Call it Coronakarma. In the same week COVID-19 hospitalized President Trump — just hours after he mocked the size of Joe Biden’s mask, said “the end of the pandemic is in sight’’ and continued a year-long delusional dance challenged in U.S. presidential history only by Frank Underwood in “House Of Cards’’ (and he wasn’t real) — how fitting to see the NFL slammed by its own virus crisis.
A coincidence, it is not. In the league’s hellbent quest to snag as much of a $17 billion pot as possible this season, commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners embraced Trump’s urging that major sports play on through the pandemic, even if some of those owners loathe the president. As COVID continues to rage for a ninth month in America, what did all of these men gain from an abundance of hubris, ignorance and hypocrisy?
Grim answer: A place in medical limbo and potential American infamy, with the most powerful person in the free world and the most prominent sports enterprise in the Western Hemisphere weakened because neither treated the pandemic with appropriate concern. Trump has been tethered to his room in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, at the mercy of antibody cocktails, experimental treatments, steroids and whatever else they pump into his 74-year-old, somewhat obese body.
The NFL? Goodell has the freedom to apply common epidemiological sense and call an immediate timeout on the season, which would allow the league and its franchises to reassess protocols and make sure they know what they’re doing while risking the health of thousands. But that’s not how football people roll, even as players and coaches eschew masks, violate policies and make a daily mockery of a virus that has killed almost 210,000 Americans. The league marches on, despite evidence that sports playing inside restrictive environments — NBA, NHL — can avoid COVID-disruptions and complete seasons, while football on the professional and college levels is encountering the same perils outside a Bubble that pummeled Major League Baseball. The college game recklessly marches on, too, as fans foolishly allowed into stadiums on COVID-ravaged campuses are clustering without masks and social distancing, forcing SMU police to clear the entire student section Saturday and the SEC to ponder an autumn of outbreaks in the stands, which conceivably could spread to players.
People still don’t get it.
Until, you know, they GET it.
The sports model on how to survive in a pandemic has been authored, for the most part, by none other than LeBron James. Assuming Game 3 was a momentary and embarrassing snooze and not a sign of more lethargy ahead, the Lakers remain comfortably positioned to win the NBA Finals, though they’ve allowed a hungry badass named Jimmy Butler a crack in the concrete door. Disgusted as he left the court before the buzzer — the loss to the undermanned Heat means two more days in the Bubble — James can’t allow himself to commit eight turnovers and let various teammates, including Anthony Davis, be no-shows again in Game 4. Otherwise, the “LeBron legacy’’ questions become loud and persistent; the Heat, after all, are without Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, leaving Butler to carry the night and mouth “trouble’’ to his Miami teammates in the closing seconds. As in, the Lakers are in trouble. They aren’t in trouble yet, but it makes for a more watchable series.
Butler, for instance, admitted to telling James, “You’re in trouble,’’ not long before James exited the court with 10 seconds left — not a good look, and one we’ve seen before in failure. Butler said he simply was responding to what LeBron told him earlier in the game. Observe how far Butler has come from humble beginnings, in life and basketball: He’s mouthing off to the King. “First of all, we’re not going to act like I’m just out there talking trash, because I’m not,’’ Butler said. “LeBron said it to me at the end of the first. That’s what happened. I just said it to him in the fourth quarter.’’
James took the high road, describing Butler as one of the game’s great competitors and someone he’ll miss when he retires from the sport. “I don’t feel like we’re concerned,’’ James said about a Lakers performance he deemed as “poor’’ Sunday night. “We know we can play a lot better. We have an opportunity to take a commanding lead Tuesday night.’’
And if they do, he’ll be one victory from an achievement more sweeping and impressive than finally claiming a title for Cleveland in 2016. For more than three months, James has stayed true to Bubble life, followed all the protocols, vigilantly fought racial injustice and police brutality, urged people to vote and vowed to win in Kobe Bryant’s memory while aiming for his fourth title. Shouldn’t everyone be taking notes in America, in sports?
