Sports Illustrated Media Awards: The best and worst of 2015
SI.com annually highlights a select group in the sports media who were newsworthy, both for positive and negative reasons. Below are the selections for 2015.
Media Persons of the Year
THE PICKS: Craig Sager (Turner Sports) and Shelley Smith (ESPN)
There are things Turner Sports reporter Craig Sager and ESPN reporter Shelley Smith share: a love of family and laughter, battle scars from surviving interviews with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and long tenures with the same media employer (Sager has been with Turner for 34 years; Smith is in her 19th year at ESPN)
They are also cancer survivors.
Each returned to sports television in 2015—Smith appeared on-camera bald as a symbol of her breast cancer fight—after rounds and rounds of chemotherapy. They share the 2015 SI Media Person Of The Year honor not only for their sustained excellent work, but for inspiring others who are battling cancer.
Sager was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014 and returned to the NBA sidelines last March after an 82-day hospital stay. Then came a recurrence the same month he was released. Over the last 21 months Sager said he has been to five hospitals and endured 14 different chemotherapy treatments. He has since started working the NBA sidelines again for Turner and travels to Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center once a month from his home in Atlanta for aftercare maintenance. Sager had a major checkup last week and most of the news was good. The one bit of concern comes from the latest bone marrow biopsy doctors performed, which had a residual trace 0.15 percent AML (acute myeloid leukemia). They don’t know if Sager’s body is fighting it with an existing stem cell or if they need to increase the chemo. “Obviously I am not cured,” Sager said. “We still have ongoing battles. But everything is going good and I feel great.”
On Dec. 3 Sager worked his first Spurs game since he finished leukemia treatments, which meant a return of the NBA’s most enjoyable sideline duo: Sager and Popovich. The Spurs coach hugged Sager and told the reporter it was the first time he “enjoyed doing this ridiculous interview we are required to do because you are here and back with us ... Now ask me a couple of inane questions!”
“I spent months in a hospital hoping to go back to work,” Sager said. “I love my job and one the thing that most people talk about are my interactions with Pop. I was just hoping to get the chance to interview him when I was in the hospital. I didn’t know what I would say or ask him or what he would say. When he gave me a hug, it was one of the most touching moments I can remember in my 34 years at Turner.”
Smith announced on Oct. 1, 2014, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and over the next six months, the reporter took off from her job to undergo multiple radiation treatments. She returned to ESPN’s airwaves last March—opting not to wear a wig—for the 2015 NFL draft. “My bald head means I have a fight, and I look at it as being fortunate to have a battle,” she said at the time.
Smith said she finished her treatment in June. “You are never really cancer-free but right now there is no evidence of disease,” Smith said.
The last time Smith and Sager saw each other in person was at the 2013 All-Star Game in Houston, but both are scheduled to work the 2016 All-Star Game in February in Toronto. The two are longtime press row mates during the NBA’s All-Star weekend.
Said Sager: “I didn’t know about Shelley ahead of time and then I saw her on TV with her hair gone and I said, ‘Oh, my god what happened.’ They explained she was fighting cancer. She wasn’t someone who was like, ‘Why me?’, or, ‘How terrible does my hair look?’ She was just the same old Shelley. Smiling, laughing. She gives me a lot of inspiration and she’s been very courageous through her battle. When we are together she’s always fun and lively, just a person who is very likeable.”
“I always make it a point to sit next to Craig because he’s so much fun,” Smith said. “He has a passion for what he does, and I love having it rub off on me. He’s also had it much harder than me because of his reoccurrence. His strength really helps me. He’s fighting so hard and I say to myself: I can do this. I can’t wait to see him. I’m also hoping my hair will look better than his by then too.”
Broadcast Team of the Year
THE PICK: Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman (ESPN)
Year after year, week after week, with far less fanfare than other college announcers at his network and elsewhere, McDonough provides a quality listen for viewers in both college football and college basketball. He’s found a particular chemistry with Spielman, a non-shtick analyst rooted in film work and preparation, with a specialty on defense. Here’s how the two called the final seconds of BYU’s thrilling win over Nebraska. Best of all, McDonough understands silence, as you’ll see in the BYU-Nebraska clip. This duo also drew the memorable end-of-game sequence in Michigan State-Michigan.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson (ABC and ESPN); Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett (NBC); Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts (CBS); Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth (NBC); Arlo White and Lee Dixon (NBC).
