Media Awards for 2010
Honoring best, worst from TV, radio, print, online
Fox Sports made the hire of the year by adding former NFL referee Mike Pereira
'The Decison' was a narcissistic shamathon and the journalistic nadir of 2010
ESPN's College GameDay ranks as the best studio show in 2010
THE PICK: Mike Pereira (Fox Sports).
Revolutions in sports television sometimes come with little fanfare. Fox initially thought Pereira, the former vice president of officiating for the NFL, would make his biggest impact on the web. But the opening week of the NFL season featured one of the more controversial plays of the year -- Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson's apparent game-winning catch against the Bears, and Pereira's insight on the play proved invaluable. "Most people thought it was a touchdown but when they came out of replay, I predicted they would leave it as an incomplete pass and they did," said Pereira, who works out of Fox's NFL studios in Los Angeles. "That play generated more talk than I could have imagined and I think Fox recognized the value of addressing this immediately on television."
Viewers have longed for broadcasters to provide accurate explanations from the NFL's byzantine rule book, and Pereira, thankfully, has taken the burden off ex-jocks and announcers, who can come off as befuddled as fans. He has correctly predicted the outcome of 49 of 50 replay challenges this season (he disagreed with the judgment of the refs on a Jeremy Maclin reception that was ruled a catch and fumble; Pereira predicted the refs would overturn a play to an incomplete pass), but more importantly, he has imbued viewers with added knowledge.
"My goal was not to be controversial, but to be educational," Pereira said. "I have been somewhat successful in letting the fan know what the referee is looking for under the hood, but have I educated people as much I would have liked in rules? I probably have not done that as well as I would have liked yet. But I'll work into that as the years go on."
Pereira has been added to Fox's coverage of the Cotton Bowl and NFL playoffs and will sit behind broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman during Fox's coverage of Super Bowl XLV. His pioneering role will assuredly prompt another network to add an officiating analyst, whether in football or another sport.
"The fan has become so much more sophisticated, and has much more invested in the game," Pereira said. "Fans deserve the right to know the rules. They deserve to know when officials are right and deserve to know when the officials are incorrect."
HONORABLE MENTION: Ian Darke (ESPN), Bob Ley (ESPN), Mike Mayock (NBC, The NFL Network), Dan Shulman (ESPN and ESPN Radio).
THE PICK: Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth (NBC).
Michaels and Marv Albert remain the gold standard for television play-by-play broadcasters: They prepare, understand the moment and allow their partner the freedom to express himself. Collinsworth remains the best in the class of ex-players-turned-NFL analysts because his opinions carry the objectivity of a man not beholden to the league apparatus. He's also not fanatically smitten with certain players (Yes, I'm talking to you, Jon Gruden) or the institution of football. Such skepticism is a good thing for announcers.
HONORABLE MENTION: Marv Albert and Steve Kerr (TNT), Jim Durham and Dr. Jack Ramsay (ESPN Radio), Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts (CBS), Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN), Dan Shulman and Dave Campbell (ESPN Radio), Dave Sims and James Lofton (Westwood One Radio).
THE PICK: Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson (ESPN and ABC).
The three-man booth, especially in basketball, can be a lot of noise, signifying mostly ego. But this trio produced humor, insight and a big-game feel to each broadcast, even with Jackson's over-the-top hysterics for his favorite players (Kobe Bryant and LeBron James) and Van Gundy's uber-fondness for all things coaches.
Breen said the reason for the chemistry of the group is the length of the relationships. (Breen called Knick games when Van Gundy was the head coach of the team and coaching Jackson). "Jeff is passionate about the game and the NBA so much that he will not cheat it with his comments," Breen said. "He feels the need to be honest, whether it's about players or coaches -- well, maybe not coaches so much because every coach is a great coach -- but his love for the game keeps him to high standard."
Added Van Gundy: "I don't think there is much we could say to each other on the air that would offend each other. As a secondary career, you want to enjoy your work with the people that you are doing it with."
HONORABLE MENTION: Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery (ESPN).
THE PICK: ESPN's CollegeGameDay (Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Desmond Howard).
When a show creates news merely by its appearance at a locale, it's reached significant cultural relevance. Unlike some of ESPN's college football studio analysts who specialize in vapidity and coach-friendly speak (Craig James and Lou Holtz), the GameDay crew is unafraid to offer opinion that scolds some sacred cows. Most impressively, ESPN allowed Corso to work himself back into to the show following his stroke. Both the network and Corso deserve praise for that, and the broadcaster was at the center of one of the best moments of the year, his colleagues in tears when he was awarded a contribution to college football award as part of ESPN's College Football Awards show.
