Wolfson, LaForce to get bigger CBS roles, race in sports media, more
Get ready to see a lot more of Tracy Wolfson and Allie LaForce on your television sets and mobile devices this fall.
SI has learned that CBS is moving Wolfson from her role as the lead sideline reporter on CBS' SEC football coverage to a lead sideline reporter role for the network's upcoming NFL Thursday Night Football primetime package. She'll work with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on those games as well as on the Sundays that CBS' No. 1 NFL crew works. CBS Sports management has long been high on Wolfson's work and they view the move (and the added money that surely comes with it) as a promotion for her. Wolfson is also expected to continue her role as the lead reporter for CBS and Turner's coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament. She will work Monday's title game between Connecticut and Kentucky in that role.
On Sunday, when contacted in Dallas at the Final Four, a CBS Sports spokesperson declined comment.
So who will get Wolfson's high-profile gig as the sideline reporter for CBS' weekly Saturday telecast of SEC football? SI has learned that Allie LaForce has landed Wolfson's old role beginning this fall, where she'll work with game-callers Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. That assignment continues a dizzying rise for a 25-year old who graduated from Ohio University just three years ago. Though it's a show with less viewership than the population of most streets in Manhattan, LaForce is also the co-host of "Lead Off" on CBS Sports Network, where she has gotten daily television reps, an important experience for a young broadcaster. She also worked the sideline in the AFC divisional playoff game between the Colts and Patriots.
CBS Sports management both publicly and privately have been pushing LaForce's star for the past couple of months. She had a very good NCAA tournament, asking smart and pointed questions and showing versatility with the content of her interviews. (Her interview with the grandson of St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli went viral.) LaForce clearly knows her stuff when it comes to college basketball, having played guard at Ohio and working the NCAA tournament the last two years. Now she gets a different challenge.
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. Last week I published Part I of a panel on race and the sports media. This week is Part 2.
• Cari Champion, host of ESPN2's First Take
• Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2's Numbers Never Lie.
• Gregory Lee Jr., Executive Sports Editor, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Past NABJ President
• Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News sports columnist
• Angel Rodriguez, sports editor, Cincinnati Enquirer
• Darren Sands, sports business reporter and multimedia journalist, BlackEnterprise.com
The panel was asked a series of email questions with no requirements. They were free to pass on any questions. For those on Twitter, the panelists are recommended and you can follow them by clicking on their names above.
SI.com: Why are more people of color, especially women, not hosting sports-talk radio shows?
Champion: Women are often encouraged to be in front of the camera when they decide to take this path. And that in itself has challenges. In my experience, radio was never pushed as the platform to succeed in sports. So when there is no example, it can be hard to envision. When I interned at Voice Of America in D.C., I fell in love with the idea of doing radio, but the lack of women in the industry discouraged me. Fast forward years later, I'm encouraged that I have the opportunity to fill in on ESPN Radio, but we do need more examples because that will lead to more demand.
Hill: There seems to be a widespread disbelief that a woman can't anchor a show, at least as a content driver. In general, for people of color, it seems that the only way we can host or be a content driver is if we are a former athlete. Where's the black Colin Cowherd? Where's the black duo equivalent of Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo? It's not a talent pool issue, it's a trust and believability issue. I'm extremely happy for [ESPN colleague] Bomani Jones, but truth be told, he should have had the platform he has now years ago. Decision-makers in our business don't give their audience enough credit. They fear that the audience will reject someone like Bomani or me. Those who are in power are more comfortable with what has worked previously. So, if it hasn't been successful, they are less likely to try it.
Kawakami: Declined to answer.
Lee: This has been a tough business for minorities and women to break into. I believe sports station management does not believe their audiences would be receptive to women hosting shows. These stations survive off ratings and are perhaps scared of a fall off if a woman was hosting a show during primetimes.
If there are minorities co-hosting these shows, more than likely they are former athletes. I will let the broadcast panelists address this as they have a bit more expertise in this area.
Rodriguez: Well, it's the same as everything else. The opportunities just aren't there. People tend to hire who they know, and especially in sports-talk you are taking a risk hiring a woman or a minority. Just watch Twitter blow up when Doris Burke is announcing a game. I doubt radio programmers are risk-takers when it comes to what they put on their stations.