Best Studio Show
THE PICK: Inside the NBA (TNT) and College GameDay (ESPN)
This category is usually a toss-up between College GameDay and Inside the NBA, so I decided once again to give it to them both. (Hey, sue me.) GameDay had the tougher assignment this year given the switch in hosts, from Chris Fowler to Rece Davis. The show did not miss a beat, and ended up with a higher viewership average.
HONORABLE MENTION: Premier League Live (NBCSN and NBC); ESPN’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament coverage.
Newcomers of the Year
THE PICK: Gus Johnson (Fox) and Joel Klatt (Fox)
Yes, Johnson and Klatt have individually been around for years, but they were paired together for the first time this season after Fox decided to move Charles Davis to the NFL and Klatt out of the studio and into full-time game work. Prior to the season Klatt called the move the “biggest opportunity I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have” and he prepared like it was. He’s a quality analyst, who clearly does research on his games. He can be a bit of an anti-SEC honk on Twitter but his on-air work is quality. Johnson is known for his basketball calls but college football really suits him as a broadcaster because there’s more scoring than the NFL and such scoring plays suit Johnson’s go-for-broke style. Molly McGrath, the sideline reporter on the crew, adds to a quality on-air broadcast.
HONORABLE MENTION: David Duval (The Golf Channel); Jenn Hildreth and Kyndra de St. Aubin (Fox, Women’s World Cup); Pedro Martinez (for his MLB Network analyst gig); Jessica Mendoza (ESPN, for game analysis); Bill Raftery (CBS, for his first NCAA Final Four call); Alex Rodriguez (Fox), The Bill Simmons Podcast Network.
Reader Picks From Twitter: Rick Allen (NBC Sports); Nate Duncan (Dunc’d On Pod); Chris Fallica (ESPN, being given a larger role on GameDay); Joey Galloway (ESPN); Marty Smith (ESPN, moving away from NASCAR coverage); Christian Vande Velde (NBC Sports); Field Yates (ESPN).
THE PICK: Maria Taylor (SEC Network reporter)
Now in her second year as a college analyst, host and reporter for the SEC Network, Taylor has a variety of jobs, including working the sidelines for the Brent Musburger-Jesse Palmer team. She’s also an analyst on volleyball (where she is excellent) and women’s basketball. She handled herself like a Doris Burke-Lisa Salters-Michele Tafoya-esque pro in the insane aftermath of LSU’s win over Texas A&M, a game which centered around rumors of LSU coach Les Miles being fired. She asked Miles the question that needed to be asked (“What is your take on your future at LSU?”) and Leonard Fournette about the Miles tenure.
HONORABLE MENTION: Brent Barry (NBA TV); Bill Cowher (CBS)
Reader Picks from Twitter: Adam Amin (ESPN); Julie Stewart-Binks (Fox); Kevin Connors (ESPN); Chris Fowler (ESPN, for his college football calls); Katie Nolan (Fox)
Best News Feature on a Sports Program
THE PICK: ESPN College GameDay’s feature on Adam Griffith
ESPN aired a piece in September on Alabama junior kicker Adam Griffith, who most sports fans know as the kicker from Auburn’s famous “Kick Six” play in the 2013 Iron Bowl. But Griffith’s backstory is remarkable. He grew up as an orphan in Poland before a Georgia couple adopted him when he was 10. For a piece that aired on GameDay, ESPN’s cameras journeyed back to Poland with Griffith where he reunited with his birth parents. If you watch the piece, you can see clearly that the budget had significant costs that a GameDay feature normally would not have. To the credit of GameDay management, they invested in the project and the result was something that makes GameDay stand out among all other studio shows. Reporter Gene Wojciechowski and producer Scott Harves traveled several times to Calhoun, Ga., (Griffith’s home) and to Tuscaloosa for on-camera interviews. Then, last May, the team met in Berlin and made their way to Poland. As part of the feature, viewers saw scenes of Griffith being reunited with his birth family.
Said Wojciechowski: “Adam didn't decide until the last minute that he wanted to visit his birth parents’ house. He had gone back on forth on that, and understandably so. It was such an emotional fulcrum for him. When he decided to go, his only request was that we hang back for a few minutes until he approached the house on his own. It turns out his birth dad was outside in the backyard. We then followed Adam into the house and Scott and I found the nearest corner. Everything that happened inside the house was entirely spontaneous.