HONORABLE MENTION: Inside The NBA (TNT) Football Night In America (NBC), NHL Overtime (Versus).
THE PICK: Ian Darke (ESPN).
He's not exactly a newcomer in the business, but Darke's exceptional work during the World Cup further confirmed the thesis we've urged ESPN to follow for the last decade: Soccer fans don't need an American voice in the booth. They simply want a broadcaster who understands the rhythms and pace of the sport. Darke does, and ESPN wisely signed him up to be the network's signature soccer voice.
HONORABLE MENTION: John Smoltz (Turner Sports), Matt Winer (NBA TV).
THE PICK: Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison (NBC).
Dungy and Harrison have become more comfortable broadcasters this season, engaging each other in discussion often without the help of facilitator Dan Patrick (whom both Dungy and Harrison praised for aiding their development). Dungy is a much more provocative voice than anyone expected and Harrison seems committed to working to become a quality broadcaster. His comments on illegal hits helped provoke a national debate.
"Last year I felt like a total rookie just like my first year in the NFL, and it was almost worse because when I entered the NFL, I felt like I knew something about how to play football," Dungy said. "I really did not know anything about broadcasting. But we have a great group and they've taught us a lot. Most people make a big improvement between their first and second years playing and I feel like that we have made an improvement there, too, but we still have a long way to go."
HONORABLE MENTION: Bob Davie (ESPN), Jesse Palmer (ESPN), Chris Webber (TNT).
THE PICK: Jay Bilas (ESPN, CBS).
Bright, thoughtful and always prepared, Bilas never cheats viewers with his analysis. His opinions can be polarizing but he backs them up with substance. Last month he called for Bruce Pearl to be fired from Tennessee, a remarkable stand by a broadcaster on a network so closely aligned with a sport. "I have serious concerns about some of the NCAA's rules and the fairness of the process," he said at the time, "but not in this case. I believe the NCAA is likely to hit Tennessee harder with Pearl still in place, and if I were in charge in Knoxville, I would not put short-term wins over the long-term best interests of my athletic program."
HONORABLE MENTION: Hubie Brown (ESPN), Darren Cahill (ESPN), Collinsworth, Len Elmore (ESPN), Fran Fraschilla (ESPN), Herbstreit, Ron Jaworski (ESPN), Clark Kellogg (CBS).
THE PICK: Doug Brown, Mark Kestecher, John Stashower and Chuck Wilson (ESPN Radio).
One wishes the ESPN Communications Department would blow some of its famous and voluminous hot air toward these gentlemen instead of some of the network's higher profile and higher volume radio talents. You can hear this quartet throughout ESPN Radio, including on the flagship SportsCenter Nightly show. Along with the quality of their voices, what stands out here is the diligence and professionalism that each man delivers daily. Names are correctly pronounced, setups are done intelligently. It's a pleasure to listen to radio professionals who care about quality.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jeff Rickard (Sirius XM and ESPN Radio)
THE PICK: The Two Escobars (ESPN) and The Tillman Story (tie).
The Two Escobars was spectacular filmmaking, a thrilling exploration of the rise and fall of Colombian soccer during its era of narco-fútbol, the deadly marriage of the country's cocaine cartels and soccer clubs that contributed to the death of Andrés Escobar, a defender for the 1994 Colombian World Cup team (and no relation to Pablo). It was the most ambitious of ESPN's terrific 30 for 30 series.
"From the onset, we were less interested in who pulled the trigger that fateful night for Andrés in Medellín than in the question: What circumstances could lead to a beloved athlete and national hero being murdered for a mistake made on a playing field?," said co-director Jeff Zimbalist, who made the film with his brother, Michael. "We feared ESPN wouldn't get behind a 100 minute, subtitled, Spanish language documentary that was arguably more about politics and national identity than it was about sports, not to mention that the sport was soccer. To our surprise, ESPN loved it and approved a primetime airing of the full 100 minute cut."
The Tillman Story was a searing look at the murky events surrounding former NFL player Pat Tillman's killing by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan. "The Pat Tillman that Americans are familiar with is a slo-mo of his face, superimposed with the falling twin towers and Old Glory, smoke and soldier silhouettes and martial music underneath," the film's director, Amir Bar-Lev, told SI.com earlier this year. "It's an image Pat would have laughed heartily at, but the more serious truth is that we do a great disservice to our heroes when we depict them this way."
HONORABLE MENTION: Baseball: The Tenth Inning (PBS), The Best That Never Was (ESPN), Broad Street Bullies (HBO), June 17th, 1994 (ESPN), Once Brothers (ESPN).