Sands: I really can't think of a segment of our industry more wary of outside voices than sports-talk radio. I grew up on sports-talk. Growing up in Boston, the main personalities were all middle-aged white guys. Weirdly, it never bothered me, and it still doesn't. Those guys all carved out their own spaces when 'podcast' wasn't even a word. They built an audience in a traditional way: the newspaper column and radio. Now, you can do that on your own. The question, of course, is how badly do you want it? If you think success in this segment of the industry is going to come through a traditional route, you might be doing it wrong.
SI.com: Have you lost any jobs based on your race or ethnicity?
Champion: I don't believe that I lost a job but maybe I wasn't considered. If a certain type/look/style is wanted and I don't fit that model then I'm not going to be considered for the job. For example, if there's a talk show that wants a host who can speak with a mother's perspective, then I'm excluded. Often times there is an idea of what is expected for a position and as result less are considered.
Hill: Depends on how you define loss. I'm willing to bet there are jobs I was never even considered for because of either race or ethnicity, or both.
Kawakami: Doubtful. Philadelphia Daily News, L.A. Times, San Jose Mercury News. I'm not the one to complain here. If anything, I got a leg up because I landed a New York Times minority internship when I was in college, and that was as sudden a jump-start that you could ever want.
Lee: No, not that I am aware of.
Rodriguez: I would hope not. There have been jobs I haven't gotten that later went to more qualified candidates so I can't complain. There haven't been any I've applied for that I feel I've lost because of race. But you never know about those opportunities that haven't been presented to you.
SI.com: Does racial stereotyping exist by sports broadcasters during games or studio shows, and if so, how?
Champion: I honestly can't speak to this one.
Hill: I don't hear it as much as I used to, but it's still there. There's been enough attention drawn to language that I don't hear as much coded language, but how stories are framed and often ignored is still an issue. For example, I noticed nobody really followed up the added layer of race with Jason Collins and Michael Sam. They both made a point to say that they were BLACK gay men. Not many understood or asked why they felt the need to say that. It would have been a great entry point to discuss the prevalent homophobia within the black community, and also some of the racism that exists within the gay community overall. But that story was largely missed.
Kawakami: Well, we all can acknowledge there's the "gutty possession receiver," "running quarterback," and "undisciplined athlete" general stereotypes and other similar broadcasting crutches, but I think that's one place Twitter and the larger social media landscape helps correct some of that, almost in real time. Use a vague race-tinged crutch, get ridiculed instantly. It's not the greatest system, but it's the one we've got and it's better than nothing, I guess.
Lee: During the social media era, I have not heard much of that, but will let the broadcast panelists address this.
Rodriguez: Well, I think the examples of it over the years speak for themselves. It happens less and less, but it wasn't that long ago that Steve Lyons was talking about hiding his wallet from Lou Piniella for 'hablando-ing espanol'.
Sands: I thought New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait did a really good, clear-headed essay on the topic. which can be found here: Yes, it exists. And here's the problem: We all stereotype. It's the way we're built. Doesn't make it right. The only thing we can all do is try to be a little better, everyday. And not so lazy. That's what stereotyping is, after all: Laziness.
SI.com: Is there an oft-repeated notion or misconception about race in sports media that you find yourself wanting to address?
Champion: I think I covered it all in previous answers.
Hill: I reject this idea that sports media isn't diverse because people of color and women can't be found. That's lazy. Diversity takes work. I get sort of annoyed because some of the sports media companies that complain about the talent pool haven't done the work to be successful in that area. I see plenty of 20-something white kids being discovered, or being propped up as rising young journalists. I'm going to guess it took some work to find them. That's how it works with talented people. Unfortunately, in this industry, there's an established comfort in ignoring us. The real racism is when we aren't even a part of the thought process, that people have to be reminded to consider women and people of color.
Kawakami: Declined to answer.
Lee: How beat assignments in sports departments have largely kept minorities and women pigeonholed into certain coverage areas. Women cover women's sports and high school sports. African-Americans cover the NBA and high schools.
