Samantha Steele talks Ponder; NFL pregame shows talk tragedy, again
Samantha Steele is talking about her fiancé, something she has not done publicly at great depth. His name is Christian Ponder and if you are an NFL fan, you have no doubt heard of him. This is the new normal for Steele, a 26-year-old reporter for ESPN who in the past 16 months has replaced Erin Andrews on her network's most popular studio show (
"I definitely did not desire to be in a relationship that people would talk about and ask about outside of my family," Steele said. "But I don't know how it has changed anything for me with my work. It sure does not seem like it as far as the way my colleagues have treated me and how things have gone at
Such self-deprecation is appreciated but the truth is Steele is navigating terrain that we have never seen (at least publicly) in sports broadcasting in the United States. You want an example? On
Steele said she told her bosses and colleagues about the relationship early on, and inquired of her agent how she should approach things regarding any journalistic landmines. She said she would reconsider her assignment if she believed her relationship with Ponder posed a conflict editorially.
"I don't do anything in the same circles professionally as him," Steele said. "When it comes to doing my job and covering the sports that I cover and doing my best to do that with journalistic integrity, there has not been a single time where that has ever come up and been a problem. I understand what you are saying in the sense that there has never been something as clear-cut as this, but I did not invent this wheel. This has definitely gone on before. The main thing for us is we were going to be honest about this situation once we realized this was the real deal. Obviously, I had zero interest in people knowing about it, but once people started asking I certainly was not going to lie."
ESPN expressed its take early this year, saying via a spokesperson: "Regarding any policies, we expect any commentator to raise any relationship that could be a conflict with the sport they cover. This does not fit that scenario as she covers college football."
Professionally, Steele made great strides this year on both the sidelines and as the host of ESPNU's coverage of
"The great thing was in the midst of all the constructive criticism they [ESPN colleagues] gave me -- even as simple as getting in and out of breaks, things I was not used to doing with sideline stuff -- there was also a constant theme of, Have fun and be yourself," Steele said.
Obviously, Steele knew she would draw comparisons to Andrews, who previously hosted the ESPNU hour on Saturday morning and got the network's biggest college football sideline assignments.
"For the most part, I tried to stay away from that," Steele said. "I learned really quickly in this industry -- and I don't know if I am more insecure than others -- but I just don't like seeing that [comparison] stuff, whether it is positive or negative.
"That being said, it's not like I don't hear people chanting Erin's name or making a reference to her when I am walking on a sideline or at
Steele's job, as I've noted before, is an odd mix of sports knowledge and sex appeal, journalism and entertainment. She has a growing social media presence --
Next up for Steele is the Capital One Bowl (Georgia-Nebraska) on Jan. 1 as well
"If somebody would have told me as a kid that when I was 30, I'd get to cover the Phoenix Suns for my local station, I would have thought I had made it," Steele said. "That would have been as good as it gets. I did not have plans for any of this. The biggest struggle for me this season was trying to find balance between work and the rest of my life. I hate to say it was tough because it's a relative term. I have nothing to complain about, but it was new for me to figure out how to balance being the best at my job, and also as a woman, to be a good friend, girlfriend, daughter, and all of the things away from my job that are important to me."
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend.)
The show thankfully rebounded this week with the appropriate editorial sensibilities regarding the death of Cowboys practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown Jr. and arrest of teammate Josh Brent on a charge of
There will be no over-the-top attaboys or plaudits here for
CBS then went live to Cincinnati, where longtime Dallas sportscaster and former Cowboys quarterback Babe Laufenberg reported on the state of the team. (There was also a memorable visual of Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh crying on the field.) CBS then provided viewers a four-minute recap of the murder-suicide in Kansas City that did not offer new reporting but did show important video from the funeral of Perkins as well as the thoughtful reflections of Bill Macatee, the game caller for Chiefs-Browns.
