- On-air NFL analyst Louis Riddick talks about his expanding role with ESPN.
Louis Riddick has been a rare truth-telling NFL voice for a rights-holder since joining ESPN in late 2013. He directly criticized Roger Goodell on the Ray Rice adjudication, doles out criticism and praise for all teams and turned in a star-making performance at the 2015 NFL Draft as a fill-in for Ray Lewis with his cogent, thoughtful and intellectual analysis. His work has continued to be excellent over the past two years and in my opinion, Riddick is the best on-air NFL hire ESPN has made this decade.
Sometime this week, ESPN is expected to announce that Riddick has re-signed with the network and will have an expanded role heading forward. His assignments will include working on Sunday NFL Countdown and Monday Night Countdown; serving as an analyst on NFL Matchup with host Sal Paolantonio and Greg Cosell and joining Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter on Sunday and Monday nights after NFL games. He will continue to be featured on NFL Live and SportsCenter. Most notably, he remains on the main set on ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage.
This week I emailed Riddick—a former NFL front-office executive and scout, some questions of interest to viewers—some questions of interest given his expanding role.
SI.com: How close were you to returning to an NFL job this year versus continuing at ESPN?
Riddick: I have always been honest with ESPN. I told [senior coordinating producer] Seth Markman specifically that I would not use my role as an analyst as a form of a job interview or vehicle to try and get back to the NFL. It’s very easy to pick up on when that’s taking place, whether it be the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. Quite frankly, it makes for "captain obvious" insight that we could all figure out on our own without sitting down and watching it on TV. Anyone who has watched me on set can see that I tell it like it is, without being disrespectful. I am not trying to protect my own interests or exercise some kind of agenda. I’m very appreciative of the platform that ESPN has given me over the last couple of years. It has been a situation where I have earned every single thing that has come my way since I walked through the doors in Bristol, having had nothing given to me and nothing guaranteed when I initially began as it related to my role or the amount of exposure I’d ultimately receive.
That said, I have always been very interested in exploring certain opportunities as it related to a general manager position in the NFL should they arise and I did just that this past year. The interview experience with San Francisco back in January was fantastic, both from how much I enjoyed preparing for it to how much I enjoyed laying out my philosophy for the Niners hierarchy. Is being a GM still a goal? Absolutely. If the right situation comes up and there is interest, I will definitely explore it. But I must emphasize that it has to be something that works on many different levels, as I’m happy doing what I am doing at ESPN, and plan on trying to be the very best in the business.
SI.com: What specifically did you want regarding assignments (and why) for this new deal?
Riddick: I wanted the biggest, most important, most watched shows that we (ESPN) had to offer our viewers as it related to the NFL. I believed that I had earned the right, based on my performance, to ask for that, and that is what my team at WME/IMG (Jim Ornstein and Ira Stahlberger) did. That meant Sunday Countdown, Monday Countdown, Super Bowl, the NFL Draft, NFL Live, etc. During that process, an opportunity to join NFL Matchup, which is filmed out of Mount Laurel in New Jersey, also came about which I am excited about. It is a show that I have done before, and frankly is the kind of show that not many analysts can do/want to do because of the amount of actual preparation it involves. It will allow me to continue to convey my understanding of the game in a different way, an X’s and O's intensive kind of way. Lastly, but definitely not least, I am super-excited to continue to work with Scott Van Pelt, now both late night on Sunday and Monday following the conclusion of Sunday games and Monday Night Football. SVP has been great to me from the very beginning. He is the ultimate pro, and that will be must-see TV. You won't want to miss it!
SI.com: What is the most valuable thing you have come to learn about working in sports television?