“As a reporter, I simply wanted to observe those beautiful, heartfelt, natural moments as they unfolded. And that’s what we did. The Debowskis [his birth family] were in a daze, but also were so welcoming. There was such emotion, apprehension and joy in the room. It was incredible to witness. Our goal was to tell Adam’s story with respect. We didn’t want to be helicopter reporters, always hovering. Sometimes he needed his own time … We had a wonderful Polish crew and a translator who did her best to navigate the languages. All in all, [it was] an experience of a lifetime. To visit that orphanage and see those lovely children, and think that Adam was once one of them—and then think of his unlikely journey—it still boggles my mind how arbitrary life can be.”
THE PICK: Four Falls of Buffalo (ESPN 30 for 30)
This Ken Rodgers-directed love letter to the city of Buffalo on the Bills’ teams of the 1990s was one of the best 30 for 30 efforts of recent vintage. The Bills’ four-year Super Bowl stretch always deserved better than the punch lines it endured in the ’90s, as this was an all-time great team: The franchise was 14–2 against the NFC in the regular season during its four-year Super Bowl stretch and those two losses came with many of their players benched after clinching a postseason berth. Scott Norwood’s interviews, poignant and painful, are the emotional center of the piece.
HONORABLE MENTION: Of Miracles and Men (ESPN)
The Halberstam Award
THE PICK: Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon (Texas Monthly)
This award cites a member of sports media for sticking it to power as David Halberstam 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.) Luther and Solomon reported on Baylor University’s shameful handling of a football player named Sam Ukwuachu, who was convicted of sexual assault on Aug. 21 by a jury at Texas District 54 Court in Waco. Ukwuachu had transferred to Baylor in fall 2013 after being dismissed from Boise State that May due to an unspecified violation of team rules, which was alleged to be violence against another woman. There was little reporting on this before the Texas Monthly authors started digging into what the program knew, when it knew it and the willful ignorance at Baylor.
Duds of the Year
(culled, in part, from this year’s media column)
• Warren Sapp—always outspoken, rarely interesting—was terminated from the NFL Network following his arrest for soliciting a prostitute and assault in Phoenix. The charges were eventually dismissed after Sapp completed a Prostitution Solicitation Counseling Program.
• Last year I named Cris Carter as my 2014 Most Improved Broadcaster. This year I felt I got played after video came out showing Carter encouraging NFL rookies to find a “fall guy” in the event they got into trouble. “You all are not going to all do the right stuff,” Carter says in the 2014 video taken at an NFL rookie symposium, “so I got to teach you all how to get around all this stuff too. If you're going to have a crew, one of those fools got to know he’s going to jail. We’ll get him out.” In his role at ESPN and ESPN Radio, Carter often waxes on about NFL players who get in trouble. As a viewer, I no longer have confidence in his opinions when he talks about player criminality and discipline. Maybe that changes down the road.
• ESPN had its own version of Deflategate (also Inflategate): In March a Reddit user under the tag of “sharpinator” posited that ESPN NBA draft analyst Chad Ford had altered his work after publication to reflect better analysis. The user cited examples. That was followed by further analysis across the sports blogosphere, including from NBA blogger Haralabos Voulgaris, SB Nation’s Tom Ziller and Deadspin’s Tim Burke. An ESPN spokesperson sent out the following: “We’re aware of the issue and we’re looking into it. We are in the process of restoring the rankings to the original form.”
• Fox’s U.S. Open debut was fair-to-middling, but there was no arguing its post-final round coverage was as bad a performance by a major network as we have seen in some time. That was disappointing because Fox had an excellent 45 minutes leading up to that. Cameras capturing the winner in the scoring trailer or locker room is a standard part of golf coverage, and that was a huge miss for viewers who never saw Jordan Spieth during Dustin Johnson’s missed putts on the 18th hole. Only after Spieth was leaving the U.S. Open scoring trailer did he appear on camera. Curt Menefee was miscast as a host, it took forever for the production to get analyst Greg Norman to talk about Johnson’s collapse, Fox failed to land Johnson immediately after his round and Spieth’s father was misidentified. As a prominent television producer emailed me that Sunday night: “A disaster on every level.”
• ESPN shuttered Grantland just months after its management told SI that it was committed to the site for the long term. Given the seven-figure spending on former athlete analysts in Bristol and the benefit Grantland provided the company in terms of its storytelling prowess and reputation, it’s remarkable that management would not have attempted to continue the site on a scaled-down basis.
• CBS Sports and Turner Sports basketball broadcaster Greg Anthony lost his NCAA broadcasting gig after he was arrested inside a room at a hotel in downtown Washington as part of an undercover operation targeting prostitution. He later re-joined Turner as an NBA analyst after the aspects of Anthony’s deferred prosecution agreement had been fulfilled.
