ESPN reporter Tom Rinaldi said he keeps it very simple when asking questions following a championship event. “No matter what I might think in my mind that I should ask, the chief first task is just to hear someone and make certain that I can react to something that someone is saying,” Rinaldi said.
That is how Rinaldi said he approached his postgame interview on Monday night with Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had led the Crimson Tide to a 25-2 mark prior to the college football championship game against Georgia. There were some on social media who questioned whether ESPN should be interviewing Hurts after the game given he must have been heartbroken over being benched for freshman Tua Tagovailoa. But the opposite was the case. First, Hurts was a significant newsworthy subject for ESPN given he entered the game as the highest profile Alabama football player. Furthermore, he wanted to be interviewed by Rinaldi and agreed to the interview on the field when Rinaldi asked him.
Because the winner of the game remained undetermined late, ESPN producers had multiple contingency plans for Rinaldi and Maria Taylor, who was assigned to report on Georgia, when it came to postgame interview assignments. In overtime, after Tagovailoa lost 16 yards on a first down sack, ESPN producers started planning for Taylor to interview Georgia coach Kirby Smart and for Rinaldi to interview Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. That changed when Tagovailoa threw his 41-yard dart to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith for the game-winning score.
At that moment, Rinaldi, standing on the Alabama sideline, headed to the middle of the field in search of Alabama coach Nick Saban. Rinaldi said he looked immediately for the state trooper who guards Saban—Jessie Peoples—and found Saban hugging some close friends of his at midfield. After Rinaldi interviewed Saban, game producer Bill Bonnell told Rinaldi in his earpiece that Taylor had Tagovailoa for an interview and that he should throw to Taylor when he concluded with the Alabama coach. At that point, both Bonnell and Rinaldi agreed Rinaldi should find Hurts.
“Obviously I have covered the team a fair amount so I know him,” said Rinaldi. “ He locked in on me and I say, ‘Jalen, we would like to talk to you.’ He was holding a broadsheet old version of a newspaper (featuring Alabama winning) and was in a state of wonderment. Jalen was saying to me, ‘I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it.’ We were probably waiting together for less than a minute before they [ESPN’s live coverage] came to us.
The interview highlighted the graciousness of Hurts, who was benched in second half for Tagovailoa. "I knew he was gonna step in and do his thing," Hurts told Rinaldi. "We have a lot of guys in the QB room that play really well and he just stepped in and did his thing…did his thing for the team."
Rinaldi said he was aided by the key game broadcast personnel—play by play announcer Chris Fowler, analyst Kirk Herbstreit, Bonnell and director Derek Mobley—acknowledging during the second half that Hurts was actively supporting Tagovailoa during the second half and overtime. Rinaldi said that dictated his line of questioning.
“I know everything is subjective and that is one of the fascinating parts of television—a player’s body language or facial expression fills the lens and that allows people to make their own judgments on what they are seeing,” Rinaldi said. “It is one of the powers of the medium. But to me, in what I perceived standing next to Jalen Hurts, I found his graciousness and his selfless completely authentic, as authentic as his joy. The authenticity of his joy and graciousness just struck me.”
Rinaldi said he had yet to see a replay of the game broadcast as of Tuesday night but was looking forward to eventually seeing the replay. It was a terrific postgame interview from the subject and interviewer and absolutely the correct call by ESPN.
“I am so glad people got a chance to hear Jalen as part of the game telecast,” RInaldi said. “I really am. I think for a lot of people, it might not have been as big a takeaway as the incredible play to end the game but a very significant takeaway from that game was hearing him and seeing the graciousness and selflessness he showed.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. ESPN could not have had a better night viewership-wise, especially how slowly the game started. The final viewership number was 28,443,000 viewers when you combined ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU as part of the company’s MegaCast production. That was up 13% from last year’s Clemson-Alabama game. The ESPN-only telecast averaged 27,383,000 million viewers. As far as a cable-only broadcast, only the 2015 national championship game between Ohio State and Oregon drew more (33,917,000). The network said the audience peaked at 30,759,000 viewers late in the first half (9:30–10 p.m.) and more than 28.4 million viewers were watching as Alabama scored its game-winning, national championship-winning touchdown.
