Ray Lewis has joined another team: ESPN.
"We had an opportunity last fall to get Ray and we debated internally some of the history," Skipper told SI.com. "Obviously, we decided we were comfortable with it. We must have because we did it. I will tell you we did remind ourselves of some of the issues. We sort of decided that the NFL welcomed him back into the fold and the fans welcomed him back into the fold. I think we are fine with second chances and we think he will make great television. Ultimately, we were comfortable with it."
One of Lewis' main requirements was flexibility in his schedule so he could attend the games of his son, Ray Lewis III, who will be a freshman running back/defensive back next season at his father's alma mater, the University of Miami. Lewis will likely work a number of Sundays in Bristol, Conn., depending on his personal schedule. He is not expected to appear regularly on ESPN's airwaves until the start of next season.
When SI.com interviewed executives at CBS Sports, ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and The NFL Network in December to find out who was on their watch lists among current NFL players, Lewis ranked very high.
"Ray Lewis has an intensity about him and a way of communicating that is very infectious," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said at the time. "He is a bigger-than-life personality, very articulate and [has] an incredible passion for the game. If Ray Lewis decided to take that same passion and put it into a broadcasting career, I think he would be a terrific studio analyst or, I imagine, game analyst, too."
The Noise Report
The subjects include longtime Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt (
"Internally, we consider
The series debuts on July 2 (likely with the Williams documentary as a tie-in to Wimbledon) and will air for nine consecutive weeks at 8 p.m. ET. Blurbs on each film and a list of the filmmakers can be
How did the show land Te'o? Jay Rothman, the executive behind
"We're going to be getting him post-Scouting Combine and the kid could not have been more up front for the Katie Couric interview, given the embarrassment he went through," Rothman said. "Same with his interview with Jeremy Schaap. ... I'm sure in Jon's unique way this will come up in the conversation, but Jon Gruden is not Katie Couric and he's not Jeremy Schaap. He's a football coach-turned TV analyst."
The show is filmed at Gruden's office in Tampa, Fla., and the first group of players will join Gruden at the end of February. Each show's taping usually starts at 8 a.m. and runs for six hours (which means more than five hours never makes the air). Rothman used to contact agents to get prospects (this wasn't a hard sell, given the publicity of the show and that ESPN was footing the bill), but now agents pitch him. He and Gruden scout show prospects during the NFL season. Knowing this year's quarterback class would not be as heralded as previous years, they wanted to add some non-quarterbacks. (Rothman said Gruden specifically requested Lattimore after his knee injury.)
Rothman said former participants often contact Gruden during the NFL season and he's seen Gruden interact with Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow.
"John is kind of the pied piper and takes ownership with these guys," Rothman said. "I really think this helps pacify his thirst for teaching."
The first episode of the show airs April 4 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Segments will also appear on
After calling the first leg of Real Madrid-Manchester United last week, his first game as a world soccer broadcaster, I asked Johnson how he would evaluate his performance.
"I didn't have time to be nervous," he said. "I was just focused on what I needed to do to get off to a clean start. The energy in the stadium was electric. The storylines were wonderful. I felt good. I thought [analyst] Warren [Barton] and I had a good chemistry. I thought our pace was good.
"I made a couple of mistakes. I called Ryan Giggs an Englishman, and he's Welsh. I was trying to say he was one of the most decorated players in English Premier history and instead of saying that, I said he was one of the most decorated English players in history. I had a bobble there. Also, sometimes the vantage point is rough. It was a night game, Madrid is in white and you can't see the far side of the field.
"But overall, I thought it was fun and I was pleased with it. The goal is to get better, By no means do I think I am an expert yet, but given time my knowledge will grow."
One person in Johnson's corner is ESPN's Dave O'Brien, who called the World Cup for his network in 2006.
"First of all, I think it is an inspired choice," said O'Brien, who today calls ACC basketball for ESPN and is the primary radio play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox. "Gus is a mainstream sports guy like me and not the first announcer I'd expect to call the World Cup. But I heard the same thing in 2006.
"There are soccer fans in the U.S. who are Premier League devotees and used to British accents on game calls. There is a perception among those fans that that group of play-by-play announcers are the only ones who can best understand the game and interpret what is happening in the match. I have always disagreed with that. As long as the matches are well done and they are broadcast well, I would not care [about] the accent or nationality of the individual calling the game.
"But I think it's a smart move to have
"Look, I don't think it's fair," Skipper said. "I see
When I informed a female ESPN on-air staffer this week that Mariotti was being brought back to ESPN, her response was: "Holy bleep, are you kidding me?" Other ESPN staffers I spoke with reacted in similar fashion.
"If what I've read is completely true, then I do think it's a shame," said one ESPN female staffer who asked not to be named. "Since there are many talented writers and journalists out there, why hire someone with a less-than-stellar image?"
Mariotti is of course entitled to pitch his work wherever he can and one can admire to some degree the loyalty shown by those in ESPN management who are trying to help out a friend. But the announcement was particularly frustrating given how many young writers would kill for a freelance assignment from Bristol.
There has been plenty of speculation that this represents an entrée for Mariotti to return to
"I think a lot of folks tune in [because] they're still jonesing for football being two and a half some weeks removed from the final game being played," said NFL Network senior coordinating producer Mike Muriano. "This is insight for folks as they start really moving on to the next question, some of which fans of certain teams moved on to at the end of December: How is my team going to get better? Who is out there for the taking?"
"Most teams feel the former, and I know a few teams that they told me they'd be concerned about a liar in the locker room. At the end of the day, what I think happens is that up until that story became public, he had a plus, plus, plus intangible grade. Was he going to become Ray Lewis? Could he galvanize a locker room? He had a huge intangible grade that would push his on the field grade higher. I think he's lost all of that. At best, it's now going to be neutral. Just, what kind of player you are, and where can we slot you?"
"I chased his people aggressively for a considerable length of time, explaining the idea and the approach," Thompson said in an email. "From the beginning, a series of connected questions about him fascinated me more so than the 'get,' and I think that came through -- that I'd been thinking about this. My first letter to his manager was frank and detailed. Then, even after they agreed, they still had to ask Michael. Maybe he was just in a good mood that day. "
(On that note,
Thompson said he interviewed more than a dozen people for the piece. He and Jordan had never met before the story.
"I'd never been around him except for a Wizards media scrum once in Memphis," Thompson said. "I'm certain he'd never heard my name before. His people knew some of my stories, and they obviously read more as we talked."
? Howard Beck of
? Deadspin's Emma Carmichael did a fabulous as-told-to with Craig Ehlo, who
? Jordan has appeared on the cover of
"I think it will be good basketball," Skipper said. "We are not in a first-position here. It's clear that Fox has established a relationship. I can't tell you that they will get a deal done but I think they will, and then we will be interested in sub-licensing."
Ourand also reported that CBS was close to renewing its package of Big East basketball games for its broadcast channel. The cost? NBC would pay close to $25 million per year over six years for the combined football/basketball rights while the CBS contract called for $2 million to $4 million per year, according to