Sports Illustrated Media Awards: The best and worst of 2014
SI.com annually highlights a select group in the sports media who were newsworthy, both for positive and negative reasons. Here are the selections for 2014:
Person of the Year
THE PICK: Mike Emrick (NBC Sports)
Emrick has been praised often in this space over the years. The rare sports broadcaster exalted both by fans and critics, he had another exceptional year in 2014, including calling the Olympic hockey tournament and the Stanley Cup playoffs. The latter was exhausting: Emrick called one overtime game in the opening round (Game 4 between the Bruins and Red Wings), one overtime game in the second round (Game 1, Rangers-Penguins), two overtime games in the conference finals (Games 3 and 4 between the Rangers-Canadiens) and two overtime games in Stanley Cup Finals (Games 2 and the clinching Game 5 between the Rangers-Kings).
What struck me most this year about Emrick during the playoffs was when he chose silence. He stopped talking for 1 minute and 50 seconds following his call of Alec Martinez's Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Kings. Viewers heard crowd horns blaring, Kings players' whooping it up on the ice, and the winning goal announcement from the public address announcer. What they did not hear was Emrick, which was perfect. During games, he is part wordsmith, part historian, but most of all he is the consummate professional.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jay Bilas (ESPN); Joe Buck (Fox); Bob Costas (NBC Sports and MLB Network); Rich Eisen (NFL Network); Bob Ley (ESPN); Rebecca Lowe (NBC Sports); Rachel Nichols (CNN and Turner Sports); Adam Schefter (ESPN); Mike Tirico (ESPN).
Broadcast Team of the Year
THE PICK: Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman (ESPN)
This unlikely duo – the everyman Englishman and pretty boy former U.S. star – were terrific at the 2014 World Cup. Darke is a lyrical maestro while Twellman (who has become a big news-breaker on Twitter for MLS news) has improved every year as an analyst. The pair were harmonious on John Brooks’s epic goal against Ghana at the World Cup.They were equally good on Varela’s equalizing score during Portugal’s 2-2 draw with the U.S.
Darke and Twellman were paired 12 times in 2014, including four U.S. games in Brazil. They were first together on Feb. 29, 2012 -- Twellman’s birthday – for a 1-0 U.S win over Italy. Here's hoping the best is still to come for this partnership.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr (TNT); Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy (ESPN); Joe Buck and Troy Aikman (Fox); Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts (CBS); Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk (NBC); Chris Fowler and Darren Cahill (ESPN); Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman (ESPN); Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth (NBC), Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson (beIn Sport), Trey Wingo, Trent Dilfer, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (ESPN’s NFL Draft Day 2 and 3 coverage)
Best Studio Show
THE PICK (tie): College GameDay (ESPN) and Inside The NBA (TNT).
I find it impossible to choose one over the other so I’m calling it a tie. College GameDay didn’t miss a beat despite host Chris Fowler doubling as a game broadcaster on Saturday nights. The show continues to be creative with game sites (Among the selections this year: a return to Fargo, a first-time to Oxford, Miss., and Baltimore for Army-Navy) and improves specific elements yearly. The show’s feature work this year really stood out, with Tom Rinaldi delivering magical stories weekly.
Inside The NBA remained as good as ever in 2014. The show’s nine-minute conversation last month on Ferguson was remarkable television.
I’d remind everyone that staffers Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith all called for Donald Sterling’s suspension immediately if his voice was found to be the one on the TMZ tape (which it was). Those immediate comments were bold for an NBA rightsholder and a company that is very tight with NBA brass. “This is the first test for Adam Silver,” said Barkley, when the Sterling story broke. “He has to suspend this guy. This is habitual. He has already had the lawsuit for discrimination that he settled so clearly he was doing something wrong… He has to suspend this guy.” Added Johnson: “If it’s true, and it’s him [on the audio], there’s no place in the league for Donald Sterling in my mind.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Last Call (ESPN’s post-match World Cup show); Premier League Live (NBC Sports Network); Sunday NFL Countdown (ESPN).
Newcomer of the Year
THE PICK: Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir (NBC Sports)
Lipinski and Weir were the breakout stars of the Sochi Games thanks to their fantastic chemistry, devil-may-care attitude and their youth (neither is over 32). NBC has since promoted them to the No. 1 team on figure skating for the company. Why did the partnership work?