Much of the country still refuses to grasp what’s happening, whether it’s a president who will return from the hospital and claim COVID really is the common flu or a league boss determined to navigate a season out of greed when Vegas odds don’t favor him. “We’re continuing to be vigilant, flexible and adaptable,’’ said Goodell, trotting out words he used in July when October demands much more urgency. In the space of days, the Tennessee Titans were shut down by a COVID outbreak of 20 cases while Cam Newton — one of the NFL’s biggest stories so far and a self-described “Superman’’ — also tested positive for the virus. That quickly, the league was blindsided by an inescapable 2020 truth: Its expectation of completing the season, through the Super Bowl in February, can shrink to utter folly at any moment.
If there’s one certainty about this mindbleep of an infectious disease, it’s that anyone who thinks it’s a bunch of hooey soon will have his head or ass pressed against a toilet for days. The virus likely is determining the future leadership of this country. On a much lesser scale, it already has shot holes in the almighty NFL shield. Or, more to the point, COVID has popped at least four of Goodell’s “32 separate bubbles’’ before the regular season is a month old. When Newton’s positive test coincided with another positive test at the Chiefs facility, the league shifted Sunday’s hyped Chiefs-Patriots matchup to Monday night in Kansas City — assuming more tests don’t turn up positive. Cold reality is, the NFL schedule no longer can be written in anything but pencil. The two games postponed Sunday could be four games next week. Or seven next month.
Wrote Newton in a somber-faced Instagram selfie, which shows a mask worn improperly on his neck: “I will never question God’s reasoning; just will always respond with `Yes Lord!!’’’ I appreciate all the love, support, and WELL WISHES!! I will take this time to get healthy and self reflect on the other AMAZING THINGS THAT I SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR!!!’’
Brady, after throwing five touchdown passes Sunday to outduel Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, didn’t comment about the health status of his New England successor. It’s best he said nothing; Brady was the one flouting protocols by practicing without a mask at a Tampa public park. “We were told during training camp that this could happen, if you’re not diligent, you’re not careful,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “I’m home-schooling my kids, we’re not having guests over at the house. You have to do those things if you want to play the games on Sundays.”
Sounding much like commissioner Rob Manfred when MLB was reeling from outbreaks, the NFL is pointing fingers. The problem, the league says, isn’t with the protocols; the failure lies in the protocols not being followed, which the league expects to find as representatives scour the Nashville landscape for clues. This as the league conducted a conference call with all teams concerning COVID “accountability, learnings and requirements.’’ What Goodell won’t admit, like Manfred, is that the NFL didn’t communicate COVID evils strongly enough from the season’s outset. Seven head coaches have failed to wear face masks on the sidelines, including two (Jon Gruden and Sean Payton) who contracted the virus, setting a poor example for the league and the U.S. population. Ravens coach John Harbaugh lowered his mask to argue with an official, spraying saliva droplets in the poor guy’s face. Last week, several Raiders players weren’t wearing masks or socially distancing during a charity event in Nevada. No amount of fines or threats of suspensions and docked draft picks seems to faze the men in uniform when in the heat of battle.
Leave us alone, they say. We’re busy.
“I understand that we’re all chasing perfection,” Harbaugh said. “We try to be as perfect as we can. It’s a pretty hard standard to hold other people to. But you try the best you can. That’s all I really have to say about it.”
Perfection? We’ll accept mask mediocrity at this stage.
All of which throws America into a deeper daze as it searches, in vain, for any semblance of normalcy in sports. Distracted by Trump’s illness and the many news channels smothering it, sports fans have tuned out the NBA Finals; Game 1 was the lowest-rated Finals game since 1994, when millions were busy watching O.J. Simpson in a white Bronco. At least baseball is playing its postseason in its customary month, but if viewership has taken a beating in previous autumns, how many will watch now? Ratings are undeniably down throughout the industry. And it’s not hard to explain.
The scope and grandeur of sports simply isn’t the same. It’s difficult to wrap oneself into a game when your team, even the Lakers or Stanley Cup champion Lightning, is in a Bubble with no fans or pomp. Or when you have no idea if a game will be postponed or how many missing players will dilute the experience. Or when the NFL’s biggest stories are Josh Allen and the 4-0 Bills, the Kevin Stefanski-revived Browns and the dismal Cowboys, who are worse under Mike McCarthy than they were under Jason Garrett. Or when college football actually is moving forward with a four-team playoff when ACC teams are playing 11 games, the SEC and Big 12 are playing 10 games, the Big Ten is playing nine and the Pac-12 is playing seven. At some point, the joy of having sports is interrupted by the jolt that sports is still very messed up and disjointed without fans in the arena and disposable energy across America. Even when Russell Wilson throws 16 TD passes in four games and leaves the stage to Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, a delectable treat is shrouded in the 2020 haze.
Though only a few realists wanted to hear it, football is the sport most vulnerable to the coronavirus. As I’ve said and written, ad nauseam, dozens of players and personnel on each team are perpetually in close contact — on lines of scrimmage during games and practices, at facilities, in locker rooms, on road trips in planes and hotels and dining rooms. The NFL has been administering daily COVID tests — and an outbreak happened anyway, with the Titans reporting positive tests for 10 players and 10 personnel members. That should sound alarms that the worst could be ahead. Exposed to the outside world every day, NFL and college teams are required to be extra-diligent when they return to their living quarters or, perhaps, wander into public restaurants and bars. For weeks, the NFL’s plan seemed to work. After the Titans’ outbreak, the most accomplished coach of his time, Bill Belichick, voiced pride in how the Patriots were eluding COVID issues. “We monitor everything every day. We don’t just do it when there’s a problem or something comes up somewhere else,’’ he said. “We do it on a daily basis and make everyone aware — because this is everybody. It’s not just players; it’s players and coaches and staff and everybody else. If we can do something better, then we talk to them about how we can do it better. So we try to monitor it the best we can, and we, I think, are pretty vigilant with all of us.”
Until Newton was placed on the dreaded reserve/COVID-19 list. This forced the Patriots to take a game-day flight — two planes, 3 1/2 hours in the air — and turn to backups Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham in a rushed reset Monday night. See how this already has altered competitive balance at the most important position in team sports and further discombobulated a schedule complicated by a Titans-Steelers postponement? It doesn’t require much imagination to see how the season could become a logistical entanglement; at least MLB, when it was bombarded by summer outbreaks, had time to shut down a team or two for weeks. The NFL doesn’t have such a luxury. As for the idea of sequestering everyone in hotels in home cities, the Players Association shut it down.
Of course, there still is no exact science about how COVID is contracted and spreads. In the Titans’ case, multiple positive tests over several weeks seemed to take an eventual toll. In other cases, a player can catch it from a family member or child or simply by happenstance. On the college level, Notre Dame’s outbreak was linked to players and coaches sitting together for a team meal — dumb, dumb, dumb — and a player vomiting on the sideline. Such irresponsibility is a poor reflection on school leadership — namely the president, Red. John I. Jenkins, who was maskless when he attended the ceremony for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Apologizing to students, Jenkins wrote in a letter: “I know many of you have read about the White House ceremony I recently attended. I write to express my regret for certain choices I made that day and for failing to lead as I should have.’’ Days later, after Trump saluted Notre Dame during a debacle of a presidential debate, Jenkins tested positive for the virus.
If it can happen in Tennessee, if it can happen in South Bend, it can happen anywhere.
The NFL insults us all by treating the virus like an ankle sprain and simply playing the game a night or two later. College football, with a power base in the Southeast, can be even more careless. The coach who slayed LSU last month, Mississippi State’s Mike Leach, hasn’t been wearing his facial covering as mandated by the SEC. “I tried to remember the best I could. Then I found myself talking all the time,’’ said Leach, who calls the team’s offensive plays. “So between me taking it down to talk, me lifting it up and it falling down on its own and me remembering to put it back up, I think there were a number of challenges there.”
Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, responded with a two-page memo to coaches and warned of consequences. Leach responded with trademark sarcasm in a back-and-forth with the New York Times. “Do you ever find that pretty soon those things will start to smell bad, and all of a sudden, you’re going: `What’s that smell? What’s going on out there?’ No, there’s nothing going on out there. That’s your breath,’’ he said. “I find myself too preoccupied to do it, and then all of a sudden I notice it’s around my neck down there.’’
Eventually, Leach centered on the political heart of the matter. “I try to do my best with it,’’ he said, “but once you’re six feet apart, I can’t help but wonder if some of this isn’t a homage to politicians.’’
Saturday, Leach and Mississippi State were muffled in a shocking loss to Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ first-year coach, Sam Pittman, dutifully wears a mask, saying, “I couldn’t live with myself if I thought I had transferred the virus to somebody.’’
Coronakarma, to paraphrase John Lennon, is gonna get you.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
What Does Bob Iger Back On Top At Disney Mean For Gambling At ESPN?
“Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly.”
Will the Mouse House continue to stray from its family-first image and expand its presence in the world of sports betting? After Bob Iger’s retirement set the stage for Bob Chapek’s role as chief executive officer, many wondered how it would impact Disney’s sports betting curiosities. While Iger said in 2019 that he couldn’t foresee Disney “facilitating gambling in any way,” things slowly changed under his successor’s leadership.
During Chapek’s tenure as Disney CEO, ESPN — arguably its biggest sub-brand — would announce partnerships with the likes of Caesars Sportsbook and DraftKings, even owning a roughly 6% stake in the latter. The partnerships, in Chapek’s eyes, were needed so ESPN could look externally for help breaking into sports gambling.
“We at ESPN have the ability to do that. Now we’re going to need a partner to do that, because we’re never going to be a [sports] book, that’s never in the cards for the Walt Disney Company,” Chapek told CNBC in an interview last September. “But at the same time, to be able to partner with a well-respected third party can do that for us.”
Any further interest in Disney’s sports betting endeavors can yield a big payday for the entertainment behemoth. The Wall Street Journal speculated in August 2021 that an ESPN licensing deal would cost sports betting companies at least $3 billion over the course of several years, a figure that appears to hold weight with industry experts.
Josh Taylor, a content creator focused on the Walt Disney Company at his YouTube Channel @ModernMouse, believes that $3 billion could be the minimum amount that Disney charges its sports betting partner, which could be DraftKings. Last October, one month before Chapek was ousted as Disney CEO and replaced by Iger, Bloomberg reported that ESPN was nearing a large new partnership with DraftKings.
When Chapek was at the helm of Disney, Taylor thought that ESPN’s bevy of sports programming — SportsCenter and Fantasy Sports, to name a few — would mutually benefit both Disney and DraftKings in an expanded partnership.
“The internet provides stats, but shows on ESPN can provide more insight that you can’t get from stats necessarily,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Coverage of injuries, team shake ups, etc… are something that goes hand in hand with sports betting and fantasy leagues. A deal with DraftKings keeps people watching ESPN longer and more intently. On the flip side, a big brand like ESPN backing DraftKings gives it legitimacy and safety. Because ESPN is a trusted brand, gambling with them seems safer and will likely garner more people to do so.”
Following Chapek’s ouster at Disney however, there is some uncertainty about the latter’s sports betting future. While Iger has yet to comment on Disney’s gambling plans following his return as CEO, he might try to reverse Chapek moves that appeared to run antithetical to the company’s wholesome reputation.
“Iger now coming back does make the Draft Kings deal less likely,” Taylor said. “I almost think its a dead deal. Under Chapek, I think the company was willing to make moves like that, but Iger believes more in keeping Disney and all of its subsidiaries more family-friendly. He’s still someone who wants to bring in money for the company, but Bob Chapek was more about money than about the continued legacy of a brand.”
With Chapek revealing plans to lower Disney’s expenses through layoffs and hiring freezes prior to his departure, Iger might take it one step further. The rumored DraftKings mega-extension could also fall victim to Iger’s possible penny-pinching plans for Disney.
“With ESPN reportedly asking for $300mm a year per our channel checking, could DraftKings even afford to do that deal? Especially in light of its recent 3rd Quarter results and the investor reaction to its apparent inability to reduce costs?” said Eilers & Krejcik Gaming (EKG) Partner Emeritus Chris Grove in the most recent edition of the research firm’s weekly “EKG Line” report. “Bottom line, in the current market, we find it hard to see who would pay up for an exclusive ESPN deal—unless the price drops significantly.”
An increasingly competitive sports betting landscape might also make Iger less apt to expand Disney’s resources in that area. Of the United States’ 59 sports-betting operators in October, only three had double-digital market share. FanDuel leads the way at roughly 42%, followed by DraftKings and BetMGM. Fanduel CEO Amy Howe told CNBC on November 16th, that, “almost 90% of the operators have a sub-2% share of the market.”
Coincidentally or not, Howe’s comments came one day after Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin revealed plans to launch sports betting operations in January 2023 and to expand gambling nationwide by the start of next year’s NFL season.
“It should be clear that new entrants that are entering now at this point may face a real challenge taking on scale players who have more than a four-year head start,” Howe added.
