Sunday May 10th, 2015

This week marks the debut of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast, which I hope you’ll sample below. It will publish weekly (Sunday night or Monday) with a wide variety of guests and topics. Adam Schefter of ESPN and Rachel Nichols of CNN are the inaugural guests and they were excellent.

Schefter runs until the 47-minute mark, followed by my conversation with Nichols. We discussed a ton of topics including:

On the issue of ESPN sourcing other outlets

Schefter: “For as much criticism as ESPN gets on this topic and it has gotten its fair share, ESPN does a better job of crediting reporters and outlets than anybody else and it’s not even close. It’s not even close. You can just go through and look at various news stories and the way they are done. Is ESPN’s policy perfect? Far from it. There are ways it can be improved. Absolutely. And I know it is important to ESPN because they have continually met on it, discussed it. Is it perfect? No. But it is considerably better than other outlets and the way they go about crediting people, which is to say basically not at all. There are certain places where it is an embarrassment. I choose not to do that kind of thing on Twitter and call people out and do that kind of thing. It’s not important enough to me to do that. To me? Go do your job.”

On the issue of the (Floyd) Mayweather camp playing games with her fight credentials

Nichols: “I think that it’s important to speak out when a freedom of the press issue is going on, and that if people who work at ESPN or CNN or TNT don’t speak out, it’s a lot easier to do it to people who work at smaller stations and smaller publications. So it’s sort of a responsibility of people who work at bigger places with bigger megaphones to speak out when those issues happen. I also had been in Las Vegas supposedly covering the fight and covering everything going on with the fight. So for me to suddenly not be at the fight deserved some sort of public explanation.”

The conceit of the podcast is to provide interesting conversation with interesting people about the sports media and the process of sports media. Most of the future podcasts will be shorter than this one, which runs close to two hours. (The podcast will also get better as we move forward and figure out what works and what doesn’t; the producer is the excellent Bette Marston, one of SI.com’s NFL editors.)

Feel free to suggest any guests at my Twitter feed and thanks for giving it a shot. Bill Simmons declined to be the first guest (prior to last Friday) on this podcast. We’ll keep at him.

THE NOISE REPORT

SI.com examines some of the week’s biggest sports media stories.

1. It’s rare to see a sports television outlet profile a person from another network but kudos to ESPN’s E:60 and ESPN management for producing a feature piece on Ernie Johnson of Turner Sports. I'd urge you to watch it if when it eventually becomes available (ESPN usually posts E:60 features about three weeks following its initially air date due to affiliate deals so look for it May 20). Johnson is a rare figure in the sports media business, an ego-free broadcaster who is universally liked by colleagues and competitors. He has overcome cancer, and he and his wife of 32 years Cheryl have four adopted children, including son Michael who was born with a progressive form of muscular dystrophy and lives on a ventilator in his parents’ home.

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“We’ve never done a profile of an individual in the media, but were fascinated by all the things that Ernie had taken on in his personal life,” said E:60 feature producer Dan Lindberg, who produced the piece. “It has to be difficult to open up your home to a producer and camera crew from another network, especially when you have never met them, but EJ and his family welcomed us with open arms, and treated us as guests in their home. Ernie left a real impression on me. He and his family are such honest and humble people, and it was important to me that they had a good experience throughout this project.”

In an interview with SI.com last Thursday, Johnson said he and his family were touched by the piece, and that Lindberg became an adopted family member during the filming, which started on Mar. 26, 2014, the day Ernie took Michael to a car show in downtown Atlanta. Johnson said that he was thankful network boundaries did not get in the way of telling his story.

“It’s a very personal deal,” Johnson said. “Our PR people have come to me in years past and said this home magazine wants to come out and show your house. I would say we don’t need anyone talking about how we live. We value what we have from a privacy standing. But for this story, my wife and I talked a long time about it and if this is going to open someone’s eyes for adoption, if this will open someone’s eyes to special needs children, then we’re in.”

E:60 reported on the story for more than a year, with Lindberg checking back in for more reporting. Johnson said he initially agreed to the story when he heard ESPN was assigning Jeremy Schaap as the correspondent, someone he knew and respected. “The whole crew were so meticulous and concerned with getting it right,” Johnson said.

Since the piece ran, Johnson said he and his family have been flooded with thousands of comments among Twitter, email and other forms of communication. E:60 staffers said they have heard from people interested in adoption as a result of watching. “We were all just blown away by it,” said Johnson. “We all know our family’s story but I think we had to process this piece on its own. There were certain things that made us laugh and certain things that made us cry. When you hear someone say ‘we may adopt’ because of you sharing your story, that’s what it’s about, man.”

1b. The annual Sports Emmy's are a clubby, backslapping affair—and it’s hard to get beyond a body that once nominated Skip Bayless for an award—but there’s at least some value for the public given that they honor TV production people who work long hours for much less pay than their on-air counterparts.

The good news: Last week’s Sports Emmy's produced a particularly poignant moment. After winning the award for Outstanding Studio Host, his third, Johnson invited Taelor and Sydni Scott, the two daughters of the late ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, to the stage and handed them the trophy in their father’s honor. Scott was a nominee in the category. Here’s the video.

Extra Mustard
Ernie Johnson gave his Sports Emmy to Stuart Scott's daughters

“I think everyone in the room thought when the winner was announced it was going to be Stuart including me,” said Johnson. “I was sitting there waiting for the moment when his daughters went up and accepted for him. When they announced my name, I looked at my wife and I was stunned. I didn’t prepare anything because I was that sure that Stuart would be the guy. But when I walked up I was sure that I was not going to leave the stage with that trophy. I just didn’t know how I would do it. I have seen what cancer does to a family and what it does to kids when a parent has cancer. I watched my own kids not know what will happen to Dad. There is something that resonates with me about teenage kids going through life without their Dad.”