I believe there is only one African-American covering Major League Baseball as a full-time beat reporter: LaVelle E. Neal III, who last year became the Baseball Writers Association of America's first African-American president.
What frustrates me most about race in sports media is that newsroom leaders argue that diversity in their newsrooms is very important, however, the economy is keeping them from accomplishing their goals. My question to them, when the economy was good, what was your excuse then? They could not find talented minorities or women. There is always some excuse that 90 percent of sports departments in newspapers and reported websites consist of white males. The numbers are the numbers. Yes, there are programs aimed to bring more voices to newsrooms, but they have yet to break down the demographics to really represent its audience. I challenge people to go review the 2012 Racial and Gender Report Card -- Associated Press Sports Editors. You can find it online.
Rodriguez: I was losing my mind recently over the Yasiel Puig coverage. There was so much culturally incompetent and straight out stereotypical reporting being done after he burst on the scene that it was ridiculous. It really hit home to me when Ken Rosenthal wrote about Puig's "rage issues" after a brawl broke out between the Dodgers and D-Backs. Puig was hit in the helmet but didn't charge the mound. A brawl broke out later in the game over another close pitch and Puig was in the middle of it. The story wasn't about the multiple beanballs or the brewing Dodgers vs. D-Backs rivalry; it was Puig and his "rage issues." Rosenthal's story dredged up all the negative images of the way Latin players were characterized back in the day -- the "hot-tempered" Latin player. It mentioned "excitability issues." The headline on FoxSports.com was "All the Rage" with a photo of Puig yelling during the brawl.
I just felt that was unfair treatment of a player that had spent less than one year in this country. Who can blame him for trying to freeze out the media after that? The subsequent reporting after that was just as bad. It didn't take into consideration the society he was raised in. He never had to deal with a media presence in Cuba asking him tough questions. And given that he had very little time in the minors he hadn't had the "Latin" beaten out of him yet. There is a YouTube clip of a play of a diving catch he makes in the outfield of a Cuban League game. After the catch his whole team is waiting for him at the pitchers mound to give him high-fives. Can you imagine that happening in a major league game? Can you imagine how many guys Chris Carpenter would have hit in that situation for standing on his mound? But that is where this kid was a year before he burst on the scene. Those are the excitability issues that so concerned the Dodgers?
The media wanted him to be something he wasn't comfortable being in front of their cameras and notebooks and they turned on him pretty quickly. The Luis Gonzalez snub, the report of him trying to get girls' attention in the stands, it wasn't our best moment as an industry. It was very petty. The guy may turn out to be a grade-A ass, but give him some time to figure out before we crucify him ... To me it was like the old days of the NBA when they tried to outlaw the dunks and the powers that be didn't know what to do with the influx of African-Americans who played the game differently. The Latin ballplayers play with a certain flair and that should be encouraged.
Sands: That black people can only write, comment and report on race or other black people. That's a racist and rampant attitude in our business. We're going to change it, though. Slowly, intentionally, we'll change it.
SI.com: Is there anything you want to add?
Lee: Today's concern is that while there are still disparities in print newsrooms, the gap is widening in new media ventures. Minority representation on websites and now the new media venture start-ups are very low. If the industry does not be careful, it will face a much larger hill to climb than it has in print newsrooms.
Kawakami: Only thing I want to say is something I've never really had the place to say: I'm an Asian-American sports writer in an often binary black/white racial universe and I realized right away -- actually before right away -- that this was a unique middle ground. Not better or worse, but different. When it dawned on me I was in a Northwestern sociology class and the professor was doing a good job eliciting interesting thoughts from black and white students. Each time a black student said something, a white student said, very politely, something like, "Well, that's from your point of view as an African-American person -- you have hostility to the white view." And each time a white student said something, a black student said, also very politely, something like, "That's from your white perspective -- you instantly are hostile to anything from the African-American point of view." Then when I said something, neither side had that rejoinder. I wasn't automatically credited by one side and cut-at by the other. That was a mini-revelation to me. I sure wasn't saying anything brilliant, but it wasn't automatically given a plus or minus sign based on who I was or wasn't. Then a few years later when I walked into the Philadelphia Eagles' locker room, the exact same thing happened, wouldn't you know. Not a huge thing, but it was interesting. The players didn't look at me as the white reporter or the black reporter (as the possible ally or anti-ally) but as the guy asking them questions, period. I've tried to keep it that way ever since.
