Marcellus Wiley Is Swinging For The Fences After ‘Speak For Yourself’
“I’ve been broadcasting for 25 years, and I’ve never swung for the fences… I think that was starting to starve me. Some of my muscles were atrophying in terms of what I really want to do globally.”
There’s a new commercial for FTX featuring Tom Brady. The concept is that Brady is always looking for ways to be better. He’s striving to be an improved version of himself with smarter ways to practice, recover and diet. If things can be better, why would you be satisfied with anything that’s second-rate? I don’t know if Marcellus Wiley will be the next pitchman for FTX, but he has the same mindset and approach while viewing his professional career.
Wiley, a former 10-year NFL defensive end, has been a great broadcaster for over two decades. The Compton, California native is a dynamic blend of intelligence and entertainment. In ways, he’s like a modern-day Todd Christensen. Wiley is a former player-turned-broadcaster, a scholar who graduated from Columbia that also possesses the ability to joke around on a locker-room level. I’m convinced that if Wiley sat down for five minutes with pretty much anybody, he’d be able to connect with them. Not everybody has that ability, but a smart person with personality and widespread interests does.
Dat Dude, a nickname affectionately given to Wiley by his former San Diego Charger teammates, talks about his professional goals and visions. He reveals why he’s no longer doing Speak For Yourself with former co-host Emmanuel Acho. Wiley also talks about big things that are brewing for him at FOX Sports, no longer wanting to sell cotton candy, and some great advice he received from Mike Golic. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When and why did you decide that broadcasting was something that you wanted to pursue as a career?
Marcellus Wiley: The when was probably my fourth or fifth year. I actually had a show in Buffalo my rookie year. I’ve been broadcasting since I was in the NFL, day one. They would come to my house. We would do interviews, I would show them my life. I would cook, I would rap, I would DJ, I would do everything that I was normally doing, but a camera was there. I guess I was the first Kardashian because I had a reality show back in the ‘90s.
I didn’t make a decision to do it. I didn’t even think that was broadcasting. I thought it was just like, all right, y’all filming me live. It was about San Diego, second year, we didn’t make the playoffs again. They were starting the NFL Network. Like starting it, and I remember being a correspondent. It was the weirdest feeling ever. I’m not in the playoffs, but I’m still an active player. I’m doing this San Diego Chargers game. The Chargers lost and I’m interviewing LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). I remember when the game was over, the scrum of everyone running and trying to get an interview. I was so nervous. I didn’t run, I was like, I feel weird, like I should be playing. I should have on pads, but here I am with a microphone and a suit on. I’m like what happened to me?
I remember walking slower than everybody being over cool, really in fear, and LT finding me. I got the LT interview, and I want to say Peyton Manning somehow, some way, was like my second interview. That was easy. Everyone else bum-rushing him, bum-rushing him, and they’re giving me eye contact in the fifth quarter as they’re walking to the locker room, and just talking to me for real. I was like, whatever that feeling was in that moment, that was as close as I felt to being on the field running out the tunnel making plays. I think just because of that closeness in terms of energy, and translating to sport, probably planted the first seed in my head like yeah, when this is over, this is what I’m going to do.
BN: What’s the most fun you’ve had either in radio or TV along the way?
MW: Man, I am really trying to narrow down from a thousand and one different moments. I will start it off like this: I got in broadcasting and then I worked at ESPN. NFL Network didn’t want me because I wasn’t a Hall of Famer; I was like forget y’all. I’ll pay y’all back. Here I am at ESPN and I’m doing the car wash as they call it, all the shows, NFL Live. I remember Mike Golic came up to me the first day after doing Mike & Mike. Now I’m an active player just retired. I don’t know how big Mike & Mike is. I just think it’s a normal radio show. I’m like, why are y’all filming? It’s a radio show. Find out after I do that show — I co-hosted it with him — how big it was. Everyone was blowing me up like, dog, you did Mike & Mike and you just got there?
Mike Golic told me he said, man, keep your personality and keep telling stories. He says that’s your secret sauce. I was able to navigate a career where I was able to have personality in all of my broadcasting more than just analytics or just X’s and O’s. I was more I’s and you’s from day one. So I’m doing NFL Live and we’re talking about third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal, and I’m sitting here talking about the club, and stories, and I know that guy, and we hung out.
Seth Markman at the time, the boss of the show, came to me and he was like, Marcellus, you’re not long for this show, and that’s a good thing. What happened from there is SportsNation. I started doing SportsNation, which was so personality driven. It started to snowball from there. I carved out a lane before it was really carved for us in the industry.
All of that said my favorite moment? I don’t really have a favorite moment. I know when I feel the best. I feel the best when I’m with a co-host or a guest and we came here to talk one thing and we end up talking that, but we take it to so many different levels and peel back so many layers. We all do it, even if we’re in disagreement, with respect. That’s my favorite place to go is to bring all four corners of the room together, and talk through it and smile about it.
BN: What has been the most challenging show you’ve worked on?
