Tuesday November 10th, 2015

Sometimes you get genuine authenticity in sports broadcasting and one of those moments came immediately prior to the kickoff of NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast between the Cowboys and Eagles.

NBC NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth, acknowledging the tricky terrain that game analysts must navigate when an off-the-field story overshadows the game, admitted how uncomfortable he was regarding last week’s release by Deadspin.com of photos showing the battered and bruised body of Nicole Holder, the former girlfriend of Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Hardy

Here is what Collinsworth said prior to the broadcast: 

“Can we just before kickoff add that there’s a human element to this for us as well? We’re going to call the game. We’re going to do our job. We’re as uncomfortable as anybody is with what we’ve seen in those pictures and what we know of this court case. Unfortunately, Greg Hardy is going to be a big part of this story. We’ll call the game, we may do a little commentary at some point, but we’ll let it go at that.”

NFL
It shouldn’t have taken photos to stir up outrage over Greg Hardy’s actions

During an interview with SI.com on Monday afternoon, Collinsworth said he asked executive producer Fred Gaudelli if he could address the audience prior to kickoff. Why? Part of the thought process was because the Eagles run a fast offense, and Collinsworth was not sure the game would allow any substantive conversation about Hardy when the Cowboys were on defense. Collinsworth said Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff never told he or play by play broadcaster Al Michaels what to say, but they did address when something might be said during the broadcast. Over the years sports TV producers, especially those who work NFL games, have reiterated that the game is not the place to discuss off the field issues given the speed of the play clock and that the audience (in their mind) wants the separation between off the field issues and game action.

“I didn’t want to go in and start saying, 'Oh, boy, look at Greg Hardy ripping off the edge and getting pressure on the quarterback' without having said at some point that I’m a husband, I’m a father, and I’m completely uncomfortable talking about this guy right now,” Collinsworth said. “We have a job to do and we have to call this football game but I did not want people thinking we did not get it. If you are feeling uncomfortable, we were feeling uncomfortable. Or at least I was. I wanted everyone to know we didn’t live under a rock.”

• Eagles OT Lane Johnson: I put ‘extra mustard’ on Greg Hardy blocks

The SNF group also made the unique decision to show Collinsworth and Michaels on-air right before the second half kickoff to get in more commentary about Hardy. Collinsworth, who has a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, said he spent all day Sunday reviewing the court case transcripts and comments Hardy had made this season. He and Football Night In America host Bob Costas discussed the topic prior to the game and in that setting, Collinsworth pounded the drum for the Players Association to take things out of collective bargaining.

“Maybe it would be easier if Greg Hardy had handled it in the right way,” Collinsworth said. “If he hadn’t made the comments about Gisele Bundchen and some of the really stupid things that he said afterwards. If Jerry Jones hadn’t called him a leader, maybe this whole thing would feel better. But we’ve seen the NFL, they took their shot, and it got reduced to four games. We’ve seen the court system convict him, record expunged. All that’s really left now is for the NFL players themselves to set the standard. And wouldn’t it feel good, just for once, to have the NFL players on this critical issue in the country and in the world, to come out front and say we want stricter, not lesser, punishments for our players that are involved in domestic violence issues. To me, that’s the only possibility of moving this forward.

NFL
Panthers LB Thomas Davis on Carolina defense, Greg Hardy and more

“Let’s hope Greg Hardy is not a leader in anything right now in this country,” Collinsworth continued. “I think it’s time to take this out of the realm of collective bargaining. Just once, just once, I’d like to see the NFL players bond together and say we’re going to do something about this. These big, strong, NFL players are going to take a stand and say, ‘Enough. No more. Not on our watch. It’s not going to happen.’ If you’re going to be stepping into that world as players, we want the punishments to be harsh. We don’t want there to be these grand appeals. We want to make sure that the NFL and our players stand for something better than what Greg Hardy was a part of.”

NBC, via Costas, said it requested interviews with Hardy and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones but both declined. Collinsworth told SI.com that he made a specific request to the Cowboys to interview Hardy and Jones. He was also declined. “I wanted to talk to him (Hardy) on the phone and then Al wanted to talk to him,” Collinsworth said. “I didn’t think it was a fair to express an opinion without hearing his side of it. They declined. So we expressed our opinion.” 

You might not agree with Collinsworth’s take on Hardy but I think reasonable people would agree on the concern he showed in thinking about how to approach it for an audience of 21 million.

“I probably had a little bit stronger feelings than what I expressed but you try to understand what it is like to be in the audience of a football game,” Collinsworth said. “I have political opinions I don’t express. I have social opinions I don’t express. But when the two intersect as they did in this case, there is some duty I think as a broadcaster to say what you think. So we did, without trying to burden the viewer at home or the broadcast.” 

THE NOISE REPORT

SI.com examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week

1. Tremendous poise shown here by photojournalist Tim Tai while working on assignment for ESPN.com. With protesters at the University of Missouri incorrectly telling Tai that he had no right to shoot photos of a news event on campus, the young photographer and University of Missouri student handled himself with remarkable professionalism. This was a tension-filled situation—Tai was pushed and being intimidated—but Tai held his ground. Said Tai, during the pushback: “I have a job to do; I am documenting for a national news organization.” Tai, who interned at Tulsa World last summer, was absolutely correct and particularly the adults in this video who work for Missouri should be embarrassed by their actions. 

“I saw the video of what happened and I thought Tim conducted himself exceptionally well in a tense situation,” said Mike Strain, the managing editor of Tulsa World, in an email. “That doesn't surprise me. He did an excellent job for us as an intern last summer—and that goes beyond the high quality of his work. Tim was not only liked by our staff but was respected. Missouri’s journalism school has an outstanding reputation. He lived up to it last summer with us and I think he lived up to it today in the video I saw.” 