Now, of course, the sports world has had a tremendous influx of Asian players -- mostly born in Asia, not in America, so they have led very separate experiences from me, as an Asian American -- and I've felt the polarity for the first time. And probably more than I should have, I've tended to stay out of the normal Asian athlete discussions. If it's not insane to use Jim Harbaugh as a moral guide, I do use him on social matters as they overlap in sports. The competition is pure, whoever you are. That's what Harbaugh believes, that's what I've always believed, especially since that Sociology class. You want to win games and that is a colorless desire. I love to see Asians succeed, and I've written that. But it's my job to view this as bigger than that, and that makes everybody bigger, not smaller, I think.
Rodriguez: For full disclosure, I have hired five people recently and they all have been white males. They also happened to be the best candidates. I don't want to sound like a hypocrite when I talk about diversity and then not practice what I preach. I owe it to our readers to assemble the best staff possible and also owe it to the minority candidates that applied for those positions to not give them a job they won't do well in. It bothers me that I haven't been able to assemble a more diverse staff, but I do know that I will keep trying.
2. Few front-facing ESPN employees are more passionate about hockey than SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross, who calls his second Frozen Four this year -- the semifinals are Thursday night starting at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2; the finals are Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. With a big assignment coming up, I traded emails with Buccigross this week.
SI.com: Why do you find college hockey interesting?
Buccigross: There are NHL fans and there are hockey fans. I'm a hockey fan. I love all levels of hockey. One appeal of college hockey is the same as college basketball and college football: the future. But I also find the kid who will not move on to play in the NHL a compelling story. He's been getting up early, going to practice, and playing hockey since he was six. Then, BOOM, it's over. That is so sad to me. I also like how college hockey coaches aren't mercenaries. I respect how they don't act like jackwagons behind the bench like some of these college basketball coaches do. Ninety percent of the time college hockey coaches are motionless. They don't try to dictate every move like a lot of college basketball coaches. Of course, that's another beauty of hockey. Coaches can't control the play. It's out of their hands. They are like parents. They establish a culture, hopefully continue to work on individual skills, dictate some guidelines, and then open the door and go let them play. I like that lack of predictability and structure.
SI.com: What is your response for those who posit that ESPN does not give hockey sufficient coverage, especially in relation to sports where it has the broadcast rights?
Buccigross: I say at times they are correct. I do have to sometimes convince some producers that a game or story is worthy -- that these are sold-out games where tickets are bought and not given away. That ratings and interest is high. But I recall when we had the NHL television package, I wasn't always satisfied with our amount of coverage. It's interesting. There has never been a better time to be a hockey fan in terms of available televised games and expansive coverage in print and video. There really should be no complaints. Yet, in terms of talk radio and television, the hockey fan is vastly underserved. Fans like to hear the national media talk about their team.
SI.com: Who is the person or persons in the hockey media that deserve more national attention and why?
Buccigross: If you are a true hockey person you don't do any of this for attention. You do it because the game and the people are 99 percent good and fun. That's enough. Everyone that is in hockey feels like an equal to me, whether it's Mike Arace writing columns on the Columbus Blue Jackets for the Columbus Dispatch or Wayne Gretzky. I've had a beer with both and it both felt the same; hockey people talking hockey and swearing at a very high level.
SI.com: You are on the advisory board of "You Can Play," which is a campaign dedicated to fighting homophobia in sports. Why did you become a public part of this campaign?
Buccigross: In 2009, I wrote a column on Brian Burke's son, Brendan, who wanted to put his story out on a national platform in order to accelerate the discussion and ultimately the acceptance of gay men and women in hockey. Not just players, but scouts, front office personnel, GMs, etc. ... It goes back to your first question and why I love this sport so much. No sport embraced this issue more genuinely than hockey players. They know what true character is and the value of good and important characteristics. Being gay isn't a plus or a negative. It's irrelevant to the character traits they look for as players, people, and teammates. After Brendan died in a snowy, automobile accident, his brother Patrick was the heart and soul behind You Can Play. He asked me to be on the advisory board. 1. It was an easy yes. Brendan was truly special and had a unique light inside him. 2. It's very difficult to say no to a Burke.