MW: The most challenging. Ahh, man. Probably Speak For Yourself the last two years. Let me preface it by saying it’s because it switched from the first two years. I left ESPN with Jason Whitlock being a recruiter, coming to my back yard it felt like every day. It wasn’t that often, but he made me feel like a 5-star player. [Laughs] Recruiting me to come to FOX. He had this show structure and he had this show element and design and heart to do a show he wanted to do.
It was right up my alley because for the longest I’ve always been this balancing act. I’ve never been the football. I’ve never wrapped my entire identity around sports. It’s something that I did, but it wasn’t who I was. When the offer came to do a show that was deeper than sports or more than sports, oh, I was all-in. Then that shifted because Jason left. And he didn’t even tell me he was leaving too so you know, he’s still my boy, but hey, Jason, you already know how you got your boy. But that wasn’t a death blow.
Nick Khan, my super agent, friend, co-CEO of WWE, he also left. So I’m not even talking about the show; I’m talking about what’s going on while I’m doing this show. The reason I went to FOX to do a show is now gone, and my conductor, navigator of it all was now gone. But he planted the seed in me that really has blossomed of late. He was like, look man, at this point in my life, I’ve done amazing at what I’m doing, but there’s a certain point you got to stop swinging for singles and doubles and try to hit one over the fence. I was listening to that because he was really saying, I gotta get deeper into my passion, but also swing for it.
I’ve been broadcasting for 25 years, and I’ve never swung for the fences. Okay, you got this base hit. Okay, now I’m doing a show with Golic. All right, another base hit, I’m with Beadle. Then a base hit, I’m with Max. I’ve always kind of just been with great co-hosts who, at times, they swung for the fences in their respects. I always just sat there taking my base hits just rounding the bases.
When Acho came, one, the show completely switches in dynamic because they’re two different people. Duh. I’m doing the same show a different way and then it’s all of a sudden not the same show. I love doing it with Acho because I knew Acho from before. That’s my friend. He used to be quote-unquote, maybe a mentee, if you could call it that. He came to SportsNation one day and we just exchanged numbers and we used to talk all the time. I used to tell him how I was and he was telling me how it’s going. We just broke bread like that and became like my little bro, big bro, just because I’m way older than him. He was my boy. We had fun doing the show, but it was a different show.
I think that was starting to starve me. Some of my muscles were atrophying in terms of what I really want to do globally. I like it real. I like it raw. I like it deep. I want to bring the sociology of sports out. Our show was going in a direction and format that was going to be lighter. I have done fluffy long enough and I had done SportsNation. I’ve done fluff. I know how to sell cotton candy, but it was time to get to the meat and potatoes. No slight to my boy, Acho, but I was looking different at what I was doing than what he was doing. So, got to a point where the bosses and us, we started to talk through it. They gave me a great plan. They gave me a great consolation if you would.
I still have that muscle that needs to go back to the gym and get his reps in and doing that show wasn’t going to allow me to get those reps. Now the show has rebranded, has shifted to those places. I wish all those dudes luck, and Joy, my girl. I’ve known Joy since she was itty-bitty. I knew Joy before she could even drive, like back in the Miami Dolphin parking lots, Jason Taylor my homie days. I love them all. But I want to tap into my greatest passion and I haven’t been able to do that just yet.
BN: What does swinging for the fences look like for you? What do you want to do next?
MW: Well one, it’s not just commentating sports, it’s connecting with the people. I was going to be a school teacher, or a Dean of Students. That was like my life goal. But I just kept getting bigger, faster, stronger, so I ended up playing football. I wanted to just return home and be a teacher. That’s carved into me. I look at people in this world, all walks of life, and we all meet that moment where it’s a fork in the road. I just kind of want to be a life coach. I want to be a grander voice for those who are confronted with those forks in the road and help them go right, not left, go the right way and not the wrong way. That’s where I need to tap into.
Those are the opportunities that are being presented to me right now in terms of still being who I am in my sport thread. I’m still an athlete, I get it. I’m still a commentator, I love it. I’m still going to do a show on FOX Sports and it’s going to be sports based. It’s going to be football focused..
Swinging for the fences is me taking off the suit, getting from behind the desk, not talking about sports in a binary fashion, not being argumentative, not constantly trying to pit things against each other because it is a competition. But really weave through those nuances that we all sit back when we’re sipping a brew or we’re around our friends or we’re in the bar. There’s a different energy and spirit and there’s a different way that we consume the game than what is happening largely in broadcasting right now.
In broadcasting, we’re going Cowboys, we’re going Dak, we’re going NFC East and then we’re going LeBron and he sneezed. Then it’s going oh, Westbrook’s not happy. And it’s like, I know all these dudes. I know all these scenarios. I lived through this. How dare we now undermine them? How dare we now antagonize everything to kind of bring it to a lower common denominator instead of the love for this? I coach youth football. Every single parent would switch places with every single guy we demonize right now. It’s like you’re on a road to nowhere if we can’t start at the top and properly articulate it, and let people properly consume it. I’m ambitious, but since I’ve been through it, it’s not too far gone.
BN: I’m divorced. For a long time people would ask what happened. It’s like, ahh man, I get why you’re asking, but I’ve been asked that so many times and I just don’t want to talk about it. Is that how you feel with Speak For Yourself when people ask you what happened?