“Something that Tara and I do very well is we don’t take everything so seriously so that people can’t relate,” Weir told SI in April. “We are freshly-minted broadcasters and we take that seriously and our sport seriously. But at the end of the day we were there watching the event and teaching people about it, and we were doing it in a very real and organic way. I think many people in the audience respected that because we were not talking down to them or reading off some piece of paper. …Now the fact that Tara and I are such close friends and that we value everything about each other, I think that comes through on television. That is rare in the world we come from – figure skating – to find a friend like that because it is very Black Swan, very cutthroat and you never know who you can trust. We tried to bring out the reality of the Olympics.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Roger Bennett and Michael Davies (NBC Sports Network); Jon Champion (ESPN); London Fletcher (CBS); Allie LaForce (for CBS’s SEC coverage); Tim Tebow (SEC Network), Jim Trotter (ESPN), Dave Wandstedt (Fox).
READER REACT: A number of readers suggested adding Greg McElroy (SEC Network) to this list.
Broadcaster of the Year
THE PICK: Mike Tirico (ESPN)
Obviously, Emrick would be the de facto choice given he won the top award, but this category is geared more toward broadcasters who excelled at multiple assignments during a calendar year. Here was Tirico’s ESPN schedule in 2014: As a play-by-play announcer, he called the Outback Bowl, the BCS Championship Game for ESPN Radio, Big Ten college basketball, the NBA regular season and playoffs and, of course, Monday Night Football. As a host, he worked the first two days of The Masters, the World Cup in Brazil, The Open Championships and the U.S. Open tennis tournament. He also hosts an ESPN Radio show on Friday nights. Impressive.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: John Buccigross (ESPN); Doris Burke (ESPN); Joe Buck (Fox), Mary Carillo (NBC Sports and Tennis Channel); Bob Costas (NBC Sports and MLB Network); Rece Davis (ESPN); Fowler (ESPN) Kara Lawson (ESPN); Steve Levy (ESPN); Michaels (NBC Sports); Jim Nantz (CBS), Dan Patrick (NBC Sports and DirecTV); Joe Tessitore (ESPN and SEC Network), Scott Van Pelt (ESPN).
Best Sideline Reporter
THE PICK: Donna Brothers (NBC Sports)
Brothers plies her trade not on the sidelines but on a saddle, as NBC’s on-track reporter for horse racing. Year after year, she does excellent work, interviewing jockeys before and after Triple Crown races, always with an eye toward providing information for viewers. She was part of NBC’s excellent post-race coverage of the controversy after the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At the start of the race, the winning horse, Bayern, took a sharp left out of the gate and rumbled into pre-race favorite Shared Belief (owned by sports-talk host Jim Rome). Immediately after the race, Brothers spoke with winning jockey Martin Garcia, offering viewers insight into a crazy start. Always smart and prepared with her questions, she’s a huge part of a consistently excellent NBC production.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: David Aldridge (TNT), Doris Burke (ESPN), Heather Cox (ESPN), Lewis Johnson (NBC and TNT), Andy Katz (ESPN); Allie LaForce (CBS); Sam Ponder (ESPN), Tom Rinaldi (ESPN); Lisa Salters (ESPN), Michelle Tafoya (NBC Sports).
THE PICK: Cris Carter (ESPN)
Carter’s emotional commentary on Adrian Peterson’s misdemeanor reckless assault on his 4-year-old child shined during a contentious public discussion. He connected with the audience through the prism of his own experiences with corporal punishment, telling the story of how his mother “whooped” him as a kid. It was powerful, honest television and part of a year in which he emerged on multiple ESPN airwaves after signing a four-year deal with ESPN in January. Along with Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown, Carter became a regular on ESPN Radio throughout the NFL season, appearing most weeks on the Mike & Mike show. While I’m not a Mike & Mike regular – I’m loyal to Howard Stern and the BBC World Service in the morning – every time I heard Carter on that show he was interesting. “As a broadcaster I want to be the best there is,” Carter told SI in September. “I want to be recognized as I was on the field. Every day I approach it as if I was playing. I like research, I love following the sport, I love telling stories about the game.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jerome Bettis (ESPN); Max Bretos (ESPN) Chris Evert (ESPN); John Lynch (Fox Sports); Jade McCarthy (ESPN); Louis Riddick (ESPN); Maria Taylor (SEC Network); Amy Trask (CBS); Taylor Twellman (ESPN); Kurt Warner (NFL Network).
