As we enter the homestretch of the NFL regular season, I thought it would be a good time to empanel five respected NFL media members for a roundtable discussion on a number of NFL-related topics.
Mike Freeman, NFL National Lead Writer, Bleacher Report
Clarence Hill, Cowboys beat reporter, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Jason Reid, The Washington Post sports columnist and former Redskins Post beat reporter
Adam Schefter, NFL insider for ESPN and ESPN.com
Ed Werder, NFL insider for ESPN and ESPN.com
The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. Part I ran on Monday.
You can spend an entire week with an NFL player or coach for a full-length feature, give me, in no order, your top three choices and why?
Freeman: First, Michael Irvin. Serious man-crush on him. I watch Irvin on television and he gets me so fired up that I start doing burpees during his broadcasts. I've rarely met anyone who loved their job like Irvin (both when he played and now). Percy Harvin: When Harvin left Seattle, a series of leaks portrayed Harvin like he was a villain from a Batman movie. I would love to know what he's really like. Massively talented guy who has had issues everywhere he's been, but is he really such a bad dude? Michael Sam: I think he's experiencing straight-up discrimination right now. I just wrote something on how him not being signed is historically very unusual for a player of his caliber in college.
Hill: Adrian Peterson: I would like to hear his side of story. I would to see him at home with his family and his kids. I would like to talk him about his childhood in small-town Texas where corporal punishment is still sanctioned in schools. I would like to know what he learned about rearing and disciplining kids from his father, who reportedly spanked him often. Bill Belichick: Who wouldn't want to see the master behind closed doors? Who wouldn't to see him open up and really talk about what makes him tick? Cam Newton: His every move been scrutinized since his college days at Auburn. His body language. His smile. His style of dress. But I don't know if anybody has really gotten to truly to know him and what makes tick.
Werder: 1. Pete Carroll: I think he's created a unique culture in Seattle that’s proven to be effective and sustainable. He's relentlessly upbeat, enjoys what he does and seems like he can handle any adversity.
2. Griffin: What is the truth about who he is and how he's perceived in his locker room and within the organization?
3. Ndamukong Suh: What kind of mindset do you have to create to be such a dominant player. He's certainly been involved in some misdeeds on the field. Not well known, but someone I've found to be very engaging
What story that you've worked on this season are you most proud of and why?
Freeman: Am I allowed to say a tie or will that cause a rift in the space-time continuum? I'd have to say two: The story where I talked about the Seahawks' locker room issues. I started working on that story toward the end of last season, so I spent about eight months doing it. It started very innocently with an off-hand comment from a Seahawks player. Then I went to dinner, in Seattle, with another player. The turning point in that story was when I asked that player about Russell Wilson and two hours later he was still talking about him.
My goal with that story was to penetrate the Seahawks locker room, which is one of the toughest to get a handle on in all of football. The media (myself included) have done a horrible job of talking about what it's really like in that locker room. I mean, two star players got into a fight the week of the Super Bowl and none of us in the media knew about it. That's embarrassing for our profession, myself included. Pete Carroll isn't this happy-go-lucky dude who plays hoops and surfs. He has the tightest control on a locker room since Bill Parcells was in the NFL. (There's a lot more to that story by the way.) That story reminded me of how too many of us in the media have become too close to the teams and the league. Not all but too many. Some journalists have become servants to access instead of reporting, but have gotten nothing in return. Which is why, without naming names, you see such a rash of reporters instantly denying other journalist's stories. I can instantly tell which reporter is in which team's/agent's pocket by the rapidity of the denial of a story. One of the Seattle radio guys on Twitter called me a race-baiter. That made me cry (not really).
The second story was on the 25th anniversary of Art Shell becoming the first black coach in the modern era. I loved the imagery of Shell getting the call from Al Davis that he was likely going to be hired, while Shell was in bed watching Nightline.
Hill: As a beat writer, it's a daily grind. There is no chance to sink your teeth into a story during the season.
Reid: I've written a lot about the lack of leadership in the Washington Redskins' locker room. By revealing the group's immaturity, I hope I've shown readers one of the reasons the franchise continues to fail.
Schefter: I just think that the way everyone covered the domestic violence incidents -- Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer -- raised awareness of it to a level whereby the NFL never will go soft on it ever again. And that was one of the biggest issues with the whole situation and the league. Domestic violence incidents had gone under-punished, unnoticed or under the radar. Now, just like the focus on performance-enhancing drugs was elevated tremendously, so too has the focus on domestic violence, which is a good thing.
Werder: This is the most difficult question on the list, simply because my job is to break news and offer informed context on as many subjects as possible, which by definition means I mostly offer about four paragraphs of content on any one story. I think I provided viewers an accurate sense of what to expect on stories ranging from the seriousness of Tony Romo's back injury to the Aldon Smith suspension to what Ray Rice told the Ravens and the NFL happened in that casino elevator.
