Should sports broadcasters get political?
Last month, ESPN golf analyst Paul Azinger offered a 140-character analysis of President Barack Obama's job creation record, a zinger from Azinger that reverberated around the web.
The network, when prompted for a response to the tweet by
But Obama wasn't the only politician to be criticized by an ESPN personality. In June, Kenny Mayne channeled his inner-Olbermann when he tweeted that he
With the 2012 Presidential election season heating up, and more media members taking to Twitter and other social media outlets, Azinger and Mayne are unlikely to represent the last public intersection of sports television and politics. And with more than 1,000 front-facing commentators, ESPN has the trickiest terrain ahead.
As for more direct political advocacy, college football analyst Lou Holtz is an
To its credit, ESPN has issued a section on political advocacy in its overall editorial policy book. It reads:
• Correspondents, producers, editors, writers, public-facing talent and those involved in news assignments and coverage must avoid being publicly identified with various sides of political issues.
• Staff or contract employees who nonetheless involve themselves in political advocacy may be reassigned to avoid their handling of news, coverage or other topics related to that issue or other coverage that could be impacted by such advocacy. Common sense should be applied. For example, the limitation on political activity."
What of other major media outlets airing sports? When asked by SI.com if it had a similar policy for its talent or bylined contributors, Fox Sports spokesperson Dan Bell said, "We do not have an official written policy, however, [Fox Sports Chairman] David Hill has his own unwritten policy that he makes clear to all of our broadcasters each year, dating back to 1994. As a FOX Sports employee, you do not discuss race, religion or politics on our air or any other outlet."
CBS declined to comment on the issue through a spokesperson.
NBC has no formal policy on political advocacy but said via a spokesperson: "However, we regularly communicate with our talent about the evolving world of social media in a variety of ways, including in production seminars and meetings."
(The Time Warner (Turner Sports/SI) policy states in part, "In general. employees are free to engage in personal volunteer political activity and contribute personal resources to candidates and parties in any manner consistent with federal, state and local laws, as long as these activities do not occur during business hours or present a conflict of interest... If you have a personal blog, you should make it clear that your opinions do not necessarily represent the views of your magazine... Keep business and personal posts separate")
Former ESPN ombudsman Lee Ann Schreiber
Historically, at least with print journalists and broadcasters who cover politics, public neutrality is a job requirement. This space offers no perfect solution for sports media outlets heading forward, though we side on trusting its employees to be smart about how politically active they are in the social media space. Independent contractors such as Lupica and Granderson present challenges for all networks because those contractors might have primary employers who have zero problem with political advocacy. (That could be an issue for NBC come the London Games, when they bring on an army of freelance broadcasters.
For Holtz, James and others who become a direct part of the political apparatus, the line seems cut and dry. If you wish to be active in a campaign, you should take a leave of absence or jump into your new profession.
It's why, selfishly, I advocate James running for office immediately.
Of the many terrific sports-related features that aired surrounding the tenth anniversary of 9/11, ESPN's 13-minute piece on Welles Crowther, a former Boston College lacrosse player who was killed in the South Tower of the World Trade Center after leading people to safety, stayed with me the most. If you have not yet seen
(Crowther worked as an equities trader at Sandler O'Neill & Partners on the 104th floor of the south tower, and his heroic actions on that fateful morning can be read about
ESPN feature producer Drew Gallagher called
Gallagher said he was hesitant to speak about the Crowther piece because "it's weird to accept accolades for a piece where someone sacrificed his life." He and Crowther attended Boston College and the two lived in the same dorm when Crowther was a freshman. Often for pieces such as these, producers care most about the reaction of family and friends. ESPN interviewed Crowther's parents, Alison and Jeff, at their home in late July, and Gallagher said he heard from them immediately after the ESPN piece first aired on
(I don't often do mailbags, but I thought it might be fun for all to see a sampling of reader email.)
Melvin, I think you just told them.
Agreed. Feldman is a terrific hire for CBS Sports.
The four emails were among the hundreds my colleagues Stewart Mandel, Andy Staples, George Schroeder and I received for
I'll be watching out for this, Vince. Enjoy the football.
Who knew Ian Eagle drew so much passion?
Do analysts occasionally whitewash past infractions when they join the TV side? They do, and Meyer's words certainly bear watching, given some
I could see Franklin getting a job with some regional network, or working for a school, but I'd be surprised if he got another national gig.
Sideline reporting is like any other reporting.The best of the lot ask pointed questions of coaches, and provide viewers with things they can't see. The worst are part of the school's PR apparatus and value relationships with the coaches and players more than informing the viewers.
Great stuff, Mark. Thanks.
Plenty of new sports shows have made their debuts over the past two weeks (I'll review a couple in the upcoming weeks) and thanks to the great Austin Karp, the assistant managing editor at SportsBusiness Daily, we have some initial viewing numbers on some of interest:
For a comparison for the same time slot in Sept. 2010, a Monday airing of
• CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell's
During a long conversation last month with Seth Markman, ESPN senior coordinating producer for the NFL, I asked him what new NFL addition would surprise viewers. His response? Jerry Rice. Which was surprising.
"After talking to him all summer, I'm shocked that nobody gave him a real consistent job in this business," Markman said. "I know part of it was he was not ready to do this. The other times we had spoken with him, he had some other things and did not want to be a consistent contributor.
"I'm not quite sure what the knocks have been on him because I've met with him several times and have been on the phone with him, and the guy knows the league really well. He's also really opinionated, which I think will shock people. I've heard from people who said he would be measured and doesn't want to anger the current players, but if he gives me on TV what he has given me on the phone, I think he will shock people. This league has become so big on receiver issues and to have Jerry Rice to be able to talk about these guys, I think viewers are going to be in for a nice surprise."