Riddick: The quality of your work. Your ability to provide insight that goes above and beyond the obvious is what viewers ultimately want. I can't tell you how many times I have had people walk up to me, out of the blue on the street, and say that they appreciate what I had to say about a team, coach, player that they had never thought of. They want to be informed. They want to be educated. They would like to be entertained. In that order. Like I said, I plan on taking it to higher and higher levels as far as the quality of what you will see/hear when you tune in. What you did as a player, what you did on shows last year, what you did on shows yesterday, doesn't really matter. This business moves fast. You need to stay recent and relevant, and that's the way it should be. 2017 is going to be the best yet for me personally. I can't wait for it to get started.
SI.com: You went on social media to emphatically deny an NFL Network report that you were contacted by Kansas City for the GM job. Do you stand by your response, and if you do, what did you make of being the center of a report which you emphatically denied was untrue?
Riddick: I 100 percent stand by my response. Look, there is an element to reporting/news breaking that is strictly source-based/source-reliant. We all know it. We all get it. When you go on record and say "emphatically" that someone has been contacted by a team and that an interview is being set up/etc…, then you better make sure your sources are correct. That's all. In this case, the reports from NFL Network were deadass wrong, and that is the long/short of it. Just be right about it. And, if all else fails, ask ME, since I am the best source.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. ESPN management faces a decision on ESPN Radio host Ryen Russillo, who was found naked in a stranger’s condo in Jackson, Wyoming around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday. He was charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. My thoughts on what ESPN will do next. Expect a suspension, but not a dismissal.
1a. I listened to the post-fight coverage of Floyd Mayweather’s win over Connor McGregor on Sirius XM Rush 93 and thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between co-hosts Steve Cofield, Akin "Ak" Reyes and Barak Bess. The callers were also predictably a mix of rage, insanity and fun.
2. Episode 133 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN host and reporter Cassidy Hubbarth and a sports media roundtable featuring Chad Finn, the sports media writer and general columnist for the Boston Globe and SI.com’s Jimmy Traina, who writes the daily “Traina Thoughts” column on SI.com.
On this podcast, Hubbarth discusses Celtics-Cavs trade that sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets' 2018 unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving; the challenges and joys of covering the NBA; interviewing Gregg Popovich during games and whether Popovich is a bully; her concern when ESPN announced layoffs at the company; being a visible woman in the sports media and dealing with comments on her Instagram feed; whether sideline reporting positions present a good opportunity for women or if they reinforce that women are not getting other positions on a sports broadcast; navigating a career at ESPN; getting approached by FS1 to be part of its upcoming morning show; branching off beyond ESPN to do ABC projects such as Battle of the Network Stars; what she wants to do long-term in the sports media and more.
Finn and Traina join Deitsch to discuss sports announcer Robert Lee finding himself at the center of a major sports controversy on perceived political correctness run amok. The discussion examines ESPN’s response to the story; whether we find it plausible that this was a joint decision between the broadcaster and the company; why the story was leaked, what it means for Robert Lee heading forward and how long the story will have legs.
3. Two weeks ago I wrote a column offering my ranking of the 10 best-ever 30 for 30s, the high-end sports documentaries produced by ESPN. As a follow-up, ESPN’s executive vice president of content Connor Schell, the producer and co-creator of the documentary series, emailed over his own Top 10. “This was much harder than I expected,” Schell wrote. “There are probably 20-25 that I absolutely love, and that doesn't include any of the 30 for 30 shorts or the Nine for IX films.”
Here are Schell’s Top 10:
1. OJ: Made in America
2. The Two Escobars
4. Once Brothers
5. June 17, 1994
6. Fantastic Lies
7. The U
8. Of Miracles and Men
9. Big Shot
10. The 16th Man
Next Six: The Best That Never Was; Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs. the NY Knicks; Muhammad and Larry; No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson; This is What They Want; Pony Excess.
Schell said he left off Catching Hell, Unguarded, The Fab Five and The Real Rocky because they weren't technically 30 for 30s.
4. Sports pieces of note:
• Bleacher Report’s Lars Anderson, on the tragic death of Evan Murray, teenage quarterback. Brilliant, heartbreaking work.
• SI’s Jon Wertheim, on Roger Federer as a business proposition.