Reader React: Among those who got votes when I asked for reader feedback on Twitter: Ronde Barber (Fox), Joey Galloway (ESPN), Dave Pasch (ESPN); Bart Scott (CBS), Chris Spielman (ESPN); Isiah Thomas (NBA TV), Tom Verducci (Fox and MLB Network) and Bram Weinstein (ESPN).
Best News Feature on a Sports Program
THE PICK: “Lauren Hill: One More Game” (ESPN)
This was ESPN at its creative, journalistic and storytelling best. Producer Ben Webber, editor Josh Drake and reporter Tom Rinaldi combined for a remarkable SportsCenter long-form feature on Lauren Hill, a 19-year-old Mount St. Joseph freshman who was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer and expected to live only until December:
Hill played her first college basketball game in November – her lifelong goal – and Webber spent the week with the family leading up to the game. I asked Webber how difficult it was to shoot a story where you know the subject you are shooting might not live past the end of the year.
“This was by far the hardest story I have ever worked on in my career,” Webber said. “There were times throughout the week where I was not sure Lauren would be able to play in the game, that she may have physically just been too weak to make it out there. We saw her in pain a lot, and that was really difficult to experience, but her attitude throughout helped to get us all through it. She is so positive and happy the majority of the time that you can’t help but feel that way when you are around her. The toughest times this week were when I allowed myself to think about how her story is going to end, and that broke me every time. This is a story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
HONORABLE MENTIONS: An ESPN SportsCenter feature on Mendota (Calif.) High School football, whose players work in agricultural fields and practice at night (produced by Scott Harves); an ESPN E:60 feature on Rangers forward Dominic Moore (produced by Heather Lombardo and Kaiti Decker); an HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel piece on global soccer fixing (produced by Tim Walker); an ESPN E:60 feature on the abuse of migrant workers building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums (producers Beein Gim and Jeremy Schaap); an ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown feature on the relationship between Browns cornerback Joe Haden and his younger brother Jacob, who is challenged to communicate verbally (producer Terrell Bouza, reporter Josina Anderson; director of photography Nathan Golon, and editors Sean E. Stall and Pete Hollander).
Sports Podcast Of The Year:
The PICK: The B.S. Report, Sept. 22 episode
Here’s the podcast for you to….oh, wait, my bad, there’s a 404 page there, isn’t there? Indeed, this was the infamous episode that prompted ESPN to suspend host Bill Simmons for three weeks after Simmons called Roger Goodell a “liar” and dared ESPN management to discipline him for such words. (It was an offer ESPN management could not refuse.) The podcast has since been pulled.
Given what we now know about Goodell and the Ray Rice case, you can judge for yourself. Slate has the transcript and audio here.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Jalen & Jacoby (ESPN), Men In Blazers (NBCSN); His & Hers (ESPN), The Steve Austin Show (Podcast One); The Rich Eisen Show (NFL Network); Hang Up And Listen (Slate); The Sports-Casters (Independent).
THE PICK (tie): Brothers in Exile (ESPN, 30 for 30) and Hillsborough (ESPN)
Brothers In Exile was a superb examination of half-brothers Livan and Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez, both of whom left Cuba to ultimately star in the majors. In a deft bit of filmmaking, director Mario Diaz weaved each man’s journey over the larger narrative of what an individual will do to achieve freedom. It ranked for me as one of the five-best documentaries ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series has produced. Daniel Gordon’s examination of the 1989 tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, was mesmerizing, and a must-watch for soccer fans, especially younger ones.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Bad Boys (ESPN, 30 for 30); Lokomotiv (NBC Sports); Nancy & Tonya (NBC Sports); State of Play (HBO Sports, for the episode featuring Eric LeGrand and Steve Shope).
Sports Media Tweets Of The Year
THE PICK: Greg Wyshynski, Yahoo! Sports
The start of the Sochi Olympics saw an inordinate amount of accommodation issues (spawning the Twitter Feed @sochiproblems), especially for the world’s press. Wyshynski’s Lost In Translation photo captured things perfectly:
HONORABLE MENTIONS: PFT Commenter, Kissing Suzy Kolber and SB Nation.
I’m not sure if I can actually print this on SI.com but here goes.
