Melissa Stark back with NFLN; 'Devastated' Bradshaw speaks out
The spring of 2000 was a heady time for Melissa Stark. On June 19 of that year, her boyfriend, Michael Lilly, asked her to marry him. Two days later, Don Ohlmeyer, then the executive producer of ABC's Monday Night Football, offered her the job of MNF sideline reporter. She
Stark stayed on Monday Night Football for three seasons before the stork called. She walked away from the NFL's most famous program in 2003 to start a family. Later, she would work for NBC in both news and sports before stepping away again in the fall of 2008. By then Stark had four children, including twin daughters, and had settled into being a fulltime mother in southern New Jersey.
Then came Jim Cohen's phone call last year.
"I always said if the right opportunity came up I'd consider going back to work, but I never thought the right opportunity would come because its a lot to balance with four kids," Stark said in an interview with SI.com last week. "I would have been fine had I never worked again but my old boss called."
Cohen, a senior coordinating producer for the NFL Network who had worked with Stark on Monday Night Football, told her the football-only network was looking to hire and they were impressed by her previous work. Stark initially resisted the inquiry, but two weeks following Cohen's call she changed her mind after prodding from her husband. Her first assignment for the NFL Network came in Sept. 2011 when she reported a feature from Ground Zero on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The network then assigned her to cover the Jets and Eagles, which worked for Stark given the proximity of those teams to her home. She was hooked again on football.
By the end of last season, the NFL Network had serious plans to base a show from the NFL Films offices in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. They needed a host and network brass thought Stark's skill sets would fit. "Our vision was to move her away from the sidelines and reporting, where she is excellent, and get her into anchoring and hosting," said NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger.
Stark now co-hosts
As for bringing Stark back to television after a long hiatus, Weinberger said he did not consider it any risk. "Risk never came into mind for us," he said. "We were excited about bringing someone back who left a major imprint on football and who football fans missed."
Major imprint is a stretch, but we always expect hype from television executives. In Stark's previous television life, however, she had a very high profile job and was part of an endless series of breathy stories when she replaced Lesley Visser, 20 years her senior, as the sideline reporter on Monday Night Football. "We were friendly at the time but that was definitely a hard thing to go through at that age," Stark said. "I think the fact that they revamped the entire show, bringing in Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts and Eric Dickerson, made it a little easier. They were going a different direction and that helped smooth that transition." (Stark said she has spoken with Visser a couple of times since, but not since 2006. "She was always kind to me and I just think it was awkward circumstances for both of us," Stark said.)
In a sense, Stark begat Erin Andrews who begat Samantha Steele. Her fame came prior to the explosion of the sports blogosphere and she's grateful for that. "I am much more confident now, have much more balance and have a family," said Stark. She and Lilly have two boys (9 and 7) and twin five-year-old daughters. "I don't think I was awestruck or overwhelmed by the opportunity at the time, but I'm so much more grounded now as far as who I am."
Stark is signed with the NFL Network through 2014 and her contract states that she can't do sports for another network. But her options are open for news or entertainment and Stark has interest in morning television and news or perhaps hosting a syndicated show.
"I am open to different ideas but it has to work with my lifestyle," said Stark, who turned 39 on Sunday. "This just felt like the right thing because it was seasonal, not every day, and I could still get my kids on the bus. I feel like a little piece of my old life is back, and it's been great."
By now you've likely read about Bradshaw's comments from last week. While voicing a highlight of Dolphins running back Reggie Bush running in the open field on Nov. 4, Bradshaw uttered something spectacularly odd: "He was chasing that bucket of chicken that the wind was blowing the other day." The reference, according to Bradshaw and ultimately confirmed by multiple Fox Sports staffers, was regarding analyst Jimmy Johnson's habit of eating fried chicken on Sunday against his wife's wishes. Bradshaw said the "he" in this case
His words quickly became a cause celebre on social media, and Bradshaw was castigated far and wide, from
"From a personal standpoint, I was very disappointed in myself that I would ever be connected with anything like this because I'm way too smart for this nor do I think like this in my private time or in life in general," Bradshaw said. "I didn't know how far this was going but I do know you can lose your job over issues of race and gender. So I got scared. But primarily, I was devastated that my name would ever be associated with a race issue."
Bradshaw said he had no idea of the uproar when he left Fox's Los Angeles studios on the night of Nov. 4. (He is not on Twitter or Facebook). He first learned what he said had become a major story when Fox NFL Sunday co-anchor Curt Menefee called him at his ranch in Oklahoma the following morning. Menefee, who is African-American, asked Bradshaw if he was OK and then told him he had his back. Fellow on-air colleagues followed with calls of support. "I was surprised when I woke up Monday morning and saw the uproar," Menefee said. "I hopped on Twitter, I saw the headlines on
"Nobody said anything the day of the show," Bradshaw said. "You say something racial and it hits a nerve right there. I have a black man to my right and a black man to my left, two African-Americans that I respect and love. My office manager played back the tape for me on Monday and I wondered "What did I do wrong here?' Then the association with Reggie running and the chicken was what triggered it without people having properly understood what I was talking about. So I was devastated because I would never do that. I was referencing Jimmy and how he won't share his chicken every week."
Fox Sports' PR people contacted Bradshaw and told him they had his support to get whatever message he wanted out. He also heard from David Hill, the former Fox Sports chairman who is now a News Corp senior executive vice president. Hill said Bradshaw had nothing to worry about regarding his employment. Johnson
You wish Bradshaw had a chance to amplify this yesterday -- during his long broadcasting career the 64-year-old has never used racially loaded language or hinted at racism -- but Fox's NFL producers made a decision not to mention anything on the air this week. Menefee admits he wishes he had the moment back last week as a host to clarify what Bradshaw said about Bush. "Yeah, I groaned on air because he was giving Jimmy a hard time about an inside joke," Menefee said. "Terry had thrown Jimmy under the bus with his wife, who had prohibited him from eating fried chicken."
Bradshaw admitted he felt limited on Sunday -- he just wanted to get through the show -- and hopes he can get back to his happy-go-lucky broadcasting ways sooner than later. "In today's social media world, things get out there fast," Bradshaw said. "I certainly learned from it. I survived what could have been a devastating blow to my life. There is nothing worse for me than being described as a racist. It was a nightmare.
The Institute did have very strong moments, including its
5. Ace reporters John Ourand and Michael Smith of the
"When we're doing games, we of course consult with our partners," Skipper said. "We're licensing their product to put on our air. I will state categorically that the decision not to hire Stan Van Gundy was my decision and only my decision. We looked at a number of people to put on our studio show. I wanted to bring in Bill Simmons, which we did. Simmons had a relationship with Jalen Rose. We brought Stan Van Gundy in to audition. He did very well. We did proceed with a discussion with him about potentially hiring him and then I decided not to. The only time I had a discussion with David [Stern] was when I told him, 'This is what we're going to do.' "
6b. DeMarcus Cousins,
"We were watching all the other networks to see how they handled the lockouts on their networks," Collins said. The (NFL Network) looked at it like it was really an external news organization and really went out of their way to not only give the league perspective, but also the players, which I thought was great. The NBA went a different direction based on certain restrictions their bargaining agreement may have. For us, we haven't really covered the lockout on our platforms from a news standpoint. We haven't used it as a bully pulpit to get the league's message out there. We've sort of been very quiet throughout this negotiation and I think we'll remain that way." Hard to take such a network serious with this kind of newsgathering philosophy.