• Curt Schilling got a raw deal from ESPN because once again the network’s discipline of its talent remains arbitrary and selective. In October ESPN announced that the baseball broadcaster had been pulled for the remainder of the Sunday Night Baseball schedule. ESPN initially pulled Schilling off its airwaves until Sept. 6 for sending a tweet in late August containing a meme comparing Muslims to Nazis. Schilling apologized for it, calling it a bad decision, and he was pulled off the air for a short time. That seemed like a reasonable workplace outcome for all parties.
• ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith conducted a multi-part infomercial with Floyd Mayweather off a seven-hour interview session. Given Smith is far more provocateur and pitchman than journalist these days, the final product wasn’t much of a surprise. Deadspin’s Daniel Roberts wrote a blistering piece that highlighted Smith’s whitewashing of Mayweather’s domestic violence issues. So did Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz.
• Later in the year, Smith threatened former NBA MVP Kevin Durant. There was no discipline from ESPN management. It’s fair for a viewer to surmise that Smith has become the on-air face of ESPN and more powerful than most of the execs there.
• ESPN reporter Britt McHenry berating a tow truck employee spurred a conversation on media classism and entitlement. She has been vilified in all precincts, the real-life personification of a Mean Girl. That might work if you are positioning yourself as a sports hot taker who takes no prisoners. For a reporter, classism and entitlement are tags you don’t want to be anywhere near. ESPN stuck with McHenry and she has since kept a low profile.
• Layoffs at ESPN and to Fox Sports’s news operation were gutting to see. So many good people lost jobs.
• “If you want to choke Bryce Harper— and I suspect if you played with him, you might—ask him to come up the tunnel and then choke him. You don’t do it in the dugout for everyone in the world to see; you keep that stuff private.” —Lee Judge, Kansas City Star
• Pat Summerall and John Madden are understandably the de facto answer for most people over 50 when asked who they consider the greatest NFL announcing team of all time. I opt for the current NBC Sunday Night Football team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, and part of the reason—beyond booth chemistry and the announcers’ ability to dissect a game—is that I always felt they were working for viewers first, despite being an obvious part of the league apparatus. That’s what made the water-carrying for the NFL so infuriating to watch last January. Michaels and Collinsworth engaged in a Pravda-like reading and discussion on the findings of the Mueller Report, and as Baltimore Sun television critic David Zurawik noted, the spot came off as prepared propaganda.
• In a bad look for my employer—particularly given the individual named here works with people who cover women’s sports—MMQB writer Andy Benoit channeled his inner meathead by tweeting that women’s sports in general were not worth watching. He later amended that to just women’s soccer. As part of this genius take, Benoit cited that women’s sports are “less entertaining” and “ratings prove it” (except, of course, when they don’t.) Benoit was rightfully roasted nationally, including by comedians Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler.
• Bummer to see the growing trend of college football personalities trolling Power Five fan bases on Twitter (and elsewhere)—and such trolling being monetized by sports corporations. It’s a cheap, lazy and easy content play -- and management knows this -- that hurts the editorial reputation of thoughtful commentators.
• The Boston Globe—led by reporter Chad Finn—did a sensational job highlighting the trainwreck decision of NESN (New England Sports Network) and the Red Sox to jettison Red Sox television broadcaster Don Orsillo at season’s end. It was a terrible decision on multiple levels and at the top of that mountain is NESN and Red Sox management’s total disregard for their consumers. Orsillo ended up taking a job with the Padres.
• In what seems to be an unfortunate trend, another team broadcaster who offered honesty in assessing what was playing out in front of him has been jettisoned. The Marlins announced they would not renew the contract of TV analyst Tommy Hutton after 19 seasons, a decision that has been met by near universal disdain from fans. Said Dave George of the Palm Beach Post of the decision: “Shocking and stupid and tone deaf at a level that exceeds the franchise’s long-established low standards.”
Studs of the Year
(culled, in part, from this year’s media column)
• NBC’s work in the final minute of Super Bowl 49 was sensational.
• A beautiful, moving tribute put together by ESPN feature producers Mike Leber, Miriam Greenfield and Denny Wolfe for their late colleague, Stuart Scott.
• The Raiders hired Beth Mowins to call their preseason games, breaking another long overdue barrier. Mowins was the first woman to do play-by-play for an NFL game since 1987. As I’ve written repeatedly, ESPN should assign Mowins to its late game for its Monday Night Football opening night doubleheader.