Jack Del Rio name literaly means "masterbate into a river"— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) January 19, 2014
The Halberstam Award
THE PICK (tie): Don Van Natta (ESPN) and Rachel Nichols (CNN and TNT)
A new award to cite a member of sports media for sticking it to power as David Halberstram did as a young Vietnam War correspondent for the New York Times (On this topic: Once Upon A Distant War by William Prochnau is one of the best books on journalism.) Van Natta’s (aided by the excellent Kevin Van Valkenburg) reporting on the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice assault of his now-wife game-changed what we know about the NFL’s (and the Ravens’) clumsy handling of the case. The reporting contradicted Goodell's statement that he did not know precisely what had happened inside the elevator until he watched the TMZ Sports-released videotape. Van Natta also did rich profiles of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Penn State whistleblower Mike McQueary. Nichols went Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee on Goodell during his initial press conference on the Rice matter and was also forceful questioning boxer Floyd Mayweather about his domestic violence incidents. Well done to both.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Keith Olbermann (ESPN2) and TMZ. I would not argue if you think TMZ should be the top pick for 2014. It brought light to the two biggest sports stories of the year with its audio (Sterling) and video (Rice) releases.
Duds of the Year (culled, in part, from this year’s media column)
• ESPN First Take bloviator Stephen A. Smith offered a quite a message to women on domestic violence: “Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.” He later apologized. Twice.
• Two hockey writers – Adrian Dater and Steve Lepore – were fired by their respective media organizations in part for social media abuse of women.
• Amid strong work for most of the Wimbledon fortnight, ESPN’s tennis coverage had a brutal moment involving the withdrawal of Serena Williams from her second-round doubles match. Chris Evert inexplicably mentioned the possibility of drug use (“Is it something unintentional or intentional in her system that they may drug test for?”) and Pam Shriver followed up her comment with: “They have drug testing at all the majors.” Those statements came with zero reporting and were, to be mild, overreaching. To their credit, the broadcasters talked it out with Williams afterward and, as Evert told SI, all are in a good place.
• ESPN and SiriusXM MLB analyst Jim Bowden claimed his Twitter account was hacked, with the hacker procuring information from a fake Twitter account impersonating MLB Network insider Joel Sherman and then tweeting out incorrect trade news on Marlon Byrd. It made the hacker look like he was reporting a story without attributing it to Sherman, who in this case, was not Sherman but a fake. The hacker then went through a series of Keystone Kops maneuvers that Deadspin chronicled here. An ESPN spokesperson eventually told SI there was no gambling going on in Casablanca in response to queries about Bowden.
• Fox Sports MLB game analyst Harold Reynolds would be better served as Derek Jeter’s PR man than as a lead analyst on a network’s broadcast of the World Series. Boston Globe columnist Chad Finn spelled out some of those issues here.
• ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown analyst Trent Dilfer fronted a de facto infomercial in January on ESPN colleague Tim Tebow’s attempts to become a viable quarterback, a piece one former ESPN-er in an email to me called “a new low for ESPN "cannibalism.”
• Twitter suspensions: Putting adults in a social media timeout, as ESPN did this year with Keith Law and Bill Simmons, among others, feels very junior high and not to mention toothless, especially when those in Twitter jail simply switch to Facebook or Instagram. While I believe ESPN did not suspend Law for defending Charles Darwin and evolution against Curt Schilling voicing his support on the theory of creationism (my reporting suggested it was because Law had been previously warned about aggressive Twitter interactions), it was a very bad look to discipline Law (unfairly, I’d argue) and not Schilling.
• Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder highlighted the issues of former NFL and Redskins paid consultant Frank Luntz appearing on Fox Sports 1 to discuss ( i.e. praise) how Roger Goodell performed during his press conference. Not a good moment for Fox Sports 1.
•ESPN’s Johnny Manziel obsession at the draft, as chronicled by Tim Burke of Deadspin.
Studs of the Year
• Former Saints safety Steve Gleason live-tweeted (using his eyes) the Saints-Eagles game for NBC in January. Here’s an awesome Vine of Gleason tweeting:
• ESPN used six of its television platforms as well as audio and digital outlets for the Jan. 6 BCS telecast to present a smorgasbord of viewing options. What stood out most was the “BCS Film Room” on ESPNEWS featuring Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Boston College coach Steve Addazio, Pitt coach Paul Chryst and ESPN analysts Matt Millen, Chris Spielman and (a really terrific) Tom Luginbill providing X and O analysis of the game from a film room equipped with multiple camera angles and touchscreens. It was smart television, minimally produced, and every competitor should attempt to duplicate the concept. Props to ESPN staffers Mike Diesenhof, Bill Graff and Brian Ryder, who produced the Film Room broadcast and directors Vic DeLoureiro and Phil Skender.