1a. More exceptional work from ESPN’s Features Unit. Check out this heartbreaking piece from producer Ben Webber and reporter Tom Rinaldi on 16-year-old Sid Ortis, a diehard LSU fan and who passed away from bone cancer last month.

• DEITSCH: Connelly Q&A: What went right, wrong with Grantland

2. Writer James Andrew Miller, writing for Vanity Fair, had an exclusive interview with ESPN president John Skipper on the dissolution of Grantland.

“I made the decision,” Skipper told Miller. “There was no influence from [ESPN corporate parent] Disney on this. And I made sure that I divorced my feelings about Bill [Simmons] from this decision because I would never let that affect the people who are there… In the weighing of a decision like this, you look at the resources, the time, the energy necessary to do this well and balance that with the things you get from it. This was never a financial matter for us. The benefits were having a halo brand and being Bill Simmons related.” 

I’ll always believe finances played a factor in the decision, especially once Simmons left the franchise. More importantly, I think Skipper’s words will carry more weight if Grantland staffers end up within the ESPN ecosystem beyond this year.

3. The 28th episode of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features NFL Network commentator Scott Hanson, who hosts NFL RedZone for that network.

In this episode, Hanson tells listeners how the show comes together each Sunday, how many people are on set with him, why fantasy football is so crucial to Red Zone's success, why they fight to never show a commercial, his thoughts on how much editorializing he should do during the broadcast, his work on medical missions around the globe (during the NFL off-season, of course) and more.

A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.

4. In my Sunday column, I spoke with longtime digital journalist Jim Brady upon his being named ESPN’s new public editor. Brady follows Robert Lipsyte in the position, though Brady will carry the title of public editor where Lipsyte and the previous people in the position served as the company’s ombudsman. That interview is here.

• U.S. Soccer resolves lawsuit, agrees to limit headers for youth players

5. The SiriusXM FC channel will air a three-hour special on the issue of concussions in soccer next Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. The show, Beyond The Pitch: The Concussion Crisis, will examine the issues around head trauma on the soccer pitch. Hosts Anto Bianco and Phil Schoen will interview former players, doctors and researchers and family members impacted by concussions. Guests include former USWNT star Abby Wambach, Dawn Astle, the daughter of former West Brom striker Jeff Astle who died at 59 after suffering from CTE, neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski, the executive director of Sports Legacy Institute. 

5a. A Fox spokesperson told Mike Dyer of the Cincinnati Enquirer that they expect Pete Rose to return next season as an MLB analyst.

5b: Longtime ESPN producer Gus Ramsey talks to the Hit The Pass podcast about being laid off by the company.

5c. Bill Cowher, Shelley Smith and Dara Torres did videos for the American Cancer Society. Worth checking out.

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NFL media roundtable: What would you ask Goodell? More Media Circus

5d. Here’s NBC Football Night In America’s Tony Dungy on Hardy: “When I had these situations that faced me, I always looked at the individual person. And like Jerry Jones said, I believe in second chances. But you have to demonstrate to me that you deserve a second chance. And by Greg Hardy’s actions and his attitude, I don’t think he’s done that. We have seen the things that Cris (Collinsworth) talked about—the statements Hardy has made, the sideline outbursts, confrontations with coaches. No contrition. So I would not want Greg Hardy on my team if he didn’t demonstrate that he was sorry about this.”

5e. Bode Miller will make his debut as an analyst during NBC Sports’ coverage of the “Birds of Prey” World Cup alpine skiing event from Beaver Creek Resort in Beaver Creek, Colo. from Dec. 4–6.

5f. I asked Andrew Lawrence, a staff writer at Sports Illustrated and a Class of 2003 graduate at the University of Missouri (B.A. in journalism-magazine sequence), to offer some thoughts on the situation at his alma mater. His words are below.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking long and hard about whether I had any brushes with racism during my time at Mizzou, which came at the turn of the century. Literally, nothing comes to mind. I spent my first few years living in a dorm that was diverse as a school with a 7% black population could be and chose a major, journalism, that was the nexus for the school’s non-white and out-of-state population. I had no trouble making friends, no problem hanging out with them wherever we saw fit. Mizzou was just this sprawling wonderland where everyone wanted to give you a nickname, a gallon of gas cost less than a dollar and Gary Pinkel would indulge your essay-length questions if you happened to find yourself on Mizzou football beat in the spring. There seemed no safer, no more welcoming, no more tolerant place in the whole state of Missouri.

So to suddenly get word last Saturday night that the football team was going on strike until a “race row” (CNN's words) was quelled, well, that saddened me deeply. Or it did until I read about some of the things black students on campus were experiencing: the social ostracizing, the open discrimination by faculty, the liberal use of the n-word. Then the outrage kicked in. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe they were talking about the same hamlet I had happily overstayed. On the other hand, I haven’t been back to campus in a long time. Such flashes of insensitivity seem to be par for the course in the post-Obama, post-Ferguson age. It’s unfortunate.

That said: I am proud of the student activists who organized against all this and—here's the key bit—drafted the student-athletes into their movement. Like, “Jonathan Butler, I will buy your next 10 meals” proud. More than just the biggest victory since Blaine and Aldon toppled OU on homecoming weekend, the brave stand for justice by Butler and the many others who toiled under the hashtag Concerned Student 1950 is a watershed moment in history—full stop. Now comes the hard part: ensuring whoever replaces departed system president Tim Wolfe sets the tone for a more tolerant campus. (Said person could start by bumping up that 7% black enrollment figure, a number that's been frozen in amber for as long as I can remember.) That wouldn’t just turn Mizzou back into the place that I once knew. It would make it even better.

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