• Fox delivered a tremendous production for the Women’s World Cup, airing all 52 games and shoulder-programming before and after matches. Even if you did not like the on-air talent, you could not question the commitment to the tournament. Prior to this tournament, Fox Sports had never set up camp for a whole month where it had to shuttle so many people and so much data from country to country and venue to venue. The Canada experience will help it immeasurably for Russia.
• Tremendous work by the YES Network producers, editors and on-air talent for the quality work they did honoring Yogi Berra after his death, including a live, three-hour “Yogi Berra Remembered” special featuring live interviews with Don Larsen, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Willie Randolph, Al Kaline, Tony Pena, David Wells, Bucky Dent, Mel Stottlemyre, Goose Gossage, Joe Girardi and current players, including Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann.
• The ESPN NBA and Around The Horn commentator Israel Gutierrez wrote with eloquence on his journey to coming out publicly.
• As was the case in 2014, ESPN produced a fantastic platform last January with its Coaches’ Film Room coverage of the college football national championship game. This year’s group of coaches consisted of Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, Nebraska’s Mike Riley and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason. The group members were targeted specifically because of their connections to the title teams. None was TV polished, which was perfect.
• This ESPN MyWish segment with John Cena of the WWE.
• Bill Simmons formed a podcast network following his ESPN exodus, and in little time, Simmons was ranked at the top of the iTunes Sports podcast list, ahead of his ESPN competition.
• One of the ways women’s soccer will continue to grow in popularity in the U.S. is through objective broadcasting. That’s why it was refreshing to read—and hear—the words of Michelle Akers, the former U.S. national team star who worked the Women’s World Cup for SiriusXM’s 24/7 soccer channel, SiriusXM FC (channel 94).
• TSN produced a tremendous piece on women’s soccer inside Brazil’s favelas. Kudos to Rick Westhead and Josh Shiaman.
• On Aug. 24 ESPN MLB announcer Jessica Mendoza become the first female broadcaster to call a Major League Baseball game on ESPN and did so with aplomb. She was alongside Dan Shulman and John Kruk for Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter on Aug. 30 and also was part of ESPN’s Wild Card coverage. She earned a place on one of ESPN’s game broadcast teams next season.
• If you have never heard this, I really recommend listening to this 2007 call from the Paul Finebaum Show on racism and the capacity to change. He played it again in 2015.
• ESPN’s coverage of Ohio State’s 42–20 victory over Oregon in the college football national championship game drew 33.395 million viewers and an 18.2 U.S. household rating, making it the most-watched and highest-rated game in cable television history. When you include the numbers from the Megacast (ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes and ESPNEWS), the overall viewership was 34,148,000 viewers.
• Tragedy often brings out poetry. This tribute from NFL Network host Rich Eisen for his longtime SportsCenter partner Stuart Scott was, in my opinion, Eisen’s finest moment in television.
• CBS hired Dottie Pepper, making her the first full-time female voice for the network that covers the most PGA Tour events. She will be the first woman to work the Saturday and Sunday broadcast of the Masters.
• The Blue Jays–Rangers series in the ALDS averaged 3.55 million on Sportsnet in Canada, which is a crazy, big number given Canada has a population of 35.1 million.
• An animated short featuring Bill Simmons settling scores at ESPN (with a Charles Barkley cameo).
• Lorne Rubenstein, the longtime golf writer, most notably for The Globe and Mail in Canada, landed one of the interviews of the year by getting Tiger Woods for a two-hour and 23-minute sit-down at Woods’ restaurant in Florida.
• Loved this Fox Sports feature on U.S. national team star Abby Wambach. Full marks to the Women’s World Cup features group head Jennifer Pransky. The Olympic–style feature unit headed up by Pransky produced close to 70 player, team and feature profiles and consistently did excellent work for the Women’s World Cup. Bring them back for the 2018 and 2019 World Cups.
• ESPN2’s broadcast of “Heroes of the Dorm”—the first competitive gaming tournament to air live on ESPN or ESPN2— averaged 96,000 homes. The ratings were not great but e-sports is coming and will draw viewers. Any network airing this is ahead of the curve.
• I asked people on Twitter to respond to the question “Where were you on September 11, 2001?” Reader Howard Riefs put together a Storify with more than 1,500 personal stories. Many thanks to him.
• Kenny Albert’s May schedule.