Fanatics’s reveal was made just days apart from competitors like MaximBet and FuboTV sharing plans to shutter their respective sportsbook operations. That might give Iger more of a reason to weigh the pros and cons of Disney’s sports betting plans.
“If I am looking at ways to grow profits for shareholders, sports betting is not the easiest way of making that happen, at least yet,” John Holden, a business professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote in an email.
Iger’s second run at Disney has many wondering if it will be as successful as its first. Boomerang CEO success stories are few and far between in business. Outside of Steve Jobs’ second stint as CEO of Apple and Howard Schultz’s second run at Starbucks, returning CEOs and founders generally lead their companies to perform, “significantly worse than other types of CEOs,” management professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, UC Irvine and Marquette University have found.
The researchers pointed to past experiences of boomerang CEOs’ performances at their companies. Xerox’s stock plummeted 60% after Paul Allaire was CEO between 2000 and 2001. Dell’s valuation dropped by 33% following the return of founder Michael Dell. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang took over as CEO of 2007 and, after struggling to compete with Google, stepped down in under two years.
Iger will be looking to recapture the magic at Disney that made him one of this country’s most successful CEOs. He led the acquisition of major Disney brands like Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. He also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox. He also spearheaded Disney’s efforts to dominate the streaming market through Disney+, which under Chapek’s leadership saw global subscribership swell to 164.2 million.
Within a day of Iger announcing his return to Disney, shares jumped as high as 6%. For now, it might be wise to watch how he handles Disney’s sports betting aspirations before making any assumptions, argues Holden.
“Perhaps Iger is the magician who can find all the profitability,” Holden said.
Eddie Moran is a sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, and has previously written for Front Office Sports, The Basketball Tournament, the USGA, and BU’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. He can be reached on Twitter @EddieMorannn.
ESPN Radio Dreams Came True For Amber Wilson
“I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized.”
It feels like a dream come true, because that’s exactly what it is. Since Amber Wilson was 12 years old, she wanted to work for ESPN. On January 2nd, 2023, her dream will be realized when she takes the airwaves on Joe and Amber, with Joe Fortenbaugh, the newest show on ESPN Radio.
But what makes this opportunity even more special is what Wilson’s 12-year-old self didn’t know at the time. One day, she would find herself in a spotlight that few other women in sports radio have been.
“It feels like a dream come true, because it is,” said Wilson. “And it’s not just being a host, it’s being a named host with my own show. That was the ultimate dream to be able to do that. I’ve wanted to work for ESPN since I was 12 years old. It’s quite literally my childhood dream realized. It’s been a really long journey to get here, over 20 years, and there’s certainly been some twists and turns but I think that makes it all the sweeter, frankly.”
This is a huge opportunity for Wilson and her career, but she takes immense pride in showing women there’s more opportunities in sports than just television. The opportunity with ESPN Radio didn’t come without twists and turns in her career, but the most rewarding feeling is helping lead the charge for more women in sports radio.
“It means everything,” said Wilson. “I hope I don’t have the job because I’m a woman. I hope I have it because of my merit. I’m grateful they saw an opportunity here to maintain a woman in their lineup as a named host. I think that’s incredibly important, because Sarah Spain said on the Around the Horn when she talked about the end of her show and her run on ESPN Radio, I think Tony Reali said when Sarah was growing up there were no Sarah Spain’s on radio. That’s been something I’ve noticed even during my career.”
“I’ve had this dream since I was 12, but it was to go into television. I saw women on television in sports when I was 12, not many, but I didn’t know women in sports radio when I was growing up. So it wasn’t a medium I considered getting into. When I started my career it was all about TV. I sort of found my own way to sports radio and I was listening to it as a consumer all the time. I was listening to all men.
“It took me a long time to break into it, but I always loved it myself. I do think it’s important to show women that, hey, there’s other avenues here if you want to work in sports and there’s not just one way to do it. Hopefully my presence will do that. Just like Sarah Spain did. There’s still far too few, I’m the only named host in the lineup, so there’s far too few, but at least there’s some progress. But I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement for the debut of Joe and Amber on ESPN Radio. Especially for those who have heard the duo work together in the past. For the past few years, their paths have crossed as fill-in hosts across the network. Naturally, that means there’s already a level of chemistry that’s been developed between Wilson and Fortenbaugh.