• Karl-Anthony Towns, writing for The Players Tribune, had strong words for Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville.
• The New York Times profiled the Bridge Golf Foundation, which works with underprivileged and mostly black adolescent boys, and is headed up by former SI and ESPN writer, Farrell Evans.
• From Kyle Koster of The Big Lead: Robert Lee is not a pawn.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• Great piece by L.A. Magazine’s Jeff Maysh: The Cop Who Became a Robber.
• Via Tom Ricks of The Atlantic: A best-selling author submits a draft to his editor. Hijinks ensue.
From GQ's Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah: A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof.
• From Mike Newall of Philly.com: "I couldn't write about the heroin crisis anymore without writing about my brother."
• Via NPR: For 30 years, Daryl Davis has befriended KKK members. He says 200 have given up their robes after talking with him.
• From The Detroit Free Press: How Stephen M. Ross' gift to the University of Michigan ended up in tax court.
• Via Ken Rodriguez, writing for The Rivard Report: The Murder and Miracle on Alamo Street.
• From Pro Publica: Despite Disavowals, Leading Tech Companies Help Extremist Sites Monetize Hate.
• Via California Sunday Magazine: To Catch a Counterfeiter.
• From FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten: Fake Polls Are A Real Problem.
• The princess myth: The Guardian’s Hilary Mantel on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
• On the death of journalist Kim Wall.
5. Fox Sports announced it has renewed its deal with the BIG3 for another season. Per Austin Karp and John Ourand, FS1’s nine tape-delayed BIG3 telecasts prior to the championship averaged 191,000 viewers. That figure includes the opening night telecast on June 26 of 400,000 viewers.
5a. Sports Business Daily’s Erik Spanberg profiled the rise of SEC Network broadcaster and radio host Paul Finebaum
5b. Baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal explained why he took a job at The Athletic.
5c. Sage Steele, now co-hosting a rebranded SportsCenter AM beginning on Monday, discussed why she believes SportsCenter is not the proper forum to discuss the intersection of sports and social issues. Steele, Jay Harris and Randy Scott will anchor a 7-10 a.m. ET edition on ESPN before morphing to ESPN2 when the Mike Greenberg solo project debuts.
5d. Marisa Guthrie of The Hollywood Reporter first reported that Top Rank will create a direct-to-consumer boxing vertical and ESPN will get a minimum of 16 fights a year to run on ESPN (or ABC primetime), with a minimum of two additional direct-to-consumer live boxing cards exclusive to ESPN's upcoming multisport digital service that's set to launch in early 2018.
5e. ESPN management had strong words for former ESPN tennis commentator Doug Adler following a Today Show piece examining the aftermath of Adler’s Jan. 18 commentary during a Venus Williams match at the Australian Open. During Williams' match against Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele, Adler, working for ESPN via a third party, says he described Williams’ strategy on-air as “the guerrilla effect.” Some listeners (and a tennis writer who often works for the New York Times) inferred that meant “gorilla” and assumed Adler was using a racial slur. The video is here.
Adler eventually apologized—he says at ESPN management’s behest—and was then pulled off the air. It prompted Adler to file a lawsuit against ESPN for wrongful termination. His complaint for damages is here. “The [Today] piece misrepresented the facts and the world’s reaction,” an ESPN spokesperson said. “We removed him from the Australian Open for making an inappropriate comment that was viewed negatively by everyone but Adler.”
Adler believes had he been a bigger name tennis broadcaster, ESPN would have fought harder on those branding him a racist. It’s hard for me to determine whether Adler will win his lawsuit on legal means, especially as an at-will employee, but as I’ve said when asked on social media: I believe pulling Adler from its coverage was a significant overreaction by ESPN’s tennis producers.
5f. ESPN basketball analyst Kara Lawson wrote a beautiful remembrance to her father, William, who passed away this weekend.
5g. Arguably, the best newspaper correction in 2017 involving a sports story.