• Understanding that the streaming experience is personalized given your device and Internet carrier, it appeared most viewers were generally satisfied with the screen experience for Yahoo!’s live-streaming of the Bills-Jaguars game on Oct. 25. I watched on both my iPhone and a Mac laptop. My iPhone picture quality was beautiful and felt like a video game at times. The laptop quality was also high, though I often had some buffering, pixelation and lagging issues (the stream was well behind Twitter), especially in the first half.
• Ambitious video from Fox Sports on the impact of soccer for Syrian girls (refugees) living in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Full marks to producers Sarah Cordial and David Brand, editor Jason Sanchez and executive producers Mike Hughes and Yaron Deskalo.
• ESPN’s E:60 profile of Ernie Johnson was extraordinary.
• HBO’s John Oliver destroyed the NCAA tournament on HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
• Louis Riddick dominated ESPN’s opening night draft coverage, and by dominate I mean dominate with cogent, thoughtful and intellectually sound analysis. Riddick would have never even been on the set had it not been for Ray Lewis opting to stay in Baltimore to help his adopted city heal from the Freddie Gray riots.
• CNN’s Rachel Nichols and ESPN and HBO Sports’s Michelle Beadle—both fervent critics of Floyd Mayweather with a focus on his domestic violence abuse—sent word out through their Twitter accounts on the morning of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight that they had their credentials revoked by members of Mayweather’s fight team. That created an important conversation about press access. Neither ended up covering the fight.
• FS1 had a gorgeously produced October baseball essay featuring some of the great moments in MLB history. Props to Fox Sports/FS1 senior associate producer Etienne Materre for creating the images to match Tom Verducci’s words.
• TNT NBA analyst Chris Webber was terrific during the thrilling Game 7 between the Clippers and Spurs, and particularly in the final minutes. First, Webber was quick and decisive to call out the phantom foul call on Tim Duncan against Chris Paul with 13 seconds left. But where he really shined was on the game’s final play when the clock inadvertently ran to zero prior to the inbounds play. That set off Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who went off on the officials. “If I’m Popovich I am very upset, too,” Webber said.
• May 2 was one of the craziest television sports days in a generation, including Premier League soccer, the final rounds of the NFL draft, the Stanley Cup playoffs (Rangers-Capitals), a full slate of MLB games (including Red Sox-Yankees), a NASCAR race (the Winn-Dixie 300 at Talladega), the Kentucky Derby, a thrilling NBA Game 7 (Clippers-Spurs), the PGA Tour WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship and Floyd Mayweather’s win over Manny Pacquiao.
• The best broadcasting call of the opening two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament came from Brian Anderson. He was sensational on the TBS telecast of Notre Dame’s overtime win over Butler, a broadcaster fully in command of the pace of the game as well as the game’s big moments and officiating decisions. In my opinion, he’s earned a promotion next year to call the regional rounds.
•Tremendous of Grantland’s Bryan Curtis to write this about the late Dave Goldberg, the longtime NFL beat writer for the Associated Press and a solid dude.
• If you are a parent—or plan to be one in the future—I really recommend reading this eulogy from Ivan Maisel, an ESPN college football writer and former SI staffer.
• Grantland writer and editor Sean Fennessey wrote a poignant piece on the end of his site.
• ESPN NFL analyst Merrill Hoge returned to his full-time schedule in November after open-heart surgery in October.
• Stephanie Ready, a color analyst on Fox Sports Southeast’s coverage of the Charlotte Hornets, became the NBA's first full-time female game analyst.
• ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, Grandfather of the Year. [tweet=https://twitter.com/DickieV/status/660603689074360320]
Quotes of the Year
“Back in my day we had a hard salary cap, so you could not go over the salary cap like you can today, and the Sixers had the No. 5 pick in the draft. I left college after three years and in fairness, I was fat in college. I played at 300 pounds. The Sixers called me a month before the draft and said, “We want you to get down to 285 pounds and come in before the draft.” So I get down to 283 and the night before we fly into Philly my agent said, ‘You do know if the Sixers draft you they are going to give you $75,000, right?’ I said, ‘Dude, I didn’t leave college for $75,000. We have a problem.’ He said, ‘You weigh about 283 now. What do you want to do? You beat their weight limit.’ I said, ‘Let’s go out.’