MW: Not completely. But everyone wants to know what happened and I do want to set this straight. FOX loved me. FOX loved Acho. FOX didn’t love what we were doing because that’s not what we were supposed to be doing. Y’all remember that. So FOX said let’s figure out the best alternatives for both. Speak was changing its format. I didn’t want it (to be) Speak. I didn’t want it (to be) Speak For Yourself because Whitlock was Speak For Yourself, as Colin Cowherd was Speak For Yourself with Whitlock. Let’s go all the way back. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.
Now the best version of that was an opportunity and offer to do First Things First. And I wanted to do First Things First, but first, there was conversation of it coming to L.A. Ultimately, it stayed in New York. I still had that opportunity, but as you’re divorced, I’m married with three little ones and a fourth one in New York, which got me on the edge. Boy, I was running that ball, open field, five, four, three, goal, and then no, I didn’t want to cross the goal line.
But my heart is with those guys on that show. I love that show. I love what that could have been and what may come. But I couldn’t do it. We then tried to, all right, land the plane differently, different versions, hybrid New York and L.A. Then I started to feel half pregnant as they say. I’m robbing myself, I’m robbing you, I’m not all-in. This is a trial, this is all new.
Now if they would’ve moved the show to L,A., done deal, I would’ve been the guy. That’s why they don’t have the football guy there constantly right now. It was going to be me. But we’re not there, so I’m going to do my show, which I need a name for — so anybody, everybody something with Dat Dude — I’m going to start it off twice a week and just ramp it up. It’s going to happen that way and meanwhile all these other opportunities — we’re going to have to do a Part 2 interview after everything settles over there because of legalities — I’ll have those other entities land and then I’ll be doing my show on FOX Sports. Then you’ll start to see a fuller expression of me and hopefully it’s going to be a better conversation around sports and life for you.
BN: Awesome, man. I’ll start brainstorming. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. Dem Dudes? [Laughs]
MW: I’ve heard worse. I’ve heard better, but I’ve certainly heard worse. Hey look, if I’m stuck, I’m not judging anybody.
BN: I want to do a couple of rapid fire questions with you; just a couple of quick thoughts on each of these. Who’s the smartest host you’ve worked with in radio or TV?
MW: Oh, Max Kellerman. Not even close. I don’t know how his brain fits in that little head of his, but goodness, he’s like an almanac. He’s like a dictionary. He’s corrected me so many times on air as well. That’s how you know that’s my boy. He’s like, that’s not it. [Laughs] I love that. We went to the same school. It took him way longer to graduate than me. I don’t know how. Maybe he wanted to get like nine degrees, but he’s a genius.
BN: Which school did you both go to?
MW: Columbia. Yeah, we went to Columbia together. He was there before me and after me, but Max at that time was a rapper and in them streets. Different dude.
BN: Who’s the funniest host you’ve worked with?
MW: Oh, man. Oh, that’s so close. Kelvin Washington comes to mind. Kelvin Washington, I call him Wayne Brady light. Like he’s Wayne Brady, a different version. This dude is like the most talented cat I’ve ever seen. Impressions, comedy, it’s almost like he should be on every game show as the host. This dude is next-level hilarious. Every time I see K Dub, I’m cracking up.
BN: Who’s the host you enjoyed working with the most?
MW: Beadle’s so close, but man, she’s a firecracker too. One day Beadle coming in and you’re, aww, look out, mama mad. We used to always say mama mad, and then that wasn’t the day. Most fun? A lot of these are going to get Max. I don’t want to keep Max-ing it out, but let me think, most fun. Charissa is like the best hang. Charissa Thompson, it’s like, oh, we’re working? You forgot. I’ll probably go Charissa because your shoulders are always down with Charissa. She works the room and she just keeps it light.
BN: Last one, not so much rapid fire, but just the script for your next five, 10 years professionally. If you could write it, what would you want that script to look like?
MW: It would have to be full expression of who I am and all of my experiences and perspective. I am creating a structure, a machinery that I can now be in connection with the masses, with the people. What does that look like? I want to be Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, my version. Kevin Samuel, rest in peace, just these people who have these perspectives that enlighten, unify, even sometimes disrupt, but they’re in pursuit of the universal truth, and really trying to just display who they are for all in fullness.
So for me, no more just athlete because I used to hate that growing up and I forgot it for the last 20 years. I became now just broadcaster. You’re getting fluffy off the cotton candy. You’re doing the same thing and it’s amazing, I’m not trying to slight it, but then there’s a part of you that’s starting to grow a little hungry, starving itself as I said before, starting to atrophy. I just want to feed that muscle as well.
The players, before they put the helmet on or after they take it off, I want to talk about that. The times that my family would drive to my games and tailgate in my living room before I left for the stadium. Those experiences where people would be like, what the hell? Yeah, my mama and my grandmama was drunk before kickoff at my house and offered me beer. Never took it. Should’ve, probably would have played better. But the point is, there’s a trillion different ways we can talk about sports, and I just felt that I had done a lot, if not all I could do in just that one vein. Now it’s time to expand it.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at email@example.com.
Fred Roggin Deals in LA Sports on AM Radio
“I simply want to grow and learn every single day. I want to experience new things every day. I have a philosophy, when you stop learning, you die.”
