Media Circus (cont.)
THEY SAID IT, PART I
"I can't think of one female sideline reporter who isn't hot, yet I can think of many male reporters for ESPN who aren't particularly good-looking at all. There's always been this dynamic in pro sports where the men are center stage and they're surrounded by these adornments, these goddess cheerleaders -- they're almost like decorations. You look at ESPN and it's very common to have a pretty woman as the sideline reporter, which is where all the other pretty girls are."
-- Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, in a column on the "sexist sports journalism culture" by St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans
THEY SAID IT, PART II
"Nice job, honey."
-- Longtime White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, after Comcast Sports on-field reporter Sarah Kustok concluded her interview with Mark Buehrle following the left-hander's perfect game on July 23.
THEY SAID IT, PART III
"Based on the sensitive nature of the story and other factors we mentioned, we initially exercised caution and did not report it. Since then, we've been observing how the story has progressed, monitoring other news outlets, and doing our own reporting. We decided to report the story tonight."
--ESPN spokesperson Bill Hofheimer, announcing his network's decision to cover the allegations against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
SPORTS MEDIA TWEETS OF THE WEEK
"Who was the wag who asked Tim Tebow if he was a virgin -- Woodward or Bernstein?"
-- Louisville Courier-Journal sports columnist Rick Bozich, July 25, 1:20 pm [http://twitter.com/rickbozich]
"Just caught the T.O. segment we aired here on SC - excuse me while I puke. I'd rather clean my toilets than watch that 'reality' show!'"
-- ESPN SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele, on VH1's The T.O. Show, July 21, 10:54 a.m. [http://twitter.com/sagesteele]
"The co-opted Jerry Jones tablecloth. Macking on the real estate agent. It's only 20 minutes in, but The T.O. Show is a gem."
-- Newark Star-Ledger sports writer Jenny Vrentas [http://twitter.com/JennyVrentas], July 20, 10:20 PM
The 148th episode of HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel premiered last week, and the show has been praised so often among sports critics that it's easy to forget just how impressive it is to consistently produce top-notch journalism. Each story in this episode (Barret Robbins, Freddie Roach, Northwestern's women's lacrosse, and the Posada family) was richly reported, including a particularly deft interview by Gumbel with Jorge Posada IV, who is afflicted by craniosynostosis, a life-threatening condition that causes the bones of the skull to fuse before the brain finishes growing. (I'll note here that SI does have a relationship with Real Sports wherein some video appears on SI.com. Also, Frank Deford works for both entities.) The behind-the-scenes players in sports television rarely get credit, so give it up for Chapman Downs, a multiple Emmy Award winner, who produced two of the stories (Robbins and Northwestern).
ESPN's The Sports Reporters spent its opening segment (about six-and-a-half minutes) Sunday on the civil lawsuit against Ben Roethlisberger, with Detroit Free-Press sports columnist Mitch Albom offering a reasoned assessment ("It's never a good practice to compare bad stories. Each one should be held on their own.") after New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden strangely declared that "to me the straight line is between Roethlisberger and Kobe Bryant in terms of what did or did not happen." But within this interesting conversation was a glaring omission: The panel (which also included Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News and the Miami Herald's Israel Gutierrez) never discussed ESPN's decision not to report the story over the first 48 hours.
The New York Post has always been known for its aggressive and envelope-pushing journalism, qualities I usually admire in the tabloid. But the paper's decision to splash blurred nude stills of Erin Andrews was a cheap and smarmy play for buzz and sales. It's impossible to defend the decision journalistically (and the same goes for CBS and Fox, which used parts of the video on their morning shows). ESPN's senior management reacted by banning Post staffers from appearing on its airwaves, an understandable (even noble) show of support for its employee. The problem is that ESPN's decision does not punish any of the perpetrators. The ban is a mistake, and ESPN should reverse its decision.
The only people at the Post affected by the ban are those who reside in the Post's sports section, a staff that had nothing to do with an editorial decision made on the news side. ESPN should use its mega-microphone to chastise the Post for images executive editor John Walsh deemed "embarrassing and reprehensible." But it should not cause collateral damage among freelance contributors (such as Mark Cannizzaro, Kevin Kernan, Lenn Robbins and Joel Sherman) who have ably contributed to its airwaves. Whether ESPN pays them for time served is irrelevant.
Asked for some context on the decision, ESPN senior vice president of corporate communications Chris LaPlaca told SI.com, "We stated at the outset that the Post sports reporters had nothing to do with the way Erin was treated. We just felt strongly that in this unique circumstance, it would be wrong to have the words 'New York Post' on our air in the aftermath of such treatment. We believe we made our point in the strongest available manner and that our perspective was widely understood."
Let's hope ESPN reverses this decision in the near future. LaPlaca told SI.com Sunday that ESPN will review the policy this week.
AROUND THE WEB
For years Pedro Gomez was ESPN's Dostoevsky, a man imprisoned by Barry Bonds and his network's nightly fascination of him. In 2005, The Toronto Globe and Mail assigned reporter Shawna Richer to cover Sidney Crosby's rookie year in Pittsburgh, producing wall-to-wall coverage of The Kid. Now Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has inspired one writer in Brooklyn to start a Web site entirely focused on the quarterback. Dan Shanoff, a blogger for the Sporting News and a former Page 2 writer at ESPN, says he started his TimTeblog on July 15 because "there is no bigger topic in sports." (The equally obsessive TebowZone.com has been around since August 2007.)
I asked Shanoff how his site could cover Tebow better than a print or online reporter who interacts with the quarterback on a daily basis. "The site's critical quality -- I won't call it an advantage -- is its focus: There are plenty of folks out there covering college football from the national level, covering the SEC as a conference, covering Florida as a beat. But I am the only one focused entirely on Tebow, and that hyper-topical approach is important: It allows me to be nimble enough to get interesting memes or stories out to the audience quickly but also allows me to offer unique depth and comprehensiveness of coverage -- not just writing specifically about Tebow news but riffing off news to provide a Tebow-centric angle."
Shanoff says his site has an end date: April 23, 2010. That's the day after the first round of the NFL draft.
With the explosion of interest in SEC football and the prospect of solidifying himself as the most celebrated player in college football history, Tebow is quickly becoming the most covered athlete south of the Mason-Dixon line. When Tebow talks, people listen, and this week people took notice of those positing the questions. Following SEC Media Day, during which AOL Fanhouse writer Clay Travis asked Tebow if he was saving himself for marriage, Tebow was praised for answering the question with grace and humor while the questioner was excoriated in many circles, including here.
Tebow is a devout (and public) Christian; "an ambassador-warrior for his faith" was how Austin Murphy described him in last week's SI cover story. Given how willingly Tebow discusses his faith, I don't think the question was out-of-bounds, especially if a writer was working on a feature story about Tebow. What I do think is out-of-bounds, however, was the forum in which the question was posed.
When asked by SI.com for comment on why he chose SEC Media Day to pose the question, Travis offered this response: "I didn't think Florida would let me past the gate-keepers to ask that question of him in a private setting," Travis said. "So I picked the least public room that I had access to of a very public setting. I also didn't want to try to run up to him and tug his sleeve while he was surrounded by a phalanx of security and Florida officials either. I didn't think Tebow would have a problem answering it because, as I wrote, he lives his faith publicly and he'd see it as an opportunity to further spread the gospel."
Travis said he did not want to ask the question in a post-game setting (his explanation is here) and believed the timing was right given Tebow's quotes to SI in last week's story. "I mean this completely and honestly: I thought his response would be a story," Travis said. "But I really didn't think the question would become the focal point."