• This commercial was all kinds of awesome:
• Fox Sports management made available to online viewers a women’s basketball game on Nov. 2 between Mt. St. Joseph College and Hiram. Why? The game featured the college basketball debut of Lauren Hill, who was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) last fall after doctors discovered an inoperable brain tumor. It was a very cool gesture by Fox.
• ESPN Radio talent producer Josh Drew landed Barack Obama for Colin Cowherd’s ESPN Radio show twice in one year. That’s big-time booking and the dude deserves a bonus.
• Great work by ESPN investigative reporter Mike Fish and producer Willie Weinbaum on an Outside the Lines special on Pat Tillman 10 years after his death. After years of working the story, the two ESPN staffers earned the trust of U.S. Army Ranger Specialist Steven Elliott, who discussed for the first time publicly on ESPN’s platforms the events that led to Tillman’s death from his vantage point as one of the shooters.
• NBC Sports horse racing reporter Kenny Rice showed great journalism instincts during a post-race interview with California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn after the Belmont Stakes. Coburn was itching to go off on the Triple Crown requirements for horses and Rice listened to his initial answer and asked the right follow-ups (Said Rice: “So if you had your way, you would say you have to run the Triple Crown or you cannot come up in the Belmont and be a fresh horse?” and “So you think they came right after your horse, and that was the plan?”). Well done.
• ESPN2 Highly Questionable host Bomani Jones first alerted ESPN.com readers to Donald Sterling’s housing discrimination nonsense eight years ago, and correctly observed then that too many constituencies (the NBA, the news media) had looked the other way on Sterling for years. The rest of the media finally caught up in 2014.
• Indie filmmaker Tim Thompson, the artist behind the CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada's opening montages, had another great year.
• Fox Sports commentator Katie Nolan delivered a commentary video essay on the role of women in the sports media:
• ESPN’s coverage of Michael Sam’s selection at the NFL Draft was the network at its best:
Seth Markman, the network’s senior coordinating producer for the NFL, said the discussion on how to handle the possibility of a Sam selection had occurred for months, and when the core Draft production arrived in New York City, they spent the final 45 minutes of a Friday morning production meeting discussing Sam alone. ESPN went 17 minutes on the Sam selection, covering all the bases. Great work.
• This opener for Army-Navy game was sensational work by CBS producers Pete Radovich and Gareth Hughes.
• ESPN’s Louis Riddick, the former player personnel director for the Eagles, was a rare truth-telling NFL voice for a rightsholder. He directly criticized Goodell on the Rice adjudication and spoke for much of the public when questioning NFL officials who claimed they never saw the infamous video.
• Loved CBS honoring Verne Lundquist by doing a one-hour documentary on him titled “In Your Life.”
• ESPN college football reporter Sam Ponder’s commentary about Jameis Winston last September on College GameDay was, in my opinion, her best moment as an on-air broadcaster.
• Classy move by Redskins PR to pay tribute to Bryan Burwell prior to a game against St. Louis.
• While most colleagues stayed silent, ESPN2 Sports Nation host Michelle Beadle opted to send a series of tweets decrying colleague Stephen A. Smith’s take on domestic violence. Wrote Beadle: “So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating…Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting.” That took some stones by Beadle.
• Grantland staff writer Rembert Browne, writing from Ferguson.
• ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter owned the NFL free agency deadline, reinforcing yet again how the NFL Network made a huge mistake letting him go.
• Fox Sports 1 announcer Wendy Venturini became the first female to call radio play-by-play of a Sprint Cup race as part the Performance Racing Network (PRN).
• When sports television debate is honest, thoughtful and not geared toward getting to the top of Twitter’s trending list, it can be terrific television. That happened following Tonalist’s win in the Belmont Stakes. At race’s end, NBC Sports horse racing analysts Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey embarked on an interesting discussion about Victor’s Espinoza ride of California Chrome. Moss thought Espinoza should have taken Chrome to the lead given the moderate pace (instead of taking the horse wide early and staying off the pace) while Bailey thought he rode “a really good race” and that the campaign and length got to him. No screaming, no nonsense, just two broadcasters intelligently discussing the replay. Bravo.