Johnny Carson had a very successful run in late night TV. He was incredibly popular and received many awards as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson aired from 1962 to 1992. What I always found interesting about the show was the amount of planning that went into each episode.
Carson prepared, crafted, and rehearsed scenes over and over again. During the show, it sounded like he was just having a bunch of fun and cutting loose. What’s often overlooked is just how much thought and attention to detail went into each broadcast. There always was a game plan.
Fred Roggin operates very similarly. He teams up with former USC and NFL quarterback Rodney Peete each weekday. Roggin & Rodney airs on AM 570 in Los Angeles. Roggin sounds like he’s having a ton of fun — and he is — but just like Johnny Carson, Roggin plans and pays close attention to detail. It’s one of the reasons he’s been so successful in his distinguished radio and television career.
Considering the fact that Roggin hosts a daily show on AM 570, he has some interesting opinions on the fight to preserve AM radio in cars. Roggin also talks about how the LA sports radio market differs from other places but doesn’t lack passion, and what’s in store for him next after an incredible 43-year run on daily TV. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: You did TV at NBC4 for over four decades. How do you feel now after signing off just a few months ago?
Fred Roggin: It’s interesting, the media business has changed dramatically. And let’s be really honest, television doesn’t have the impact that it one time had. It really doesn’t.
More things are digital than ever before. The only way to succeed, I felt, was to try to be unique and different. Always did feel that way. But it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. I haven’t really retired completely from television because I still may be doing some things, but I stopped doing the daily local news. That’s the thing, I just stopped. It was exhausting me.
It’s funny in LA, in the 43 years I’ve been here, I’ve probably done radio for 20 of them at different places. I started in radio, I’m a radio guy. I always kept my fingers in it because I really enjoyed it. We have more people listening to us on KLAC than were watching our newscast on television. Think about that. And that does not speak to the quality of work we were doing at NBC, because our work has always been impeccable; but it was like, I wanted to have fun. I just didn’t want to do daily local news anymore.
BN: When you’re doing a radio show, I think that you have a great feel for when to switch gears. It’s time to be a little serious about this topic, and now it’s time to have some fun. How would you describe your feel between times of content and times of comedy?
FR: Well, first of all, thank you for saying that. I would hope that’s one of the reasons people listen to us. I think in our business what you find is, some people are all comedy, some people are all opinion. It’s hard, I think, to blend them. Every show is unique. Every personality that does this is unique. Every host is unique. I’ve always looked at it like this, and it was the same philosophy I used in television, when I was on TV, we would change stuff an awful lot. Even if a show was successful, every year or so, I would tweak it. I would change it. The producers would say why? I would always have the same answer; because if I’m bored, I gotta tell you, the viewers will be bored. They don’t even realize it yet, but they will be. So why would we allow them to feel that way?
I think the same holds true in what we do here in radio. You know when it’s enough. If you went to an ice cream store, would you always order the same flavor every single time? No, you have a favorite, but you try different things, otherwise you would become bored. What we try to do, obviously we’re LA based, so we’re going to go hard on the LA teams as much as we can. But then you drop in things that change the pace a bit, give people a breather and a reason to smile or be mad at you. Either way we know they’re going to react. Then keep moving. It’s kind of a tapestry rather than a giant wall painted all one color.
BN: Do you feel like having a TV background helps with pacing and moving a radio show forward?
FR: It’s funny, I think having a radio background helps you in TV. I think radio really helps you in television because if radio is the purest form of communication, you’re forced to learn to talk with people. In TV, you have advantages. I can lean in. I can change my facial expression. I have video that I can narrate directly off a script. Radio you have none of that. Radio forces you to be a solid communicator and that’s why people that do radio can transition to TV. But people that start in TV oftentimes have a very difficult time transitioning to radio.
When I would build TV shows, my background was really in production. I was the guy in front of the camera, but my background is in production. Pacing meant everything. Everything. Visuals meant everything. Changing the tone meant everything. The radio show is very much the same. Our producer, Kevin Figgers, is terrific. I think you know Kevin.
BN: Oh, yeah. Yep. He does a great job.
FR: I’ll tell you, he’s a superstar. He gets it. He’s good. We always talk about the pace and where we should change things and drop things in. We invite everybody to stay for three hours. You know this as well as I do, they don’t. They have lives.
We always have to be mindful of the fact that at any moment, someone could be joining us. At any moment. Our objective is when that person should find us, that we are giving them a reason to stay. Even with our bumper beds that Kevin created, they’re a little different than traditional sports talk radio. They sound more like an FM music station. We stop, boom, cold, hit the music, hit the sounder, and then we tease. We try every day to be mindful of pacing.
In our medium, like Colin Cowherd who’s brilliant, I think the best in the business, there are few guys like him. He distinguishes himself. How can we distinguish ourselves to stand out or attempt to stand out and give people a reason to come to us? It could be the slightest little thing. It could be the pacing of our show. Everything that Kevin does is strategized. Even the music we use for our games, it all has a feel, it all has a pace.
BN: What are your thoughts on the fight to preserve AM radio in cars?