“So we went to Denny’s and I had like two Grand Slam breakfasts. We went to lunch and I had like two big barbeque sandwiches. That night we went to a big steakhouse. The next morning I had two more Grand Slam breakfasts and when we flew to Philly, I weighed 302. I was like, thank goodness, the Sixers are not going to draft me. So when you look at my face when Commissioner [David] Stern says with the fifth pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Charles Barkley, I was like, ‘Oh, s---.’ When people go back and look at me walking—and they see that awful burgundy suit—everybody else is happy and Charles isn’t happy. But it worked out great. The most important person in my basketball career was Moses Malone and he got me down to under 250 pounds and the rest is history.”
— TNT’s Charles Barkley, on trying to avoid being drafted by the Sixers in 1984 by gaining 20 pounds in 48 hours prior to a pre-draft workout in Philadelphia.
“My perception of Tom Brady hasn’t changed in the least. Teams and players have always—and will always—push the boundaries in search of a competitive advantage. This case is just another example. I would need irrefutable proof that Brady instructed someone to deflate the footballs beneath the legal limit for my perception of him to change, and neither the league nor the Wells report has provided that proof. Do I believe Brady has been 100% truthful? Not for a moment. But the next person I meet who has never played with the truth will be the first.”
— ESPN NFL writer and Pro Football Hall of Fame voter Jim Trotter, on whether Deflategate would have any impact on voting for Brady for Canton.
“I think Caitlin’s decision to publicly come out as a transgender woman and live as Caitlin Jenner displayed enormous courage and self-acceptance. Bruce Jenner could have easily gone off into the sunset as this American hero and never have dealt with this publicly. Doing so took enormous courage. He was one of the greatest athletes of our time. That is what the Arthur Ashe Courage Award is about, somebody from the athletic community who has done something that transcends sport. One of the biggest platforms the Arthur Ashe Foundation has is educational, and I think in this choice we have the opportunity to educate people about this issue and hopefully change and possibly save some lives. I think that is why it was the right choice.”
— ESPY’s producer Maura Mandt, on the subject of why Caitlin Jenner was selected for the Arthur Ashe Award.
“There were 20 F-U’s. They knew I was not coming back. He’s not coming back and we have to position this that when it all hits a head, we can blame Grantland—[it] did not get enough traffic, he was difficult, and all the s--- that wasn’t true. Part of the reason we didn’t get traffic was that they didn’t promote the site. I remember the first week of May I sent an email to all the higher-ups. I said, ‘You guys realize you only led ESPN.com with Grantland once in April? Literally once. Do you care or not?’ We have no mobile presence at all, we don’t have an app, 46% of our traffic is coming through our main page, which is absurd for a website. We are getting no help from other parts of the company. People seem to think ESPN was so helpful for us and it was actually the opposite. Anyone else would have been helpful. And we had great writers. That’s what killed me. If you are at any company and you don’t have someone fighting for you, it’s really hard to get s--- done. I had a great time there. I did a lot of great things. I have no regrets about anything I did except coming back for that second year of Countdown. It was a great place to work. I got to do Grantland there. I got to meet all these awesome people—the highlight of my career. Got to do 30 for 30. Got to have a column. Got to have a podcast. It was a great place to work for a long time and the last two years it wasn’t. And that was the problem.”
— Bill Simmons, on ESPN, on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
“I think women, especially women of color, are constantly asked to ‘prove’ themselves in an industry that is dominated by white males. Often times I feel I have to be better prepared than most because my mistakes will be more glaring than if I were a male. Most times when I first encounter a male colleague, I feel like there is judgment, as if internally they are asking, ‘How did she get this job? Does she really know sports or did they hire her to meet a quota?’ So to answer the question I would say I am treated fairly by some, but unfairly by most. The mistreatment is not often times blatant, but the undertones are there, particularly if you are rising in the industry faster than they are.”
— Hawaii News Now reporter Francesca Weems on how she is treated in the workplace.
“How forthright does the audience want the broadcasters to be? Because when you tell your truth, there’s a lot of anger that comes out. I think it’s a good question to ask TV people [executives] too. How much truth do they want to be told? How much truth does the league want told? Because the truth isn’t just a positive truth. If you’re going to tell the truth, you would be telling a lot of positive and some negative. So I think that question is interesting on a lot of different levels.”
— Jeff Van Gundy, on honesty in broadcasting.