• You give me a regional zone manager, I’ll give you sports TV magic.
Quotes of the Year
• “The president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville because basically this stuff is just Jackass stuff that they invented and called Olympic sports,” – NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas, on NBC’s Today.
• “I haven't felt as good about anything since the Mets won the World Series in 1986.” – Fox NFL Producer Richie Zyontz, when asked if he remained confident on the decision to cut short Fox’s interview with Richard Sherman after the NFC Championship Game.
• “Steve is not that stupid. He’s not going to come to the Titanic.” – TNT’s Charles Barkley, prior to Steve Kerr opting for the Warriors over the Knicks.
• “That’s a very loaded question. That’s too difficult and anything I say would be considered disloyal to ESPN. I don’t even know that ESPN would offer me another deal beyond 2016. When we get to the end of the European Championships at the end of 2016, I am like every other commentator without a contract.” – ESPN soccer broadcaster Ian Darke, on whether he would be interested calling the World Cup for Fox in 2018.
• “Every day I'm told to either go back to the kitchen or back to Africa. In fact, I checked my Twitter mentions 10 minutes after writing this, and a tweeter called me a monkey. It's unacceptable, but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that this was part of the job. I hate that I compartmentalize it that way because I'm giving a pass to those who verbally abuse people on social media. I can't afford to be impacted by it because if I am, then I can't do my job. I'd cry myself to sleep every night if I let what some idiots say on social media change how I did my job or what I thought of myself. – ESPN2 “His and Hers” co-host Jemele Hill, on social media racism.
• “[It’s] not my job to make a stand on their name. If they're keeping the name, I'll keep using the name. If they're not, I won't. I'll call them whatever the team calls itself. It's Dan Snyder's decision, not mine. As far as I can tell, he has as much interest in changing the Redskins name as I do in changing mine. So to me they remain the Washington Redskins.” – ESPN’s Adam Schefter, on using the Redskins nickname.
• “Skip believes everything he says. He has strong opinions and wants them out there. Different people have different ways of communicating their thoughts. Skip has 1.4 million Twitter followers so there are a lot of people who want to hear what he has to say.” – ESPN executive Marcia Keegan, on the assertion that Skip Bayless’s attacks on LeBron James are unprofessional, unbecoming of ESPN and done merely to call attention to Bayless.
• “To go from the lead crew to no crew was a little shocking. I said I wanted to do a 20th year [on the sidelines]. I expressed to them that I was not done and had something to offer. Again, I think it was predetermined coming in. Not at that meeting, but two years ago it was determined that no matter what I did or did not do, a change would be made for this year.” – Longtime Fox Sports NFL sideline reporter Pam Oliver, on Fox Sports management’s decision to remove her initially from NFL coverage entirely before putting her on the No. 2 team.
• ”I really have too much respect for the craft. I know what goes into it and I know what you have to do to do it. To assume I could not do it for six years and then come back and do it one time would be a stupid assumption on my part. The game changes. And the game not only changes from year to year but week to week. It is a complicated and complex thing. To think you could come back and broadcast at any level that would be accepted, I don’t have that kind of ego.” – Former NFL broadcaster John Madden, on whether he would come back for a one-time assignment.
• “I will admit that last season wasn't always easy. It's just not worth going into detail about the reasons why -- mainly because it's all water under the bridge. And, by the way, I actually wouldn't change a thing. I learned so much and I'm better for it.” – ESPN NBA Countdown host Sage Steele, when asked what it was like working on her show last year.
• “He cannot survive this. I can give you an example today, as you watch this show, we’ve seen Johnny Manziel come out to the stadium. We’ve seen Johnny Manziel warming up. We’ve seen Johnny Manziel selling Snickers. He’s not even scheduled to play. When I think about what Brian Hoyer is up against, the most polarizing figure in the National Football League, I reflect back on Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, and Tim Tebow couldn’t even throw. Yet, you knew at some point, he was going to have the starting job. Brian Hoyer has been around this league to know that at some point – I don’t know whether it will come Week 4, the bye week, or some week after that, or maybe next week – the job will belong to Johnny Manziel and everybody knows it. – ESPN NFL analyst Tom Jackson, making the accurate call on Browns’ quarterback Brian Hoyer.