How have you educated yourself on covering stories where some sort of legal matter comes into play?
Freeman: The big legal matter is drugs. When players are arrested for drug use or when they fail NFL drug tests. I've studied up on the laws, the punishment phase, that sort of thing. But mostly those types of legal matters make me think of something else. Though I sometimes write like I smoke seven blunts a day, I've never done drugs, and like a lot of people, I've always wondered why someone would throw away $20 million in guaranteed money for some blow. Then when you do the research, and talk to addicts, you get a real understanding.
Hill: Google is my friend. Past precedent as well as old stories on similar incidents are very helpful. I also have a lot of friends, acquaintances and agents in the legal profession that I call on for advice.
Reid: When covering legal matters, I speak with people who are smarter than me. Fortunately, there are many of them out there. Specifically, though, I've often spoken with defense attorneys. It also helps to have a judge as a close friend.
Schefter: It’s interesting because our jobs are crash courses on education in medical fields, legal affairs, contractual situations and many areas that have nothing to do with football. Whenever ones comes up, you do as much reading as possible, speak to as many different people and voices as possible, and try to take a crash-course education in that particular area. Back when I went to graduate school, it took me one year to get my masters in journalism. Turned out to be good preparation. Now we take crash-course classes on many relevant newsworthy issues.
Werder: Without being overly specific, we are fortunate at ESPN to have a number of legal analysts work with us who are willing to share their expertise as it applies to significant stories we might be covering.
THE NOISE REPORT
SI.com examines some of the week's top media stories.
1. Alabama’s win over Mississippi State drew an overnight rating on Saturday of 6.6 on CBS, the highest-rated college football game last weekend and the second highest-rated game of the season (behind Florida State’s win over Notre Dame in October).
1a. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand on which networks will bid on next year’s Thursday Night NFL package.
2. CBS will air the CBS Sports Network show We Need To Talk on Dec. 27 (1 PM, ET) on CBS, marking the broadcast debut of the show. The show debuted Sept. 30 and is billed as "the first-ever, nationally televised, all-female, weekly hour-long sports show." With the show getting network airtime for an end of year special, I emailed Suzanne Smith, the director of the show and the only women currently directing NFL games, for a self-evaluation of Talk after two months.
“I'd say at this point in its evolution, We Need To Talk is exactly where it should be,” Smith said. “Each week we are challenging ourselves to improve. We’re not content with where we are. We know we have to keep working hard to move the conversation forward and advance the stories that we cover. But all of the pieces of the puzzle are in place for We Need To Talk to have a long, successful run.
“Ironically, the sports climate of the past few months has lent itself to our show. It has given us the opportunity to go past the headlines and give a fresh, unique perspective – to provide points of view not often heard. With that being said, we’ve also tried to strike a balance between the serious issues and the good in sports – we had a great time celebrating the San Francisco Giants World Series win with CEO Larry Baer and I believe the Lauren Hill story aired nationally for the first time during our We Need To Listen closing segment. At the center of We Need To Talk is the enormously talented women we have on our team. The energy, passion and camaraderie they bring is unlike any group I've been around.”
3. Highly recommend this VICE Sports piece on Lisa Saxon, a pioneer in sports writing who dealt with some serious B.S. from Reggie Jackson while covering the California Angels in the 1980s.
3a. A pair of Joan Ryans, both longtime sports journalists, wrote first-person pieces for The Povich Center for Sports Journalism at Maryland.
4. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported ESPN drew a 2.9 overnight rating for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400, which saw driver Kevin Harvick win his first Sprint Cup title. The rating was up 7 percent from a 2.7 overnight last year, but down 26% from a 3.7 overnight in ’11. The race concludes ESPN’s eight-year contract with NASCAR.
5. The Washington Post reported Monday that sports columnist Mike Wise has left the paper for ESPN. Wise will be working on a African-American-centric site fronted by Jason Whitlock.
5a. Golf.com reported on Tuesday that Steve Flesch, Juli Inkster, Shane O’Donoghue and Corey Pavin will work for Fox in 2015.
5b. Former SI staffer Lars Anderson, a University of Alabama professor and author of The Storm And The Tide: Tragedy, Hope, and Triumph in Tuscaloosa is hosting a fundraiser for the scholarships of Loryn Alexandria Brown Memorial and Endowed Scholarship Ashley Harrison Memorial Scholarship on Dec. 3 in Birmingham.
5c. Golf.com's Jessica Marksbury interviews Fox's Joe Buck on his upcoming U.S. Open assignment.
5d. This is a sensational tribute for Gordie Howe by ESPN's Keith Olbermann.