Media Power Rankings: Aug./Sept.
Fox Sports' hiring of ex-NFL VP of officiating Mike Pereira is already paying off
Vin Scully, 82, is coming back for another season of calling Dodgers games
Mike Wise's Twitter hoax was a foolish mistake by 'The Washington Post' columnist
1. Bucky Gunts, NBC Sports : "Let's face it -- we're all Bucky Gunts here." With those eight magical words from the lips of actor Ricky Gervais, Gunts morphed from a quiet, behind-the-scenes player at NBC Sports to a subject of Emmy stories, a trending topic on Twitter and a viral sensation.
"The whole thing is hilarious," said Gunts, who won a Primetime Emmy for his direction of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. "But the more terrifying thing is to actually go up there and make the acceptance speech."
The Emmy was Gunts's fourth, including previous honors for his work on the Salt Lake City, Athens and Beijing opening ceremonies.
"I remember going up after [winning for] Athens and the first person I saw was Alan Alda in the front row," Gunts said. "He's looking up at me with a big yawn and I'm just like, 'Oh, my God, they can't wait for me to finish.' People are very polite and gracious but you know they have no interest in what you're saying."
Two years from now, Gunts will be the head of production for NBC's coverage of the London Games. He has directed every Olympic prime-time program since 1996 and every opening ceremony since 2002.
"London is such an iconic place and that's a major part of the Olympics, people being taken to another city that they don't know anything about it," Gunts said. "As beautiful as Vancouver was, it doesn't have all that history and iconic venues. I think London will be the best Summer Olympics we've ever done."
2. Mike Pereira, Fox Sports rules analyst: Given the praise the former NFL vice president of officiating received last week (SI.com's Peter King suggested the addition of Pereira "could be the broadcasting innovation of the year"), Fox's NFL competitors are surely going to copy this move in the future. Pereira appeared during multiple games on Kickoff Weekend and nailed the Calvin Johnson missed-catch interpretation in Chicago, predicting the pass to the Lions' wide receiver would be ruled incomplete.
"The No. 1 thing, when you do research, is fans expect your crew to know the rules," Fox Sports president Eric Shanks told SI.com before the season. "They want no confusion around the game."
3 and 4. Jay Michaels and T.J. Tart, ESPN bus drivers: Over a 22-day period in July and August, Michaels and Tart drove Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter throughout the country, piloting ESPN's "On the Road to Camp" preseason tour of NFL teams. They epitomize the large numbers of people who work behind the scenes in sports broadcasting on a daily basis. This was the second year Michaels drove Mortensen on a training camp tour (the trip lasted 12,000 miles over 22 days).
"I take my job very seriously," Michaels said. "And that's to get my people to where they are going safely."
Michaels is a huge football fan, with dueling loyalties between his hometown Titans (he lives in Nashville) and the Cowboys. Last year Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave Michaels and Mortensen a private tour of Cowboys Stadium.
"He walked us through the stadium head to toe, and even fired up the big screen for us," Michaels said. "This year one of the highlights was having Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark on the bus. What I enjoyed most was seeing all the admiration the players had for Chris Mortensen. You can tell he's highly respected. But I guess visiting all these teams did have some impact on me: My picks were better than Chris' in fantasy football last year and I rubbed that in this year."
Schefter traveled 5,164 miles for his tour, and the time on the road forged a bond with Tart.
"T.J. and I spent three weeks together on the bus," Schefter said. "He left mints for me on my pillow every night. He's just a nice man, a hard-working guy and I have immense respect for the guy. And he knows nothing about football. Our first interview was with T.O [Terrell Owens] and Ocho [Chad Ochocinco] and at the end of the interview, T.O. threw popcorn everywhere. T.O. and Ocho were laughing and having a good time and making for entertaining television, but T.J. was not happy that T.O. threw popcorn. And not only was he not happy, he had no idea who he was. He got up and said, 'Hey, who threw the popcorn all over my bus?' T.O. raised his arms and said, "It wasn't me!' "
5. Vin Scully, broadcasting legend: The 82-year-old recently announced that he would call Dodgers games in 2011. Showing a nice sense of humor, the legendary broadcaster told reporters that what clinched his return for a 62nd season was the team's addition of catcher Rod Barajas.
6. ESPNEWS: An SI.com reader from Atlantic Beach, Fla., Clyde Bunk, recently contacted me to ask why ESPNEWS was no longer offering live coverage of the news conferences NFL coaches hold on Monday. Excellent question, and one we posed to an ESPN spokesperson. As part of a rebranding of ESPNEWS, the network now features a daily, all-highlight show (Highlight Express) until 3 p.m. ET. That's followed by SportsCenter on ESPNNEWS.