• ”If people just see a picture of me, there is an assumption of just a bobblehead beach blonde, the stereotypical, 'Oh, she is just one of those.' And I can't change that. Stereotypes exist for a reason. But what I can do is open my mouth and the minute I have a conversation with someone, hopefully, if I have that conversation with someone who has an opinion of me based on the superficial stuff, hopefully they walk away thinking, 'Oh, that is not at all what she is like.' But I don't want go around campaigning what I am all about. I hope that they can see that over time. I dyed my hair dark one time because I thought people would take me seriously because I had dark hair. I own who I am now. I am going to have blonde hair and wear high heels but there is a lot more to me than that.” – Fox Sports Live host Charissa Thompson, on stereotypes in sports broadcasting.
• "CBS you pulled my song last week, now you wanna slide it back in this Thursday? NO, F— you! Y'all are sad for penalizing me for this.” – Rihanna, on CBS pulling her song from Thursday Night Football in September.
• “We talked about everything he is going through with his mother [who passed away this year], getting engaged, and Gus is a single parent sharing custody of his son. Where Fox Sports is now is different from when we asked Gus to do soccer. To be as good as Gus wants to be at soccer, he would have to be fulltime on it. It was becoming painfully clear with his additional basketball schedule and things like the CONCACAF qualifiers and getting up to speed on the U.S. women’s national team, we could not be fair to him because we could not schedule him on every game. Also, he was brought in to do football and basketball for us. That was the priority. So it was a confluence of all of these things. Gus fell in love with soccer and it changed his life spending time in Europe. It was really hard because we both believe given the fair opportunity to immerse himself into it completely, we would have stuck with it. We could not do that for him schedule-wise so this is the best result.” – Fox Sports president Eric Shanks, on why Gus Johnson is no longer the network’s No. 1 soccer broadcaster.
• “I think one of the things that bothered people so much over this was that the public did not feel the NFL understood why people were so upset -- and did not understand why some of the early answers were not good enough. Hard questions to Roger Goodell in that press conference in some ways let people feel like they were having an opportunity to ask the things they wanted to ask. It let people feel their voices were being heard. I was just looking for information and I was little bothered by the perception that I was going after Roger Goodell. What I was doing was looking for the truth.” – CNN reporter Rachel Nichols, on questioning NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
• “What Mike and Mike did today was absolute garbage. I would say I lost respect for that show, but I never had it. For an ESPN Radio show to pull an interview out of context from another ESPN Radio show, then play the moral authority card, is disgusting. Have the balls to call me to discuss it on the show. Don't pull it out of context just because you need fodder for a segment. Pathetic.” – Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons, on ESPN Radio host Mike Golic, after Golic said Simmons was a headline-chaser.
His brio for basketball never wavered into his octogenarian years. Jack Ramsay continued to educate ESPN Radio listeners deep into his 80s, and even more important, he never stopped educating himself.
"He doesn't think he knows everything -- and he frankly does know everything," ESPN/ABC NBA play-by-play announcer Mike Breen told me in 2013. "He's always asking questions and was always curious. He'd ask me what I thought of a certain team or player, and I was almost embarrassed to give him an answer. I should not be telling Dr. Jack Ramsay what I think, but he wants to know other people's information because he still thinks he can learn from others. Even though he is from a different generation, his appreciation of today's players is as strong as ever. Sometimes you'll talk to a player or a coach who coached years ago and they'll say that today's players are not the same. Jack doesn't think that way. He changed as the game changed. He grew with the game."
After stepping down from ESPN in 2013, Ramsay passed away this April at age 89. I know I speak for many when I say his mark on listeners won't soon be forgotten. He leads my list of In Memoriam for 2014:
Bryan Burwell (national sports columnist); Bill Campbell (Philadelphia sportscaster); Jerry Coleman (Padres broadcaster); Jack Cristil (Mississippi State broadcaster); Richard Durrett (ESPNDallas.com writer); Sandy Grossman (CBS Sports director); Ralph Kiner (Mets broadcaster); Gary Lee (Motorsports reporter); Max Morgan (Dallas Fort-Worth sportscaster); Ramsay (ESPN and ESPN Radio broadcaster); and Pete Van Wieren (Braves broadcaster).