FR: I think it’s a battle worth fighting. Until you do this for a living, you don’t realize how many people listen to us on the AM band, period. We have listeners that still listen on transistor radios. These are valuable human beings, they make a difference. The AM band provides information in times of distress and disaster. As technology evolves and things blend, I think it’s important to realize that a lot of people still count on the AM band for their news, for their information, for their entertainment, for their companionship. And in the event of an emergency or disaster, it is necessary. I will fight that fight personally because I know how valuable it is.
Here’s the thing, Brian, as we continue to evolve, you can listen to us on the iHeartRadio app. I’m sure that’s what carmakers are thinking, Well, eventually, all cars will just have apps and you’ll be able to listen to whatever you want to. But you’re discounting a huge portion of the audience and the population. People that desperately count on their radio station on the AM band to be there for them.
I’m of the belief, and I don’t manufacture cars, and I don’t know what anything costs, but I do know it doesn’t seem that hard to include the AM band for the millions of people that still count on it.
BN: Have you ever heard from a listener that said, man, I got a new car and it doesn’t have AM. I don’t listen as much as I used to. Has that ever happened?
FR: No, I haven’t heard that. What we find is more and more of our listeners are transitioning to the app. But see, here’s the disconnect, and here is what’s so hard to understand. Just because a number of people are transitioning, doesn’t also mean there aren’t a number of people that still depend on it.
What you’re doing is you’re telling people that listen to AM, you’re not very important. You don’t really count. We know they desperately count, and they count on us. I honestly don’t understand, as I said, the costs associated with any of this, but it just doesn’t seem that difficult to me. Take care of everybody. Don’t eliminate people.
BN: You reacted to a column last year claiming that no one listens to sports talk radio in LA. It’s like you channeled your inner East Coast, I love how you attacked the story with some edge. What was the reaction in LA to your comments about that column?
FR: Minimal. You have to understand your market. And my point there was, yeah, if we were on the East Coast, we would have a larger listening audience, simply because of the market. In Los Angeles, if you just look at it from a business perspective, there are so many ways to spend your disposable income. There are so many teams. To say the people in Boston are more passionate, or there are more people listening in Boston, I think there’s no nuance to that. Understand your market.
Are you telling me that people in this market are not passionate? Well, when you come to town, let’s go see the Dodgers or the Lakers play. You tell me if they’re passionate. You tell me if they are as passionate as Celtics or Red Sox fans. I’ll take you to see the LA Kings, you tell me if those people are as passionate as Boston Bruins fans. I think you’re going to agree they are, if not more so.
It’s understanding the nuances of your market. And to make a blanket statement, and try to compare apples to oranges, that was low-hanging fruit. That was too easy. It’s much more involved than that. It bothered me because I really thought in that situation, someone didn’t do their homework. It could have been presented very much like the audience is bigger here, or seemingly more passionate here, but let’s analyze why. If you take the time to analyze all of it, you realize that the fan bases are as passionate. We just have more things to do here.
BN: Your station, AM 570, is the home of the Dodgers. How does that relationship impact the way you present topics about the team, or any of the opinions that you share?
FR: That’s a fair question. I can tell you in the years that I’ve worked here, if the Dodgers have performed well, or something great happens, we’re on it. If they’re struggling, if things aren’t going well, if something had been bungled, we’re on that too. Never, not one moment, not one time has anyone called myself or Rodney into the office and said back off. Never, no one has ever said don’t talk about that.
I think what all the teams want, and Brian, maybe I’m wrong, and I know this with the Rams because I talk to them all the time, they always say the same thing. I’ve always tried to be this way, just be fair. If we deserve criticism, then we should be criticized. But don’t take cheap shots. If we’ve done something well, that should be acknowledged. Don’t go over the top. Just be fair, be honest.
BN: As you transition from daily TV, when you look at your future, what do you want the next five years to look like?
FR: I want to continue doing this and growing this. We have been working, and we actually need to accelerate the pace, but we have been working on preparing this for multiple platforms.
I simply want to grow and learn every single day. I want to experience new things every day. I have a philosophy, when you stop learning, you die. It might even be the smallest little thing. Even driving down the street and noticing a sign you hadn’t noticed before, you learned something today. Interacting with someone and finding something out about them you didn’t know, you learned something today. I’m very curious. My mind never stops working.
I would like to continue doing this. As I said, we’re working on some things to share this on multiple platforms. We’re probably 50% of the way through it at this point. But grow this, keep growing and keep learning. Then I’ll be very happy. This is such a wonderful, wonderful business. You really do meet the nicest people doing this for a living. People that care, that work hard, that really take a lot of pride in what they do. That means a lot to me. I love working with people like that. I’m honored to work with them. And just keep growing this.