Said the spokesperson: "As a result, we will still bring in the majority of the pressers, but will be turning around tape of them on SC on ESPN and SC on ESPNEWS. When situations warrant, if there is an important presser that we feel a need to go to live and stick with it until it's conclusion, we will do that."
Much like CNN when worldwide news breaks, ESPNEWS (which has long been my favorite of ESPN's on-air choices) has been a news-first and shtick-free platform, a place you could always find live news conferences of interest. Highlight shows draw more eyeballs than press conferences so I get the reason for the decision. But given the lust for all NFL content, why cede that space to the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio?
7. Rob Dibble, former Nationals announcer: A summa cum laude graduate of the blowhard style that too often permeates the sports airwaves today, Dibble was jettisoned from his job as a Nationals broadcaster after a series of foolish statements, culminating with his machismo manifesto about pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Those comments were preceded by this bit of idiocy about a pair of women he saw talking nonstop in the stands during a Nationals game.
"There must be a sale tomorrow going on here or something," Dibble said. "Their husbands are going, 'Man, don't bring your wife next time.' "
Funny stuff, Don Rickles.
Most disappointing was the reaction of ESPN's Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, both of whom channeled their inner Clarence Darrow under the canard of "you know what you are getting when you hire Rob Dibble." (Kornheiser actually used the word "insightful" to describe Dibble, which I read for the second time after the NYC paramedics revived me.) Make no mistake, though, Dibble will get another job in sports-talk radio (he currently is a co-host on MLB Network Radio's daily morning show, "First Pitch," which airs on Sirius XM). He's a name and somebody will bite.
8. Jason Whitlock, foxsports.com columnist: Dubbed "The Explanation" by the sports writer, Whitlock hosted a three-hour radio goodbye to Kansas City in which he torched his former bosses, his former employer (The Kansas City Star) and offered his views on why democracy might be ending. But rather than analyze the content of the "This Is Your Life, Jason Whitlock" extravaganza, I'm more interested in what foxsports.com plans to do with the writer.
Steve Miller, the managing editor of foxsports.com, told SI.com this month that Whitlock will write multiple columns weekly and do chats and podcasts. Fox had been in serious discussions to bring Whitlock on board since June.
"My impression of him has evolved over time," Miller said. "How would I describe him? Thought-provoking. Interesting. You might not agree with him - and early on I did not -- but after reading him I would learn something and was compelled to think about an issue in a different way. In a lot of ways, he sets the Vegas line on an issue whether it's sports or race or the combination thereof. ... He gets accused of being racist by both black and white people, and fans of different teams will accuse him of bias in the same story. I don't know that many people can elicit that type of conversation stimulation."
Given the columnist's acrimonious exit from George Brett country, I asked Miller why he had faith that Whitlock won't torch foxsports.com in a similar manner three years from now.
"The man certainly knows how to make an exit," Miller said, laughing. "As long as we keep re-upping him, I don't think this will happen. Seriously, we get along really well and I have a great deal of respect for what he does. I think he'd agree that over the past three years under our guidance and participation, he has gone into places expressing himself that nobody else would allow him to do. I think he values that. If it turns out that we don't see eye to eye at some point and he goes somewhere and decides to repeat the process, hey, we are big boys. We can handle it."
9. Inez Sainz, sports anchor, Mexico's TV Azteca: In what might be the first and only time I've agreed with Skip Bayless, the bright minds who run sports should figure out a civilized method where the sports press can get the immediacy of reaction after an event outside of the cramped, sweat-filled orchestra otherwise known as the locker room. Floating through a locker room is one of the least enjoyable aspects of sports journalism, though necessary to capture something honest.
There have been a lot of thoughtful pieces on the issue, from Fox Sports.com's Mark Kriegel to ESPN.com's Jemele Hill to The Philadelphia Inqurier's Ashley Fox to The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins, so I'll make this brief since I'm the 10,000th person to opine on the subject. In this matter, I don't care if Sainz is a glory-seeking personality (which she has in common with many of the people in this column, including the writer), what her journalistic credentials are or what what she was wearing for her interview with Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez; she works for a broadcast organization that was credentialed by the NFL, and even if she wasn't bothered by Jets players' tossing a football near her to get close to her or the catcalls, I'm bothered by it and thankfully so are other people in the profession.
Journalists who care about equal access and equal treatment should defend Sainz because if she's allowed to be dehumanized, objectified or treated like a non-person, you're probably next, even if you're not Mexico's hottest sports reporter. Worth noting is the NFL communication department's response in this matter: forceful and proactive.
10. Mike Wise, Washington Post sports writer: The first rule of Twitter: Don't make up news. Wise's foolishness, which prompted his newspaper to suspended him this month, is summed up nicely here and here by the Post's ombudsman, who, unlike another well-known ombudsman, works at an accelerated rate in a real-time age.
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