SI.com: If your broadcasting career could be compared to an NHL player, either current or retired, who would it be and why?
Buccigross: Past? Chris Drury. Present? Patrice Bergeron. Quiet, and just try to be a good all-around player. Not a Hall of Famer but a self-improver with a childlike enthusiasm that loves the game. I wrote in one of my columns a long time ago, "We all can't be great, but we can all be dependable."
3. Sell your property. That is always the mantra sports television broadcasters and executives voice publicly in any forum. So I understand why the CBS Sports press call last week on the Masters turned into the usually genuflecting of all things Butler Cabin and Billy Payne. The Masters is a great television event, no question. What it is not, despite the optimistic spin by Mr. McManus, is a guaranteed ratings bonanza without Tiger Woods, and specifically, Woods being in contention in the final two rounds.
Bloomberg Businessweek writer Ira Boudway found that since Woods first played in the tournament in 1995, ratings on average have increased 63 percent from the third round on Saturday to the final round on Sunday. Writes Boudway: "In years when Woods is within five strokes after Saturday, the average increase is 69 percent. When he is more than five shots out, it's 56 percent."
On a conference call last Thursday, I asked CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus about the thesis that Woods' absence will wreak havoc on the ratings.
"I'm not sure 'wreak havoc' is exactly an accurate statement," McManus said. "When Tiger is in the Masters, there's going to be a spike in the ratings. But I've said this many times -- the Masters has always been the highest-rated and the most anticipated golf tournament of the year. That was true before Tiger Woods played in it, it's true when Tiger Woods played in it, and it will be true when Tiger Woods is no longer playing.
"We've had Masters in the past when Tiger has not been in contention on Saturday and Sunday and we've had some pretty darn good ratings in those years. So it's easy to get used to having Tiger on the leaderboard and get used to the (ratings) spike but if we get the kind of drama that we got last year or some previous years I think we'll do an outstanding rating. Will we miss the spike of not having Tiger there? I'm sure we probably will. But I'm not overly concerned ... Without him be there this year we will survive and thrive as we always have with the Masters.
3a. The Golf Channel will broadcast more than 80 total hours of live news and related programming for the Masters. Of note outside of the competition is the premiere of "Arnie" at 10 p.m. ET on Sunday. Arnie will run in three parts over three nights. The Golf Channel spent the last year traveling with Palmer and collected interviews from more than 100 people. "It is the most ambitious original film in the 20-year history of Golf Channel," said Golf Channel president Mike McCarley. "What we set out to do was tell the definitive story on the life and legacy of Mr. Palmer. I think the best way to describe the overall idea of the project is that there is an idea of all of the fans who he has touched over a very long and very interesting career."
3b. ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 10-11, as well as coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.
3c. CBS Sports broadcasters Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo have combined for a Jim Nantz Remembers Augusta: Nick Faldo at the Masters that will air Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS. This year marks 25th anniversary of Faldo winning his first green jacket.
3d. Nantz said he believes Woods, if his back and knee holds up, has "at least 40 good shots at a major, four a year for 10 years."
4. I support any sports broadcasting initiative that adds choices for viewers (at no additional costs), and on that scale, the Turner NCAA basketball Teamcasts were a success. On the production end, the pictures and graphics were high quality. The homer scale of announcing ranged from fairly straight (Connecticut's broadcast) to over-the-top flag-waving (Kentucky). My favorite moment came in the second half of the Kentucky win with just over 12 minutes left. After a foul on Kentucky, TNT and Kentucky Teamcast analyst Rex Chapman said, "I don't want to sound like a complete homer but I am going to" when questioning a foul. Less than a minute later, Chapman said, "I guess I do want to sound like a complete homer."
4a. As expected, many viewers were confused when they turned on the Teamcasts and expected a down-the-middle-broadcast. Awful Announcing had a funny recap.