Look at it like this. People said, well, you stopped doing TV. I did TV going on 43 years here. As I mentioned, for 20 of those 43, I actually did radio too. I had two jobs and people would say, well, you’re retiring. I’d say no, I’m stopping doing part of one job, I have another one. Another one that I truly love. It’s funny, on TV, I said I’m not retiring. I’m just not doing the news anymore. That doesn’t mean I won’t be on LA TV. It means I’m not doing the news. I just want to keep growing and having fun to be honest with you. Maybe that’s too easy of an answer, but you get to a point in life, you just really want to love what you do and have a good time. And I do, every single day.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Griffin III Wants to Tell Your Story the Right Way
“Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
During last season’s VRBO Fiesta Bowl, Robert Griffin III was part of ESPN’s alternate telecast at field level alongside Pat McAfee. Suddenly, the Heisman Trophy winner took a phone call. Once he hung up the phone, Griffin divulged that his wife had gone into labor and proceeded to sprint off of the field to catch a flight. An ESPN cameraperson documented his run and jubilation as he returned home to welcome his daughter, Gia, into the world. It encapsulated just what motivates Griffin to appear on television and discuss football, and why he is one of ESPN’s budding talents with the chance to make an impact on sports media and his community for years to come.
“This was an opportunity for me to go out and be different in the way that the media covers the players and truly get to the bottom of telling the players’ stories the right way,” Griffin said. “I look at this as an opportunity to do that.”
Griffin was a three-sport athlete as a student at Copperas Cove High School, and ultimately broke Texas state records in track and field. In addition to that, he played basketball and was the starting quarterback for the school’s football team as a junior and senior, drawing attention from various schools around the country. He ended up graduating high school one semester early and quickly became a star at Baylor University in both football and track and field.
Robert Griffin III’s nascent talent was hardly inconspicuous, evidenced by being named the 2008 Big 12 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year and then, three years later, the winner of the Heisman Trophy. In the end, he graduated having set or tied 54 school records and helped the program to its first bowl game win in 19 years.
Ultimately, he transitioned to the NFL in a career with many trials and tribulations, but through it all, he never lost his sense of persistence. Nearly a decade later, he returned to college, but this time as a member of the media covering the game from afar. Unlike a majority of former players though, Griffin did not formally retire from playing football when inking a broadcasting contract with ESPN.
“I haven’t retired yet at all,” he said. “I tell everyone that asks me the question that I train every day [and] I’m prepared to play if that call does come. I’ve had some talks with teams over the past two years; just nothing has come to fruition.”
While Griffin’s focus as a broadcaster is undeniable, he never thought about seriously pursuing sports media until his broadcast agent pushed him to do so. He was urged to take an audition at FOX Sports. Griffin broke down highlights and called a mock NFL game alongside lead play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt. He was not prepared for that second part, but impressed executives and precipitously realized a career in the space may not be so outlandish after all.
Griffin then moved to ESPN where he experienced a similar audition process, this time calling a game with play-by-play announcer Rece Davis. Once the audition concluded, it was determined that Griffin would not only begin working in the industry, but that he would be accelerated because of his ability to communicate in an informative and entertaining style.
As a player, he saw the way media members covered teams – sometimes bereft of objectivity – and therefore saw assimilating into the industry as a chance to change that. Now, he is focused on telling the stories of the players en masse while being prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice.
ESPN’s intention was to implement Griffin on its studio coverage, but once executives heard him in the broadcast booth, the company had a palpable shift in its thinking. He was told he was ready to go out into the field and start calling games immediately, something of a surprise to him. FOX Sports felt similarly. This led to a bidding war between the two entities, which ultimately concluded with Griffin inking a contract with ESPN. He appeared over its airwaves plenty of times as a player, and even participated on a variety of studio shows in 2018 where he was almost permanently placed on NFL Live. This time around though, Griffin was suddenly preparing to work with Mark Jones and Quint Kessenich on college football games. He did not have time to consider the implications of the decision, instead diving headfirst into the craft and remaining focused on what was to come with producer Kim Belton and director Anthony DeMarco at his side.
“These guys took me under their wing, and I’m beyond indebted to them for that,” Griffin said of his colleagues. “They taught me everything that I know about the industry. They taught me everything I know about how to present things to the masses to where it can be easily digestible. They’ve allowed me to allow my personality to shine through.”
Demonstrating his personality was a facet of his makeup Griffin felt was inhibited by playing professional football, but he knows it would have been considerably more difficult to attain a chance to cover the game had he not laced up his cleats. Calling college football games with Jones accentuated his comfort in the booth because of Jones’ adept skill to appeal to the viewers and penetrate beyond the sport.
“He has the way to connect different generations of listeners to hear what he’s saying and perceive it in the same way,” Griffin said. “To me, that’s what we all strive to do in this industry is to be able to find the connective tissue between the fan who is 60 or 70 years old, and the fan who’s in their late teens or early 20s.”
From the beginning, everyone told Griffin to be himself and not adopt an alternate persona in front of the camera. That advice has guided him as he approaches his third year working in the industry.
“It is so hard to maintain a character or try to be someone that you’re not, but if you are who you are every single day, then every time you show up on camera you will be that person,” Griffin said. “I’ve made sure that when I stepped foot in front of that camera, I was going to be myself.”
Griffin identifies his style as pedagogical to a degree, critiquing players as if he was coaching them on the sidelines. He will never look to penetrate beyond football with his criticism, as drawing conclusions and using unrelated parlance could be viewed as indecorous. In short, Griffin III knows what it means to represent ESPN.