1a. ESPN said it averaged 26,266,000 viewers for the three-game playoffs, up 21% from last year.
1b. ESPN said its 35 postseason games—including the national championship—averaged 5,682,000 viewers, up 11% from last year.
1c. Here were the top-rated local markets for the game.
3. Greenville, S.C.
7. New Orleans
12. Fort Myers
1d. College football overnight ratings in playoff era:
2015: Ohio State-Oregon (18.8)
2018: Alabama-Georgia (16.7)
2016: Alabama-Clemson (16.0)
2017: Clemson-Alabama (15.3)
1e. The Homers Broadcast on ESPN 2 averaged 1,015,000 viewers. The ESPNU Voices telecast drew 45,000.
2. Four months after tweeting that the President of the United States “is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists” and how Donald Trump “is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” ESPN commentator Jemele Hill said she stands by the content of her comments but does regret the medium she said it.
“I have more regrets about the medium because as most of us find out every day in some form or fashion that Twitter is not necessarily a place for nuance,” Hill told Sports Illustrated this week. “Twitter’s not even really a place where you want to have some extensive conversation, especially about race. Twitter’s just not built or set up for that. It’s built on quick thoughts, okay, and that’s not something to have quick thoughts about. So I don’t really have any regrets about the language that I used, because I do think that there is some evidence to at least where we can question some of the things that he’s said and done, and for that matter, examine why there are clearly large groups of people—women, people of color—who feel they’re very vulnerable at this time and under attack. I don’t regret what I said or even the language that I used. It’s just the where. I think the where is problematic.”
Here is the link to the podcast with the full interview.
3. ESPN was aggressive in reporting Jon Gruden’s offer and move to the Raiders, and it deserves credit for that. But now the real test comes heading forward: How critical will it be of Gruden if things to do not go well for him with the Raiders? Will he get the same examination and treatment as other NFL coaches and organizations? Or will Bristol become an unofficial fan club of the team? Gruden no longer works for ESPN, and in fact jumped ship before the end of his contract. It’s time to treat him like any other news subject. That was the lead of the Monday media column.
4. Episode 153 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with Boston Globe sports media writer Chad Finn and SI.com writer Jimmy Traina. In this podcast, the group discusses the sports media’s coverage of LaVar Ball and whether Ball should continued to get interview requests; the comments Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle made calling out ESPN for publishing a story off Ball’s comments on Lakers coach Luke Walton; traffic and viewership factors regarding when media outlets speak with LaVar Ball; whether outlets should be more transparent about the Ball coverage; how long the interest in LaVar Ball will last; how ESPN will cover Jon Gruden as the Raiders coach; where ESPN should go for a Gruden replacement; the problem with NFL pregame shows; whether Randy Moss is the signature draw for ESPN’s Sunday pregame show; Katie Nolan’s comments about President Donald Trump on Viceland’s Desus and Mero show; ESPN’s discipline policy on commentary; whether Nolan should have apologized for her choice of words; how ESPN will use Nolan heading forward; whether the college football championship between Georgia and Alabama will suffer in the ratings; whether the Super Bowl is immune to cord-cutting and other TV trends, and much more.
5. The NBA on TNT will feature a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day tripleheader highlighted by an NBA Finals rematch between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers at 8 p.m. ET, with play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, analyst Chris Webber and reporter Kristen Ledlow.
5a. ESPN’s Australian Open coverage begins Jan. 14, with more than 100 hours of television plus 1,400 hours of streaming.
5b. Fox Sports announced deals this week with Snapchat and Twitter for coverage of the FIFA World Cup later this year. Fox will produce a 30-minute live show with host Rachel Bonnetta streamed on Twitter from Moscow’s Red Square each match day (27 shows in total). The show will provide match action previews, recaps and Twitter reaction as well as original segments produced by Fox’s team in Moscow. On Snapchat, FOX Sports will produce a Publisher Story that chronicles the day-by-day action of the month-long tournament.