God help me. I don’t get it.
We are in what Sports Twitter has dubbed “Jim Nantz Season.” It’s when CBS flows perfectly from the NCAA Tournament right into coverage of The Masters. With apologies to the NFL, this is the stretch of 30 days on the sports calendar most synonymous with Nantz and his pseudo-folksy broadcast style.
There are plenty of people, both amongst fans and our colleagues, that live for this time. To them, Jim Nantz’s voice is synonymous with big moments in sports. His style is pure class and everything “that sports should be.”
I’m not one of those people. To me, Jim Nantz’s voice and persona are so schmaltzy that I have taken to referring to him as the human embodiment of any nondescript item or brand. He’s a human Entenmann’s crumb cake, a human Vinyard Vines belt, a human Thomas Kinkade painting, a human This is Us episode. If it’s a soulless and mass-produced version of “high brow,” it is a perfect description for Nantz in my mind.
Do I hate Jim Nantz? No, that would require Jim Nantz make me feel something.
I don’t fault Jim Nantz for his success. I am positive the guy works hard and is available for any task his producers ask him to handle. I am sure he listens to feedback and has thoughts of his own about what can be improved when he rewatches games and rounds he has called. There is no doubt in my mind that he puts in the work necessary to be assigned to call Super Bowls and Final Fours.
I fault the people that have created a cult of personality for a guy, who the most interesting thing about is that he carries a photo of burnt toast in his wallet like it is a beloved grandchild.
He’s got a few anecdotes here and there. His catchphrase, “Hello Friends,” has an origin story that I am sure makes you weep if you’re close to your dad. But really, he’s just some old rich guy that goes places old rich guys go (a private golf club in Augusta) and does things old rich guys do (buy a vineyard, marry a much younger lady, build a replica of Pebble Beach’s signature hole in his backyard). Is it a crime? No, but it isn’t exactly interesting.
I remember around 2010 there was a growing movement for CBS to replace Nantz on the Final Four with Gus Johnson. To me, it made all the sense in the world. Johnson is the life of the broadcast party. Truly, the only play-by-play guy that I can tell apart from any other. His is a style meant for basketball.
The reaction from many in my circle of Southern, white college sports lifers was that it would be sacrilege. “Why, Jim Nantz makes the Final Four special!” they would protest.
Does he though?
Let’s say you are a Virginia or Texas Tech fan and CBS has decided to replace Jim Nantz with the voice of one of those old Speak n’ Spells calling the game. Would that really have kept you from watching the 2019 NCAA Tournament Final? If the answer is yes, you don’t really love your team as much as you think you do.
It’s what makes me laugh when I read that Nantz wants an eight-figure annual salary or that Tony Romo has one. It’s what leaves me scratching my head any time ESPN panics and decides that it must have Al Michaels or Peyton Manning or someone else that commands a $10 million paycheck in the Monday Night Football booth. You could put two college professors in the booth and tell them to discuss The Canterbury Tales instead of the actual game. It’s Monday Night Football. Just don’t give us the Jaguars every week and we’ll probably watch.
Game announcers just don’t matter. It doesn’t mean they don’t have talent or they don’t have to work hard. They do, but this is another example of our industry thinking too much about executives’ and critics’ opinions and not enough about what fans actually prioritize. Even if the argument is “Well Demetri, we aren’t thinking about the fans of Virginia and Texas Tech. We want the casual sports fan to stick around and watch the game,” I would tell you that no amount of Jim Nantz saying “Hello Friends” or Bill Raftery shouting “Onions!” is going to do that.
Over the weekend, I listened to two episodes of the podcast Behind the Bastards that were about Rush Limbaugh’s life and career. Now, I loathe Rush Limbaugh, but the host of the podcast read a quote from him that was brilliant – so brilliant in fact that I don’t remember the quote itself, just the gist of it!
Limbaugh’s reason for doing the style of show that he did was that he wanted to be what listeners cared about. He thought that if what attracted people to his show was the news of the day or their political identity, he would be interchangeable with anyone else, and the day he became too expensive would be the day that his employer told him not to bump his ass on the way out the door. By making his opinion and personality the center of his show, Limbaugh ensured that he was all his listeners cared about. That guaranteed he would be a commodity, something no news anchor or commentator before him ever could be.
If what matters is the game or the round, why does Jim Nantz matter? He doesn’t make anything more fun. He doesn’t make any moment mean something different than anyone else could. The people that like him like him because for 32 years CBS has been telling its audience that Jim Nantz matters. That’s branding, not a fact.
Look, having play-by-play is important. Remember when NBC Sports had been reduced to just the Olympics and the Triple Crown? Yeeesh! Having good play-by-play guys and analysts is important. I know being in this business we’re supposed to look at legends like Nantz or Vin Scully or Marv Albert and say “no one can do it like them,” but I mean, come on.
Really? No one? Pat Sumerall retired and the NFL didn’t suffer. Keith Jackson retired and college football carried on just fine. We have to stop being so precious about the voices we are used to hearing and remember that while fans may like them, the sport itself is really what keeps them coming back.
Phrases like “media is changing” and “this generation doesn’t consume sports like their parents do” are thrown around a lot and often interpreted as if they are unique to the 2020’s. The fact is media has been constantly changing since media was invented and generations never consume anything the same way their parents do. Is Nantz a legend? Sure, and he has plenty of contemporaries that are as well, but does paying them or propping them up to an audience in that way do anything but tickle a certain segment of the population’s nostalgia bone? Or worse, does it just tickle our industry’s nostalgia bone?
Jim Nantz is fine at what he does. I am sure he is a nice guy. But the cult of personality CBS has created around him is the epitome of the sports media industry wearing blinders and high-fiving itself instead of asking what really matters to its audience.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.