“We’re not a gossip website. We’re supposed to be critically acclaimed, prestigious journalists, and at the end of the day, that’s how I try to approach the job that I do. That’s why I got into the business – because I felt like there was a little of that going on, especially during my career, so I would never do to somebody else what was done to me.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Griffin was subject to immense criticism that went significantly beyond the gridiron. For example, sports commentator Rob Parker suggested that Griffin was not fully representative of the Black community and proceeded to question if he was a “cornball brother.” The incident resulted in Parker receiving a 30-day suspension from ESPN, and after he defended his comments and blamed First Take producers in a subsequent interview, the network decided not to renew his contract.
“My goal as a member of the media is to tell players’ stories the right way, and if I don’t know you personally, I’m never going to make it personal,” Griffin said. “Even if I do know you personally, I’m not going to bring that to the broadcast because that’s not my job.”
In addition to broadcasting college football games with Jones on ESPN and ABC, he also appears on-site for Monday Night Countdown, the network’s pregame show leading up to Monday Night Football. Making the decision to add NFL coverage to his slate of responsibilities meant that Griffin would be able to tell more stories and utilize his knowledge of players during their collegiate careers to enhance the broadcast.
The energy that he felt attending tailgates and interacting with fans at the college level gave him a unique skill set to translate to the NFL side, leading him to present the production team with an unparalleled idea for Week 1. He wanted to race Taima the Hawk, the live game mascot for the Seattle Seahawks who flies around Lumen Field prior to the start of each home game. It was an outlandish idea, but one that made sense for television because of the visual appeal it can present.
“If you know anything about hawks, they can fly up to 120-140 miles per hour, so they’re like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to beat this hawk in a race, but we’ll do it,’” Griffin said. “To that crew’s credit, they never once balked at any of the creative ideas that I brought to the table because they want to try different things and be exciting and have fun on the show.”
Griffin ended up winning the race, commencing the new season of Monday Night Countdown with immediate excitement before the Seahawks’ matchup against the Denver Broncos. He thoroughly enjoyed his first year on the show and having the chance to work alongside Suzy Colber, Adam Schefter, Booger McFarland, Steve Young, Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Smith.
“They always tell me, ‘Hey, anything you’re not comfortable with, you just let us know and we won’t do that thing,’” Griffin said of the show’s producers. “My answer always back to them is, ‘Well, I won’t know if I’m uncomfortable with it if I don’t try.’”
While Griffin had what looked like a seamless assimilation into the broadcasting world, he had a difficult moment when using a racial slur on live television in discussing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. The clip quickly gained traction across the internet, and Griffin issued an apology on his Twitter account for using the pejorative language and claimed that he misspoke.
“I was shocked that it came out in the way that it did, and I immediately jumped on it and apologized because there’s no need to deny,” he said. “You messed up. You move forward, and I think that’s the easiest way to get over those types of things and to get back on your feet.”
The football season at both the college and professional level is undoubtedly a grind, and it requires a combination of dedication, passion and persistence few people possess. Robert Griffin III has garnered the reputation of being an “overpreparer,” often partaking in considerably more information than necessary to execute a broadcast. The information he consumes and conclusions he draws combined with his experience at both levels has cultivated him into a knowledgeable analyst who makes cogent, intelligible points on the air.
“I over-prepare for everything, and 70% of the information that I soak in going into a game or going into a broadcast for Monday Night Countdown, I don’t use because there’s just not enough air time,” Griffin III said. “There’s not enough opportunities to talk on it all.”
At the same time, he makes a concerted effort to make the most of his time with his family and separate himself from the field, engaging in activities including playing ping pong, going to the movies and supporting his children. He also embarks in charity work through his RG3 Foundation and strives to teach his daughters the importance of giving back. The mission of the nonprofit foundation is to discover and design programs for underprivileged youth, struggling military families and victims of domestic violence, and it has made a significant impact since it was launched in 2015.
“Trying to end food insecurity; making sure that our under-resourced youth have access to the things that they need just to survive – talking about food, clothes, books, the ability to learn [and] putting on these after-school programs,” Griffin elucidated in describing the organization’s mission. “We want to have an impact on our community. We mean that with everything in us and have shown that to be the true case of why we do this.”
Griffin’s wife, Grete, serves as the executive director of the foundation and also runs her own fitness business. Staying physically and mentally in shape is something they actively try to accomplish in their everyday lives, and lessons they are passing down to their daughters.
“I’m 33 years old right now, so if I want to continue to train every single day, I can do that for the next 10 years if I need to,” Griffin said. “Not taking hits and being physically fit is also a good thing for your own health, which is something me and my wife are extremely passionate about.”
Although his experience is in playing football and working in sports media, Robert Griffin III does not believe in limiting himself and would consider exploring opportunities outside of sports and entertainment. He wants to become the best broadcaster possible no matter where he is working in the industry and continue finding new ways to be distinctive en masse.
“We’re storytellers,” he said. “We’re here to break down things [and] to tell people a story the right way; things that people are interested in, and that expands across all media levels. We’re not closing the door on anything from that standpoint.”
While he was playing in the NFL, Griffin dealt with a variety of injuries that ultimately kept him off the football field and made it difficult to display his talents. Ranging from an ACL tear, shoulder scapula fracture and hairline fracture in his right thumb, staying healthy was a challenge for him over the time he played in the NFL.