But there’s still a few weeks until the show debuts in early January, which means there’s time to further the chemistry even more. And that’s exactly what Wilson and Fortenbaugh are doing, because they both understand the value of chemistry on a radio show.
“We’re going to talk as much as we can leading up to the show to further develop that chemistry,” said Wilson. “We’re going to even pick out a sports subject, banter on it and do a mini show over the phone. We’ve both been in radio so long, he had a local show in San Francisco and I had a local show in Miami, so we’ve worked with different co hosts over the years and we know that, first and foremost, chemistry is everything when it comes to a radio relationship.
“It’s a very intimate relationship, I always say in sports radio with the host and the audience, because you’re really letting them in. There’s so much space with sports radio, which is what I love about it compared to television. There’s so much more space to bring your personality into it and certainly it helps if you have a report with your co-host and you have chemistry. That’s something that’s really important for us, for us to further develop that and we’re making an act to do so.”
The chemistry that’s already been established between Wilson and Fortenbaugh will undoubtedly help when the show debuts next month. But if you’ve heard the two together on air before, don’t necessarily expect an exact carbon copy of the shows you heard.
“We have to iron out the details and work with whoever our producer ends up being, as far as really structuring the show, but it’s certainly going to be our own flavor, since it’s our own show,” Wilson said. “Whereas before, we were filling in on other shows and trying to stay true to what they had developed and what they normally cover. It’ll probably be a little different, obviously Joe brings the better portion of things to the table, as well.
“We’ll definitely be doing some of that to get his expertise, although it’s not going to be a betting show, it’s going to be a talk show. They can still expect all the fun with sports talk and we really want to engage with the audience, as well, and put our own style and brand on it.”
Fortenbaugh is most notably known for his expertise in the sports betting space. And rightfully so, with how successful he’s been with sports betting content. However, you won’t find anybody that will doubt his ability to be more than just the ‘gambling guy’ on the show. He’ll get that opportunity on Joe and Amber. Wilson is eager and excited to be more involved in sports gambling and thinks it’s a great opportunity for her to learn from the best.
“I love that I get to work with someone with that expertise, because it’s not my expertise,” said Wilson. “It’s a growing space that I think is only going to continue to grow. I’m just so grateful to be able to learn it and absorb some of his knowledge, frankly. I think it will be invaluable to the listener and I’m pretty stoked to be able to work with someone who has that.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Should Baker Mayfield Start Thinking About A Media Career?
“What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.”
“Coach wants to see you, oh and bring your playbook”. Words no professional football player ever wants to hear. That means you’re done with that team, and it’s on to the next, or in some cases, on to a new adventure altogether.
Athletes never know when that day will come. Some are better prepared to deal with sudden change than others. A few have a skill set that can make it an easy transition to coaching, front office work, or broadcasting.
Outspoken former players or managers seem like they have a leg up on the competition. Every network wants compelling characters that bring viewership. Most often times the player that’s been a great quote their entire career or the one that isn’t afraid to speak his or her mind that stands out in the booth or studio.
When the news broke Monday that Baker Mayfield was going to be released by the Carolina Panthers, it got me thinking. Mayfield was a top quarterback in college football, won a Heisman Trophy, and was the top pick in the NFL Draft just 4 years ago. His tale is a familiar one, great in college, so-so in the pros. Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow are a couple of Mayfield’s contemporaries that fit that same bill. So, what might be next for him? Television?
The two examples I cited, have found life after football as analysts for college football broadcasts. Leinart is part of the studio crew at Fox and Tebow once worked for ABC/ESPN. Could Mayfield succeed in a television role? Absolutely. Would it take a little work to get him ready? Absolutely. There could be some stumbling blocks though.
Mayfield has a reputation for being outspoken and irreverent. His personality has been called ‘toxic’ by some, ‘cocky’ by others and ‘brash’ to another audience. But, having a personality is half the battle to work in sports television. Even if the adjectives seem to fit, are they necessarily bad things? Maybe for a football team, but not for a guy that would be talking on television.
Polarizing is another word used to describe Mayfield. His sense of humor, puts one segment of an audience off, while another loves it. For example, over the last few seasons at some postgame press conferences, he interjected phrases and rap songs into his comments. He’s a little ‘off-beat’ too. A few years ago, he took to Twitter, declaring that he and his wife Emily believed they spotted a UFO during an offseason.