THE PICK: The Children of Bhopal (ESPN's E:60).
In November E:60 aired a disturbing report on children playing cricket on the contaminated playgrounds of Bhopal, the site of the world's worst industrial accident, the 1984 gas leak that spewed from a storage tank at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Co-producer Yaron Deskalo (ESPN feature producer David Picker was the other producer) and correspondent Jeremy Schaap traveled to Bhopal to report the piece. The reporters, with the help of SGS, a global environmental testing firm, found massive levels of contamination in the playing fields. The feature was an example of ESPN at its industrious and passionate best.
THE PICK: Matt Taibbi, contributing editor, Rolling Stone magazine.
"The Decision" was simultaneously the most painful and most hilarious television show I've seen in a long time. Its entertainment value rested almost entirely in its scope -- the same way a person goes to the Niagara Falls or to the Grand Canyon for that take-your-breath-away moment when the heretofore unimaginable vastness of the vista is first perceived. I watched "The Decision" in breathless awe of the sheer scale of the narcissism involved."
THE PICK: Colin Cowherd, ESPN Radio.
In a misguided and spectacularly irresponsible character assassination of a quality kid, Cowherd went off on Wizards rookie guard John Wall, a 20-year-old praised by teammates and management alike for his professionalism and unselfishness. His take below was reckless, without research and met with silence by ESPN executives and most on-air people in Bristol with the exception of ESPN Radio host Doug Gottlieb, who prefaced his objection with man-love for Cowherd before illuminating why his colleague was so wrong. Thankfully, some media members, led by the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg and Sporting News's Mike DeCourcy, took the radio host to the woodshed. Remember, Cowherd's asinine take came after Wall's third career game. Behold, the inanity:
"Much like I called out Greg Oden, I'm gonna call out John Wall....Before the game started, he spent 34 seconds doing the Dougie. That tells me all I need to know about J-Wow. Then he opened his mouth later and confirmed it: not a sharp guy. All about him. In that line last night, that 29-point line, when he was out of control, he had 8 turnovers. By the way, Rajon Rondo had 17 assists last night, 0 turnovers. Rajon's got rings, Wall will never have one.
"Folks, when you rob a bank, it's not just the act of it, it's that you sat down for weeks and planned it. That tells me you're an idiot. The act is just the final icing on the cake. The cake is you sat down for weeks and planned it. I always give people credit just for getting a job. If you interview with 300 people and get the job, you beat 300 people out for a job, you've got to have some skill-set.
"Oh, I'm gonna get a lot of callers -- Colin, he's just having fun. What he did last night, Rondo never would, Isiah never would, J. Kidd never would, Stockton never would, Nash never would, Magic never would. Point guard is like the quarterback. it's an IQ-judgment position. The great ones are not about themselves. They're about the others. Leadership is IQ, it's not skills.
"J Wow's 37-second Yo dawg look at me I'm the man [dance], and his wild, out-of-control style, everybody else is buying his stock, and it told me all I need to know. He's gonna end up on the Iverson, Francis, Starbury [side]: great stats, nine All-Star teams, never play with good smart players and an elite head coach. He's gonna drive people nuts.
"It's not robbing the bank, it's that you planned it. It's not just doing the Doggie (sic) for 35 seconds, it's that you really thought before the game, this is gonna be super cool and people will like me. The wrong people. You all, go read the John Wall box score. Everybody's fascinated. ESPN SportsCenter will probably do like 9 minutes on it. I'll take the Rondo box score: 3 boards, 9 points, 17 assists, 4 steals, no turnovers....
"You could see it before the game started. Magic would never consider doing that. It's just who he is. And you think he's gonna change now that they gave him $75 million? Oh yeah, I'm sure he's gonna life change now. It's not robbing the bank, partner; it's that you planned it. It's not just the act, it's that you thought about it and thought it was a great idea....
HONORABLE MENTION: Colin Cowherd. The host followed his initial anti-Wall screed by asserting that there's a correlation between leadership at point guard and coming from a strong family with a father figure. Like Bill Clinton, Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama, Wall did not have a father figure growing up. Behold, the inanity:
Let me tell you something: I'm a big believer, when it comes to quarterbacks and point guards. Who's your dad? Who's your dad? Because I like confrontational players, I don't like passive aggressive. Strong families equal strong leaders. Talent? Overrated. Leadership? Underrated. And you can say, well, Colin, can you just go out and say anything crazy and get people to e-mail. That's not the point. You wouldn't e-mail if I was an idiot, because you wouldn't listen to the show. You listen to the show because we make good points."