Through surgeries and rehabilitation, he learned how to face and overcome these challenges. It has shaped him into the broadcaster and person he is today as he looks to set a positive example to aspiring football players and broadcasters everywhere.
“The eight-year career that I was able to have thus far didn’t come without roadblocks in the way [and] didn’t come without adversity. Learn from the adversity that you go through and learn from all the things and the lessons that you have that sports teaches you, and then go be able to present that to the masses.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pac-12 Pushing Enhanced Access, Deion Sanders Reeks of Desperation
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Coach Prime if those game telecasts aren’t seen?
Getting experimental has drawn some attention to USFL and XFL broadcasts during each league’s seasons. The Pac-12 is apparently hoping the same approach will draw viewers to its football telecasts beginning this fall.
Last week, the conference announced that its broadcasts on ESPN, Fox Sports, and Pac-12 Networks would feature enhanced access for viewers. Head coaches will be interviewed during games. Players and coaches will be mic’d up during pregame warm-ups. Cameras will have pregame and halftime access to team locker rooms. And handheld camera operators will be allowed to film parts of the field and game experience which were previously prohibited.
Those familiar with USFL and XFL telecasts will likely see some similarities to the greater access that those leagues allow their TV partners. Coaches are mic’d up on the sidelines, giving viewers insight into play calls and strategy. Players are interviewed during the game, providing near-instant reactions to success or failure. Cameras in the replay booth show how officials decide to either overturn or uphold calls on the field.
What the Pac-12 intends to do with its broadcasts won’t go as far as the USFL and XFL. Access to coaches and players is being expanded but will still have limits. The conference doesn’t have to demonstrate familiarity, credibility, and legitimacy to fans and media.
Spring pro football leagues are a tough sell to mainstream sports fans accustomed to college football and the NFL from September through January. Especially when the level of play is subpar and rosters are filled with unfamiliar names, the USFL and XFL have to give fans more reasons to watch.
USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are established national brands and regularly compete with the top teams in college football. Utah has played in the past two Rose Bowls, seen on millions of televisions during the New Year’s Day holiday. All five of those schools finished among the final AP Top 25 rankings of the 2022-23 season. USC quarterback Caleb Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy.
Yet the Pac-12 is promoting the gimmick of enhanced access because it needs to attract positive fan and media attention. Right now, most of the headlines the conference is generating aren’t flattering.
Notably, the Pac-12 needs a new media rights deal. Losing two of its most prominent schools, USC and UCLA, to the Big Ten in 2024 certainly isn’t helping with that. Rumors have persisted that Washington and Oregon could soon follow. Additionally, the Big 12 is reportedly eyeing Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah as possible expansion targets.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff is left to tout Colorado’s new head coach, Deion Sanders, as a selling point in a new media rights deal. Never mind that Sanders hasn’t coached a game in Boulder yet. The Buffaloes are also coming off a 1-11 season and have won more than five games only once since 2007.
If Coach Prime is as successful as Colorado hopes, how likely is he to jump to a better program and stronger conference? And as mentioned in a previous paragraph, even if Sanders sticks around, Colorado could be poached by the Big 12. How much value would Coach Prime provide for the Pac-12 then?
ESPN’s deal with the conference expires in July 2024, shortly before USC and UCLA defect, and reportedly has no intention of renewing. (ESPN could still agree to a package of lower-tier games for late-night broadcast windows, but Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reports that doesn’t appear likely.) Fox’s agreement is up at the same time, though prospects of a renewal seem more optimistic. The network needs Pac-12 games to fill its college football Saturday inventory.
The options from there aren’t promising. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reports that current speculation has USA Network, part of the NBCUniversal conglomerate, as a possible landing spot. According to The Athletic, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff believes that the conference’s next media rights deal will have a large streaming component with Amazon and Apple TV+ mentioned as potential partners.
A streaming partner might be good from a financial standpoint, helping produce some of the revenue that ESPN has cut off. But forcing fans to find your product and asking them to pay for another TV platform isn’t a good way to draw interest. It may well be a path to irrelevance and obscurity. That’s not going to compete with the Big Ten and SEC, or even the Big 12.
And as The Athletic’s Chris Vannini points out, how can streaming be expected to save a conference like the Pac-12 when it isn’t even helping TV networks (or standalone providers) right now? Disney is losing money with Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. NBCUniversal has lost billions on Peacock, as has CBS with Paramount+. Maybe the Pac-12 won’t care about that because it got paid. But there’s little chance for growth.
OK, Lincoln Riley, Chip Kelly, Dan Lanning, and Kyle Whittingham could be interviewed during games. But they probably won’t say much interesting during a game. Caleb Williams, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. will be mic’d up during warm-ups. Maybe we’ll see coaches and players going crazy in the locker room at halftime. Just remember that Peyton Manning said most players only have time to use the bathroom and have a snack. There’s your compelling television.
What good is enhanced access for TV broadcasts or the star power of Deion Sanders if those game telecasts aren’t seen by large audiences? To say otherwise is desperate. That’s exactly where the Pac-12 is.
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 email@example.com.