4b. Sandy Grossman, who worked for two decades as the director for the NFL broadcasts of Pat Summerall and John Madden, passed away last week at the age of 78. Grossman joined CBS Sports in 1963 and then followed Madden and Summerall to Fox Sports in 1994. He directed 10 Super Bowls, five Stanley Cup Finals and 18 NBA Finals during his career. "His amazing directorial talents on the NFL truly distinguished him as one of the great directors in the history of sports television," said McManus. "For many years Sandy Grossman's name was synonymous with excellence in NFL coverage." Here's the New York Times writer Richard Sandomir's obit on Grossman.
5. Since its launch Fox Sports 1 has showed little interest in breaking college football news, opting instead for personality-driven analysis, personality-driven game picking and the personality-driven trolling of Southern football fan bases. That strategy resulted in zero traction for its pregame football show. The hiring of the former ESPN and CBS Sports Network college football journalist Bruce Feldman is unlikely to juice the ratings, but it does give viewers a sign that Fox is interested in quality journalism in the space, especially online. Feldman will write regularly for FOXSports.com and appear on Fox and Fox Sports 1 college football-related programming. "No question, he's one of the most respected voices in the space, and he's a huge addition to the depth, quality and integrity of our college football coverage," said Fox Sports Executive Vice President of Production John Entz.
Feldman said that the opportunity was too good to pass up and he liked the familiarity he had with Fox Sports management, many of whom previously worked at ESPN with Feldman. He was also going to lose his regular television duties at the CBS Sports Network, according to network sources, so the timing was right. "I felt like they recognized that I could be a very good fit and make an immediate impact," said Feldman, whose wife, Christie, this month gave birth to twins. "I also have seen how committed they've been in utilizing people who are out in front of the news and very well-connected around the country in other sports, especially in baseball and NFL. Given how much Fox has ramped up in college football of late, it is a ripe opportunity for me."
6. Here is Charles Barkley's first appearance (in 1992) in the studio for TNT. At the time, Barkley was playing for the Sixers.
7. Sports pieces of note:
• Writer Jeff Pearlman wrote a reflection of his reporting on John Rocker, a piece that examined the complexity and aftermath of reporting on a controversial subject.
• Sports on Earth's Greg Hanlon had a disturbing profile of former major leaguer Chad Curtis.
•The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas and Emily Kaplan visited three Native American communities -- the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Onondaga Nation in upstate New York and the Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress Indian Reservation in South Florida -- for some first-hand reporting on how Native Americans feel about the Redskins' team name.
• FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine on what the Redskins should expect statistically from DeSean Jackson this year.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• The Boston Globe's Billy Baker on those who dig graves for fallen firefighters.
• In memoriam of AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, recently killed in Afghanistan: here are some of her epic images.
• A dying father walks his 11-year-old daughter down the aisle because he won't be there for the real thing. Heartbreaking photos.
• New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan on when media people get too close to sources.
• NPR looks at how popular competitive walking was at the end of the 19th century.
• Faran Krentcil of Harper's Bazaar on why she won't be a bridesmaid.
• The New York Times on global population decline -- and why the alarmists should settle down.
8. Brittney Griner, along with writer Sue Hovey, has an upcoming memoir out titled In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court. I interviewed Griner last week about everything from the process that led to her publicly acknowledging she is a lesbian to the conflict she had with Baylor University to being called a "faggot" repeatedly growing up.
9. A trio of New York City-based sports-talk hosts dropped some asinine takes on paternity leave. To his credit, CBS Sports Network host Boomer Esiason handled the next chapter with some thought.
10. Here's a trailer for an upcoming documentary on former NBA player and New York City playground basketball legend Lloyd Daniels.
10a. ESPN has added four additional analysts -- Efan Ekoku, Kasey Keller, Alejandro Moreno and Stewart Robson -- for its 2014 World Cup coverage. The coverage runs from June 12 to July 13.
10b. Hardball Passport debuted this week as an online way to log every major league and minor league game you have attended.
10c. ESPN soccer announcer Ian Darke hammed it up with Cristiano Ronaldo-like flare while announcing a blind date as part of a promo for the World Cup. Trust me, it's worth the look.