Owners grading voices

Kevin Brown, what happened to him? Never a dull weekend; Outcry by colleagues; Any loyalty?



A Few Things About TV sports Reporting That Annoys Me

ESPN recently and unceremoniously axed some of their most popular and longtime employees.

According to published reports, they include Jeff Van Gundy, Max Kellerman, Keyshawn Johnson, Suzy Kolber, Steve Young, Todd McShay, Jalen Rose, Matt Hasselbeck, LaPhonso Ellis, Ashley Brewer, Joon Lee, Jordan Cornette, Jason Fitz, David Pollack, Nick Friedell, Doug Kezirian, Andre Ward, Gene Wojciechowsk and recently Mark Jackson.

Then, on August 8, ESPN and Penn Entertainment, a gambling company, announced the creation of ESPN Bet, despite Bob Iger, the chief executive of the Disney-owned company saying in 2019 that he didn’t foresee the sports network would go all in and become directly involved in on-line sports betting. (So long to Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo and Casey at the Bat; hello to another outlet that embraces legalized book making.)

ESPN is still somewhat of a grim story

The firing of the ESPN employees received limited media attention, the exception being on this website. After a few days, it was “old news.” That’s understandable because unlike athletes who refuse to participate because of their political or social beliefs, the games will go on. There is an old baseball adage, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard.” Now, that adage might apply to ESPN sportscasters who replaced those fired and who might still be fired.

The fact that ESPN is now a full-partner of a product – gambling – that many health providers and government officials believe causes serious harm to individuals, including suicide, is not a surprise to me, despite what Mr. Iger said only a few years ago. His statement is another example of why all employees, regardless of their positions or the company they work for, should remember what Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian diplomat and political philosopher wrote in 1513 in The Prince. “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

On August 9, the Wall Street Journal reported, “The ESPN app will be promoted on the broadcaster’s platforms and will have access to ESPN programming and talent,” if affect making the broadcasters quasi bookies.

Cancer and Smoking

The connection between cancer, smoking and alcohol was not yet proven during the days of the “Old Goldie” and “Ballantine blasts,” so announcers in those days can be given a “suspended sentence” for promoting the products. Not so, today’s sportscasters who give the odds of a team winning or losing during the game because the detrimental affects of gambling are well known.

But what caught my attention was the outrage from other sportscasters that followed when Baltimore Orioles game day announcer Kevin Brown was suspended for mentioning the poor record of the team in previous years when playing on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays.

As Fox News reported after Brown’s suspension, “Broadcasters across Major League Baseball on Monday night showed support for Baltimore Orioles announcer Kevin Brown after he was reportedly suspended for comments on-air last month.

Mets’ TV play-by-player Gary Cohen, 65, an erudite Columbia man.

“Michael Kay (Yankees), Gary Cohen (Mets), Jason Benetti (White Sox) and Dave O’Brien (Red Sox) were among those who took to their airwaves to express their support of Brown and disgust with the Orioles.”

It’s nice that these broadcasters have the courage to speak out on an issue that they believed in. Too bad that they don’t have the same courage, that print reporters do, when reporting on the unsportsmanlike conduct of team owners and players, past and present.

I assume that many broadcasters hold their punches when reporting because they are fearful of losing their jobs. That’s understandable. I’m not a believer in martyrdom or self-immolation and a story in The Athletic on August 8 reported that announcers serve at the pleasure of owners without union protection. Nevertheless, camouflaging the truth is dishonest reporting and there is enough of that heard on political commentary stations. Cutting down the use of adjectives, and using statistics from the past that makes no sense when talking about today’s ballplayers, would go a long way in making sports reporting more like the honest reporting of their print colleagues without announcers making comments that could get them fired.

The Mets broadcast television team

In particular, The Athletic praised the New York Mets announcing team of Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen because it “offers candid appraisal with regularity,” which as a regular viewer to Mets games I can attest is true. But when the subject concerns past and present players and announcers, Cohen is not above acting like a PR arm for the subjects – highlighting the positives and eliminating the negatives of the individuals. To get the whole truth and nothing but the truth a viewer would have to read a print publication,

Stanley Woodward, the great sports editor of the New York Herald Tribune, was against glorifying ballplayers as is too often done by sportscasters. He called it “godding up.” “Godding up” has largely disappeared from print sports reporting. But listening to some TV play-by-play announcers talk about players make them seem like they are God’s gift to humanity, even when their off-the-filed conduct would me more approved by Satan than God.

The word sportswashing is relatively new. But whatever you call it, it has been long used, and still is, by some broadcasters.

Arthur Solomon

Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications and consults on public relations projects. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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Michael Green
10 months ago

Wonderful piece. I am reminded of an article I read years ago in Sports Illustrated that addressed these issues with local announcers, and how an unnamed Dodger executive said they wished Vin would be less critical than he was, but nobody was going to mess with him, and the fans liked it, so that was that. Thinking of Mr. Solomon’s comments about the Mets, I’m reminded of how the Original Great Trio of Mets announcers–Lindsey Nelson, Ralph Kiner, and Bob Murphy–met before the season and agreed: The team would be bad, and they wouldn’t sugarcoat it. As Kiner said, all… Read more »