inside Silver’s Magic Kingdom? And how about rumors that LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers players have been secretly scrimmaging at a billionaire’s Bel-Air mansion? If athletes can be so dismissive of a government quarantine, do we really expect hundreds of players and support staff members — most in the category of millennials and Gen Zers who don’t grasp COVID-19’s inherent seriousness — to faithfully stay in the bubble for weeks and months? Should I bring up abstinence, the implausibility of NBA players not having sex for extended periods? When family members are allowed in the bubble after the first playoff round, will they follow orders? And what about Disney employees, those who cook and clean and maintain the bubble, who currently aren’t required to test in the bubble? If this pipedream has any chance in hell of working, every detail must be airtight. Isn’t that impossible, when human behavior can’t be controlled?

I’m just being real. Silver prefers to think hopefully.

“We believe we’ve developed a safe and responsible way to restart the season,” he said on a media conference call. “We are left with no choice but to learn to live with this virus. No options are risk-free right now. We can’t sit on the sidelines indefinitely. We must adapt. We’re coming back because sports matter in a society. They bring people together when we need it the most.”

His thoughts are echoed by MLB, which wrote this to union members in a 101-page operations manual concerning health and safety: “This is a challenging time, but we will meet the challenge by continuing to work together. Adherence to the health and safety protocols described in this manual will increase our likelihood of being successful. We hope that resuming baseball will, in its own small way, return a sense of normalcy and aid in recovery.”

Sports doesn’t matter to society any more than Hollywood matters, Broadway matters, music matters. So why have those entertainment industries shut down for the calendar year while sports marches on? Why have Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Guns N’ Roses and all other musical acts canceled 2020 events at new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles — where one construction worker died in a fall and 18 others have tested positive for COVID-19 — while two NFL exhibition games remain on schedule for Aug. 14-15? Because sports is powered by television and the assumption that game-starved fans will watch in record numbers, even in buildings without spectators, regardless of predictable obstacles: coronavirus victims, defections by athletes who decide they don’t trust the risks, injuries caused by long layoffs and short preseasons, and the lack of energy without fans whose importance to the live sports experience is taken for granted.

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The anticipated TV ratings, backed by advertisers also anxious to energize their brands, is why the risks are worthwhile for leagues. Silver knows a crash is possible, which would leave a permanent stain on the league and how he is remembered. Already, several prominent players — Nikola Jokic, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick Jones Jr. — are among the most recent roll call of 16 who tested positive, meaning at least 30 players have been infected and probably many more. Which poses another problem: Will leagues be transparent about who tests positive during the season, such as if a superstar is infected? Face it, if James or Giannis Anteteokounmpo failed a test, it would create a public outcry to shut down the NBA. Same goes for the other leagues. Wouldn’t it be convenient for everyone involved — including ESPN, which has abandoned all pretenses of independent journalism concerning its business partners — to call the injury an ankle sprain? If so, Silver and other commissioners better be watchful of the gaming industry they’ve been eagerly courting. If you want gamblers to bet on games during a pandemic, you’d better be honest with them about COVID-19. Or else, you’re committing consumer fraud.

Privacy laws might protect leagues and teams when they decline to identify names. So they want fans to watch and gamble — and, technically, pay for TV sports packages — without knowing who has tested positive. Is that ethical? No. Said Andrew Friedman, baseball operations president of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “We’ve had some people in our organization test positive, none that have resulted in symptoms that have been problematic. It’s very much a personal thing that if any want to share, it’s up to them.”

It’s another reason to pause and wonder: Why are they doing this?

Allow the imagination to wander. Just as there are billions of reasons for leagues and networks to resume, there are billions of reasons why the plan might not succeed. At least Silver knows that, saying, “If we were to have significant spread of coronavirus throughout the community, that ultimately might lead us to stopping. We’re not saying full steam ahead no matter what happens, but we feel very comfortable right now with where we are. We’re working closely with the Players Association, Disney and public health officials in Florida as to what that line should be. It hasn’t been precisely designed. I think we want to get down on the ground and start to see how our test is working and how protocols are working, and then we’ll make decisions as we go.’’

When examining the four major sports leagues and college football, the NBA does have the best shot. There is no faith that MLB boss Rob Manfred, who has failed at labor talks and game pace and sign-stealing justice and pretty much everything else, will pull off a 60-game regular season and postseason without disruptions and an eventual crash. Tests are being administered only every other day, unlike the NBA’s every-day procedure, further jeopardizing players and support staff as virus carriers who will be in contact with family members after long days at local ballparks, not to mention road trips and hotels. Baseball players, by nature, are the least likely to abide by protocols. “What happens when we all get it?’’ tweeted Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brett Anderson, speaking for many.

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The NFL has the advantage of a regular season that doesn’t begin until early September, allowing commissioner Roger Goodell to take notes and adapt. But football, as a collision sport played by sweating and breathing warriors, is the riskiest of all coronavirus challenges. “The NBA is a lot different than the NFL because they can actually quarantine all of their players or whoever is going to participate. We have over 2,000 players, even more coaches and staff. We can’t do that,” Jenkins said. “So we’ll end up being on this trust system, the honor system, where we just have to hope that guys are social distancing and things like that. And that puts all of us at risk, not only us as players and who’s in the building, but when you go home to your families. You know, I have parents that I don’t want to get sick.’’ In that vein, college football has zero chance as long as reckless young people jam into bars and spread the virus among themselves and fellow students, with an elite program, Clemson, shaming itself with 37 coronavirus cases. Hockey, like basketball and football, is defined by non-stop contact and in-your-face proximity, giving commissioner Gary Bettman time to study the NBA bubble. And golf? We’d have thought the one socially distanced sport would have few problems, but the COVID-19 dramas build by the day, with Brooks Koepka among players dropping out of the Travelers Championship after caddies tested positive.

“It’s pretty clear this virus isn’t going anywhere,’’ said PGA Tour boss Jay Monahan, warning of “serious repercussions’’ for those not obeying policies. That didn’t stop CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who should know better, from mocking Koepka’s absence. Faldo, ticked off about Koepka’s remark that golf announcers should “shut up and listen’’ in his opposition toward networks placing live microphones on players, said this on the broadcast: “I was looking forward to hearing some more fascinating stuff from him, but unfortunately he wasn’t around this week. I know he’s watching at home, because he loves listening to we analysts and our scintillating insights. He’s probably poolside in his thong, you know, enjoying himself.’’

No, that animal would be tennis king Novak Djokovic, throwing a dance party and infecting himself and others. Koepka actually was taking the responsible approach.

All of which makes me ask once more: Does someone have to die before sports is shut down? Actually, the baseball and football seasons could be canceled by one statewide order in, say California, where five MLB clubs and three NFL teams would have to scramble — to where? — to play home games. If governor Gavin Newsom was forced to close bars in Los Angeles County this past weekend, why would he open stadiums for even spectator-less games? The public health chief in Houston, Dr. David Persse, says he won’t hesitate to shut down Minute Maid Park, which would put the cheating Astros out of their misery. Here is where Silver has another edge: No way Florida governor Ron DeSantis, father of America’s second coronavirus wave, would cancel the NBA season.

Even when it reaches the point where he should, to save lives.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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BSM Writers

Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

Derek Futterman

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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BSM Writers

Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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Barrett Media Writers

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