“If I want to know, I could know everything. But I don’t want to know and especially at Wrestlemania. A perfect example was with the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. When Undertaker’s streak was defeated by Brock Lesnar last year, oh, my God, I was as shocked as the people sitting at the stadium that night inside the Superdome. I know no idea in a million years that was going to happen. And that was the reaction you got out of our call hopefully. I was expecting the Undertaker to kick out and I did one of my normal “One, two…” and I was expecting to say kick out and all of a sudden it was three. I looked at John and he looked at me and I mouthed to him off-air, “Is it over?” His eyes were big and wide and I said to myself: O.K., the streak is over. I want those moments to happen. One of my favorite Wrestlemania matches to call was the first time Rock and John Cena met in Miami. I didn’t know what would happen and it was such a great year-long build that I didn’t want to know. It makes that moment so much better. At the end of the day just like anyone else who calls any sports, we are fans of the product and we want to be as intrigued as everybody else.”
— WWE lead announcer Michael Cole, on what he knows prior to a match.
“It was like being at the foot of a great teacher. I recorded two or three long interviews before Tigers games and the life lessons were enormous. I realized that Ernie Harwell was an incredible broadcaster but he was a really special person. He was a man of great faith, he was a man that put all of the gifts God gave him into doing the work that he did. But equally of importance, I would walk with him in the hallways and down toward the press room at Tiger Stadium and you would see hot dog grillers, and the guys who were selling scorecards once the gates opened, they all noticed he was coming. And you could sense that they all hoped he would come over and say hello because he knew them all by name and one day he stepped forward and said, ‘Shake hands with a friend of mine, Mike Emrick.’ He would introduce me by name to the person getting the hot dogs ready and the scorecards. There was no one that really beneath Ernie Harwell. He was just a good soul."
— NBC NHL announcer Mike Emrick, on Ernie Harwell, who served as a Ph.D. advisor for Emrick.
“The sensitivity that these guys are showing, they are making unnecessary enemies. I am not one of them. I won’t be. I got too much love and respect for who these guys are, and what they mean to my community. But I will say this lastly. You don’t want to make an enemy out of me. And I’m looking right into the camera. And I’m going to say it again. You do not want to make an enemy out of me.”
— ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, to Kevin Durant.
“Luckily the words came out the way I wanted them to.”
— NBC horse racing announcer Larry Collmus, on calling American Pharoah’s win in the Belmont Stakes.
“Well some of that is not really my determination. I think ESPN has addressed the definitive thoughts on that. My feeling is, for what it is worth, we found ourselves up against new economic realities that maybe had not been foreseen when I took the job. When you are doing a site that you understand is not making money, you kind of understand when times get challenging or there is a new economic climate, you will be scrutinized very closely. I think the site continued to do fantastic editorial for which I want to be sure not to take credit. That was the product of the editors and writers who were there every day of the week. But in this economic climate you will be very closely scrutinized if you are not a money-making operation.”
— Chris Connelly, on why Grantland shut down.
“I think we proved we are more than qualified custodians of this property. I think people can look at us with high expectations and that’s what they should have. They should look to our coverage of the 2018 World Cup and think, ‘O.K., you did very well the first time out of the gate in 2015 in Canada’, and then they should expect we will exceed our own performance.”
— Fox Sports World Cup executive producer David Neal, on the network’s Women’s World Cup coverage.
“When you start a new job there is always nerves about it, so it’s always nice to have someone reassure you that you will be welcome. When it is the guy who is the greatest person who ever lived in the profession you dreamed of getting into, it was one of the coolest things to ever happen to me … He said he looked forward to meeting me on the road, or if I was at a home game, he said he’d hoped to steal some of my time. I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can carve out a few minutes.’”
— New Dodgers broadcaster Joe Davis, on getting a welcome call from Vin Scully.
Ron Bergman (Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News sports writer who notably covered the dynastic Oakland A’s teams of the 1970s); Bob Barry Jr. (longtime Oklahoma City sports broadcaster); Steve Byrnes (Fox NASCAR broadcaster); “Hot Rod” Hundley (longtime Utah Jazz broadcaster); Ken Denlinger (longtime Washington Post sports columnist); Jerry Dior (who designed the MLB logo); Chuck Gerber (ESPN executive); Frank Gifford (longtime ABC and ESPN broadcaster); Darryl Hamilton (MLB Network); Milo Hamilton (Houston Astros broadcaster); Max Maisel (son of ESPN’s Ivan Maisel); Merrell Noden (who worked as a writer at Sports Illustrated for many years and specialized in running); Nick Peters (covered the San Francisco Giants for 47 years for three newspapers); Robby Santiago (SI Now producer); Lon Simmons (A’s and Niners broadcaster); Stuart Scott (ESPN broadcaster), Tony Verna (TV director who introduced instant replay).
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