Johnson said he did not interact with Stuart Scott on a day-to-day level but they did see each other at NBA events and other charity events. When Scott was going through cancer, he and Johnson would swap texts often. “If I saw him on the air, I’d text him to say, “It’s good for my soul to see you working again.” Or if I wasn’t there, I’d tell him I missed him and ask how treatment is going. He had reached out to me when I had non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma before he ever got sick. It was that kind of relationship. I found out when I was going through what I was going through that a seemingly innocuous text or quick email could make all the difference in the world that moment. Sometimes you are having a bad day and you see and email or a text and it’s a pick me up. I always encourage people to hit the send button. You have no idea how it might lift up someone who is going through a tough time.

After the event ended, Johnson and the Scott daughters posed for pictures and had a brief conversation. "They said that they had seen the E:60 piece and went to their Mom to say, 'What a story about this guy Ernie. And now here you are.' It’s surreal. Sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch how God connects the dots."

2. ESPN’s upfront presentation for ad buyers is this week in New York City and among the expected announcements: The popular radio programming "Mike & Mike" will move its base of operations from Bristol to New York City. The show is also likely to add on-air staffers to the current and longtime duo of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic.

Though ratings challenged in many big-city markets against local programming, "Mike & Mike" is highly significant to what ESPN does for a number of reasons:

a. It often sets up the talking points for many other shows later that day.

b. It markets other ESPN programing and talent.

c. It has incredible producers and talent bookers who often produce newsbreakers.

d. It makes money.

Asked specifically about whether the show was moving to New York City and adding additional on-air people, an ESPN spokesperson declined comment. ESPN PR did pass along a statement from senior vice president Traug Keller, the top executive for ESPN Audio, about the direction of "Mike & Mike."

"We have been adding additional voices to 'Mike & Mike' like Cris Carter, Jemele Hill and Michael Smith and we continue to look for ways to enhance this very important program."

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3. Bill Simmons has always positioned himself as an outsider. It’s an odd sentiment given he made his fame at the most established brand in sports media, but Simmons has always envisioned himself as anti-establishment, even as he built an in-house empire and became an integral part of the machine known as ESPN.

He and the machine are parting ways. On Friday, Richard Sandomir of The New York Times broke the news that ESPN would not re-sign Simmons when his contract expires in September. Simmons (as well as his publicist and agent) have yet to comment. If you missed it, here was my story on what’s next for ESPN and Simmons and what led to the dissolution.

3a. Highly recommend this Vanity Fair piece on the ESPN—Simmons divorce by James Andrew Miller, the author of the best-selling book, These Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN.

3b. Remarkable post here by Deadspin’s Dave McKenna given John Walsh’s role in bringing Simmons to ESPN.

3c. On the issue of whether Bill Simmons will appear on Grantland, ESPN.com, ESPN TV or ESPN Audio again, an ESPN spokesperson said on Sunday that nothing had been resolved as of this writing.

4. If depression has hit you, your family or friends, I really recommend reading this Kate Fagan piece on a University of Pennsylvania runner who took her own life.

European Football scarf culture by Sam Borden of The New York Times (paywall).

• If you have never read, a ton of writers I know consider this the best Sports Illustrated piece in the last 20 years.

• Jeff Pearlman interviews Fox Sports 1’s Charissa Thompson.

• William Rhoden, on playing through pain and when that’s senseless.

• SI’s Lee Jenkins on NBA players and their mothers.

Non-sports pieces of note:

• Sensational reporting by New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir on manicurists being exploited and abused (paywall).

• Erin Lee Carr on losing her mentor and father, David Carr.

• White House photographer Pete Souza chose one photo from each state that he and Barack Obama have visited.

• Via The Economist: The soft bigotry of lazy abstraction.

• Margalit Fox on a man who taught the nation, “We Shall Overcome.”

• "Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us" By Jay Caspian Kang.

5. Broadcasters Brooke Weisbrod and Lisa Byington were let go by the WNBA’s Chicago Sky last month, replaced by two male broadcasters. Here, Weisbrod, in her own words, reflects on why she believes it happened. Chicago Tribune writer Ed Sherman also addressed the move with Sky management.

5a. A federal jury ruled in favor of a HBO over Mitre Sports International’s claim that a September 2008 segment of Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel defamed its company during a segment on child labor in India. Said an HBO Sports spokesperson: “We are delighted with the jury’s decision, which confirms what we have said since the beginning of this legal proceeding in the fall of 2008: this case was without merit and the Real Sports reporting was unimpeachable.  We couldn’t be prouder of the Real Sports franchise and the award-winning work done over the past 20 years. We are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration of the evidence.” 

5b. Fox said Barcelona's 3-0 win Bayern Munich in the Champions League delivered 615,000 viewers on May 6, making it the fourth most-watched UEFA Champions League match on FOX Sports 1.

 5c. The award-winning photographer George Kalinsky will be inducted into The Madison Square Garden’s Walk of Fame on Monday along with the Grateful Dead, Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Eddie Giacomin of the Rangers, and Basketball Hall of Fame forward Harry Gallatin of the Knicks

5d. The Washington Post’s media writer Paul Fahri on what might be next for Simmons, with quotes from sports media reporters and a star of the Food Network.

5e. How a 19-year-old student landed a radio interview with ESPN's president.

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