The fact he hasn’t turned into a ‘franchise quarterback’ makes his swagger a turnoff to a lot of people. When you’re the number one overall pick in the draft and the success on the field doesn’t equal that status, you’re prime for the picking.
Mayfield has shown a different side to his personality though in various commercials since he was drafted. Most notable are his “Progressive Insurance: At Home with Baker Mayfield” spots. The concept being that his home stadium (at the time First Energy Stadium in Cleveland) was his actual home. He and his wife experience typical homeowner issues in this giant empty stadium. It’s funny and he’s very good in them. Unfortunately, they are no more. He’s also starred in Hulu Live TV commercials, where his face is superimposed on a significantly smaller body. It’s strange, but he makes it work.
One of Mayfield’s harshest critics, Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd thinks the QB could make a career change work. On a recent show, the often-loud critic of Mayfield, was confident the former number one pick would be great on the air. “If I owned a network, I’d put Baker on as a college football announcer tomorrow,” he said. “Now he’s not (Joel) Klatt or (Kirk) Herbstreit, but I would put him on a college game. He’s got huge credibility collegiately, he’s totally outspoken.” Cowherd went on to say Mayfield could be in the #2 College Football booth in two years.
Not just anyone that’s outspoken can make it as an analyst. I think of Charles Barkley, Ozzie Guillen and even Randy Moss to an extent. Three guys that have made a good living after playing/managing by being who they always have been. All were on the highest stage and each was a noteworthy quote in their playing days and now in their roles on camera. That means something. Their opinions come from years of experience in what they did. They’ve seen things, learned things, and know how to translate those nuggets into rants and viral moments. It’s hard to fake and you either have it or you don’t.
What you see and hear is what you get with this trio. Like them or not, agree with them or not, it really doesn’t matter to them or the networks they work with. Barkley, Guillen and Moss are each the type of commentator that draws in an audience. It’s the old Howard Stern prophecy, people who didn’t like him listened almost as long or longer to him to hear what he’d say next.
Mayfield would have some cache in the college game. But thinking that just because he’s a good quote and an opinionated, and outspoken guy, he would automatically be able to work in media isn’t correct. Mayfield would need to put some work into it, not only in preparation, but in being a good teammate in a studio or booth setting.
Now, Baker Mayfield is spending at least the rest of this season still on an active NFL roster after signing with the Los Angeles Rams. That means there is time to get things right if and when he wants to try his hand at broadcasting.
What should he anticipate when that time comes? Here are a few things I would expect from Baker if he were my broadcast partner.
ACT LIKE A ROOKIE
It’s easy for those that played the game to think that they know everything there is to know about that sport. But there’s a lot to learn about the broadcasting game. There’s nothing worse than someone with little to no experience coming into an unfamiliar situation and acting like a know-it-all.
I would be hopeful that someone trying this for the first time would act like a rookie. They should be receptive to coaching and try to make a good impression. Just as in football, there are subtle nuances that need to be learned to make the relationship between a play-by-play announcer or host and his or her analyst.
Not unlike football, there’s a ton of preparation that goes into a broadcast. Not just knowing the teams, but understanding the flow of a broadcast. Prep and reps are critical in sports and in broadcasting.
As a play-by-play announcer, I expect my analyst to be prepared and not just with cliches and “when I played” moments. Believe it or not “Mr. Former Football Player”, for your first time around, we’re going to have practice too. Oh, and there’s game tape to watch in this job too. There are coaches and players to talk to as well. Don’t come into my house thinking this is easy.
A good relationship between a broadcaster and his or her analyst is probably the most critical aspect. It’s not so important that you be my friend, but teamwork is crucial.
Think about it in sports terms. I’m sure there were teammates that the player didn’t exactly get along with, but had to coexist to make the team better. Announcing and hosting is a team sport too. It takes numerous behind-the-scenes people, a director, producer, production assistants, stage managers and audio folks to make it all work. Does everybody go out to dinner every night? No. Does it matter? Not when the end game is to make it the best broadcast possible every single solitary night or day.
It is a demanding job. Yes, you won’t get hit every play, you might not get booed, but you’re going to have to work. If you come in understanding that, you’ll be fine. It’s going to be a short foray into the broadcasting world for you for anyone that doesn’t get that.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.