The show then shifted to a quick discussion on guns in the NFL, citing
"Right now, three women per day on average are being killed by their husbands or boyfriends," Brown said. "This means since Kasandra Perkins' death last Saturday, at least 21 more women have met the same fate. Respecting and valuing women would seem to be a no-brainer, but profane language in music, the locker room or anywhere else that degrades and devalues women can contribute to attitudes and beliefs that are destructive and potentially violent."
For 12 minutes, CBS Sports (which declined comment) bypassed the chuckle-hut nonsense, product placements and over-the-top graphics and let the news dictate where it went. It was compelling and thoughtful television and what the show should aim to be weekly.
Menefee then gave the audience some background on Brent's previous DUI before bringing in reporter Jay Glazer, who provided details of how Cowboys coach Jason Garrett informed his team of the accident and information on the programs that are available to NFL players for car transportation. The only analyst who weighed in on the manslaughter was Michael Strahan, who offered thoughts and prayers from Fox but nothing discussion-worthy compared to CBS. (Strahan said Brent made a "bad decision.") The opening segment lasted five minutes and included a thoughtful graphic honoring the birth and death of Jerry Brown. Fox returned to its normal NFL coverage after the first break.
Where Fox massively abdicated its editorial responsibility on Sunday was with its coverage (or lack of it) on the Kansas City story. There was zero follow-up on the murder-suicide of an NFL player, not even a cursory recap of the news that broke the following week from the release of police footage to player reaction to the state of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli after watching a man kill himself in front of them. (Thankfully, Fox did make time for a four-minute segment featuring comedian Rob Riggle in Hawaii and some beautiful-looking women in bikinis.)
Said a Fox spokesperson on Sunday night: "
Dungy: "As an NFL coach, you're coaching very, very young men. So I would always talk at the first team meeting of the year. I would talk about decision making, about drugs and alcohol and parties, and late hours. You just constantly preach to them all year -- make good decisions. Every Friday I used to tell our team after practice, Be smart, get home early, don't drink and drive. But you come in Saturday morning, and every coach says this, not just me, but you come in Saturday morning and you just hope everyone gets there."
Harrison: "You coaches do a great job relaying that message each and every Friday. But at 25 years old, I'll have to admit, I was a guy who went out. I partied on Friday. I had three or four drinks, and I got behind the wheel and drove home. Why? Because I thought I felt invincible. 'Oh, nothing would happen to me.' But the older I got, I started gaining perspective. I started realizing what was important. Suddenly, I became that guy who would preach to the younger players about family, about career and about the dangers of DUI."
Dungy: "I couldn't tell them not to go out, because I knew they were going out. But be smart. Come home at 12 o'clock. If you're going to drink, use the vehicles, the car service, and be smart about it. But you just don't know if they're listening."
Fellow analyst Warren Barton followed up with "worse even still is that he holds his leg afterward. Awful." Host Rob Stone also weighed in: "Go Big Brother on these guys. Hit them." There's a tendency -- especially among NFL-type shows -- to come off like tough guys for the sake of tough guy-dom, but this crew took the right tenor, even if Wynalda's call for eight games was way over the top. Props.
5c. The Fang's Bites blog has released its annual
"We all have a tendency to look at stats because that's kind of a primary thing to value players, but what's been impressive with Russell Wilson is he has made plays when the game has been tied or they're behind. The majority of his touchdown passes come in critical situations, and I'm a big believer in quarterbacks that manage critical situations.
"I'm very impressed with the way he's playing, and quite honestly, I'm surprised. I did not see this coming."
• ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill offered a
• Here's a fascinating piece from N + 1 on playing
• Notre Dame alum and
•The headline over this thought-provoking piece by
Amid this circus was one of the more remarkable statements ever uttered by a communications department and one that made me a feel bad for the PR practitioner who put forth the statement on behalf of management and not on behalf of good journalism.
"We stand by our original comments, which suggested that even though multiple legitimate news sources were used to gather background information, we should always recite even the most basic facts in an original voice," said the spokesperson, sounding about as direct as Lombard Street in San Francisco. "Given that the level of attention to these posts has now significantly exceeded the relative importance of those items to our site's archives, we will be removing or amending them in the near future and moving on."
I'll link the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics