Mike Emrick, Pam Ward lead Spring Media Power List
NBC Sports's Mike Emrick continues his unparalled excellence
ESPN's Pam Ward reflects on being pulled from college football
Scott Van Pelt wants to add college football to his ESPN resume
(Each month SI.com highlights people in the sports media who have proved newsworthy, both for positive and negative achievements. Since this column has been away the past two months, let's call this the spring media power list)
1. Mike Emrick, NBC NHL announcer: My colleague Michael Farber calls him the pre-eminent lexicographer of the frozen game. I call him NBC's Bard of Spring. With NBC airing every NHL playoff game nationally since the second round, Emrick has been a welcome visitor in homes for weeks, and at 65, he's never been better at his craft. Losing no steam during the Rangers' triple overtime win over the Capitals on May 3, Emrick wryly concluded, "There were three games played tonight in the NHL, two of them right here." Sometimes we don't give the best of the profession enough due because their daily excellence becomes expected. Emrick begins another Stanley Cup Final run Wednesday night (NBC, 8 p.m. ET). Tune in if you want to see a master word painter at work.
2. Pam Ward, ESPN announcer: After calling national college football games for ESPN since 2000, Ward learned during a late March phone call from ESPN/ABC senior coordinating producer Ed Placey that she had been pulled from the assignment by her bosses. The move leaves ESPN's Beth Mowins as the only female doing play by play for the sport. Asked by SI.com how she would characterize her reaction to the news, Ward replied, "I've been doing games with ESPN for the past couple of years and you know there are up-and-comers and kids they are kind of grooming. I was surprised, but not shocked. It was not something that totally caught me off guard."
During an interview with SI.com last week, Ward was thoughtful about her time in college football. She dealt with more vitriol than possibly any college football announcer short of Craig James, the latter far more deserving of wrath. How did Ward deal with the many websites that chronicled her every broadcasting move? "Mostly by ignoring it," she said. "When I first started, I was sensitive of that and made the mistake of reading the stuff. But in talking to other colleagues who have gone through it, I basically started ignoring it, which is the best way to deal with it because it is just ridiculous, most of it. And it's not just me. When people blog and post, they are not going to say nice things.
"But I do feel I am the only broadcaster who has to be perfect, and nobody is perfect. And even when I don't make mistakes, people perceive them to be mistakes or biases. I've even had people tell me I was criticized for doing a game I did not do. It is absurd. I know it is part of the culture now, but I think the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. I think it is pathetic and mean-spirited and it did not deserve to be addressed. So I did not address it."
I asked Ward if she would ask ESPN to reconsider its decision at the end of the season. "I would hope, and this was part of my conversation with Ed Placey and others at ESPN, is that they would keep an open mind about things," she said. "As you know, a lot of times, historically speaking, when you are reassigned, you usually don't go back. But there are exceptions. I asked them to keep an eye on me and keep an open mind. That is all anyone can ask. I would hope I have not called my last football game. Under the right circumstances, I would like to do it again, and it does make me sad that I might have called my last football game."
Ward continues to call college softball for the network and is assigned this month to the College World Series. She will also continue as a play-by-play voice for the network's WNBA and women's basketball coverage, and has also picked up some women's college soccer for ESPN and the Longhorn Network
Mowins is now on an island as the only female calling college football. Will Ward's removal have a chilling effect for those women who want to follow in her path? "I hope not, but now it's just Beth," Ward said. "So you look and you see the entire female workforce doing it has been cut by 50 percent. That's not exactly encouraging."
3. Al Bernstein, Showtime boxing analyst: The genial Bernstein's career covering the sport has spanned four decades. He will be inducted on June 10 into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the "Observer" category as the winner of the Marvin Kohn "Good Guy" Award by the Boxing Writers Association. He's the first broadcaster from Showtime to be inducted into the Hall and it's richly deserved after he's called more than 2,500 fights and 68 pay-per events for Showtime and ESPN, where he first came to public recognition in the 1980s.
"It's a daunting thing," said Bernstein, who recently released the book 30 Years, 30 Undeniable Truths About Boxing, Sports and TV. "I've been there the last few years and when you are sitting there at the event, you look down the row at all the people on the dais and it's the history of the sport for the past 50 years. I look at the honor two ways: I hope it's a validation of what I've done and it energizes me for the future."
4. Mary Carillo, Chapman Downes, Brett Teal, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, HBO Sports:
This was the group behind the HBO Sports feature on Lolo Jones that turbo-charged the U.S. hurdler into the national sports conversation. Jones grew up with an imprisoned father, and she, her mother and four siblings occasionally lived in a church basement in Des Moines. But it was the frank, on-camera discussion of her virginity that received the most buzz, even though she had revealed that news months earlier on her Twitter account.
"I was as interested in her willingness to tweet something that personal as I was in her love life," Carillo said from Paris, where she is calling the French Open for NBC and The Tennis Channel. "We got to spend a pretty good amount of time with Lolo and she was warm and welcoming, funny and self deprecating. But I rather quickly became her unsolicited spiritual adviser and told her I worried that with all the rude, crude wing nuts out there in the Twitter sphere, she might not want to share such things with perfect (and imperfect) strangers. But does anyone listen to me? No. Last I'd heard, Lolo's Twitter followers have about doubled since our story ran. No surprise to this reporter."
Carillo continued: "Surely the reasons for her virginity going viral are very much wrapped up in her stunning looks. Her father is African-American and Native American Indian, her mother is Norwegian and German. Lolo has mocha skin, piercing green eyes, a lithe body built for speed. She's also smart, funny, rich, and, by your standard hurdler standards, famous. She's also crowding 30. Not many people with that combination of characteristics seem willing to wait for marriage."
Carillo said she and Downes, the lead producer on the piece, knew that what they had would be newsworthy. Downes and associate producer Teal worked on the first drafts of the script before Carillo did the narration. If you have HBO, it's worth checking out the feature, smartly done as always by that program. Here's a schedule of the upcoming re-airings.
5. Michelle Beadle, NBC Sports: Along with an Access Hollywood correspondent gig that hopefully won't deliver the usual Kardashian-style gravitas, Beadle lands at the NBC Sports Network this month for duties that will include co-hosting the daytime coverage of the London Olympics and a yet-to-be-developed show that will attempt to replicate MSNBC's Morning Joe. "The one thing we've talked about is me and one or two males, and it would be a panel of shooting the bull in the morning on sports-related stories," Beadle said. "It would not be overly serious, not yelling at each other. I like the idea of co-hosting a show that would be opinion driven."
Beadle said her former employer, ESPN, made legit attempts to keep her, but no job at the network was enough for her to stay. "We all know that Colin [Cowherd, her SportsNation co-host] is done with SportsNation at the end of the year and I had talks with [the show's executive producer] Jamie Horowitz about where the show will go after that. Who would be my co-host if I stayed? Would we move to LA? We juggled a lot of different options to try to figure something out, but the problem for me was while I love doing SportsNation, I asked myself, 'Can I only really do SportsNation for the next three years?" Some people suggested SportsCenter, and I'm sure I could do it, but it just wasn't enough."
6. Sage Steele, ESPN SportsCenter anchor: Historically, the talent that has hosted ESPN's upfront presentation for marketers and media buyers has gotten a serious publicity push the following year. Steele co-hosted (with Mike Greenberg) the gig this month, so look for the company to push her hard over the next 12 months. She is currently a regular on the weekend morning editions of SportsCenter. While doing some research as part of this item, I came across Steele's family story, which is worth reading. Gary Steele, Sage's father, was Army's first black football player and Steele was the only African-American among the 2,000 students at Carmel High in suburban Indianapolis
7. John Buccigross and Scott Van Pelt, ESPN:
The Buccigross signing was low radar, but ESPN made a nice call retaining one of its professional voices with a multi-year deal. He'll co-host the 11 p.m. ET SportsCenter -- an important show for sports fans -- and adds NCAA Frozen Four play-by-play work. He'll also continue to write his popular hockey column on ESPN.com. Good to see a decent guy and a pro rewarded.
Van Pelt was romanced by NBC Sports, but ESPN is a better fit for him given its many platforms and Van Pelt's connection with that audience. His radio show with Ryen Russillo is engaging, devoid of the Gong Show-inspired antics we see on First Take, and it draws a smart fan base.
"If you are curious why I stayed, there were a number of factors, one of which was the golf crew that is literally like my family," Van Pelt said. "I could not have walked away from Andy North, [producer] Mike McQuade and that crew. The radio piece could have been replicated somewhere else in theory, but not with this group, and I would not want to do the show without Ryen. Radio takes a long time to click with people, and though we are only three years in, we think we are getting to the point where people get us."
College football is where Van Pelt plans to branch out as part of his new deal. "The tricky thing is how much I respect the people currently in the roles, and I am not angling to take anyone's job," he said. "At the same time, I am trying to find a place to pitch in. An example likely will be a small handful of College GameDays. In what capacity, I don't know. It will not be in Fowler's role. I joked with him I don't have any desire to be the Gene Bartow to his John Wooden. A possible example would be on the week of LSU-Bama, maybe I do an interview with [LSU coach] Les Miles and am on set to wrap around it. It gets a SportsCenter host involved in the mix, gives content to both shows, and I enjoy doing it. The challenge is the logistics. How does that work? We don't know. There are still things we are trying to figure out."
8. The Lost Ogle.com and Jalen Rose, web heroes:
A word of advice for Skip Bayless, the cacophonous leader of ESPN2's morning Gong Show: If you are going to brag about going Pete Maravich on teams in high school, it's probably better if that's accurate, especially when you've made a lot of cash blasting athletes for being frauds. Showing Woodward and Bernstein initiative, The Lost Ogle.com, an Oklahoma-City based website, did the legwork to discover the truth about Bayless's high school career. Rose, an ESPN NBA analyst who did indeed star at Southwestern High in Detroit, then delivered the knockout shot, which you can relive here.
9. Brad Friedel, freelance FOX soccer analyst: FOX's soccer coverage remains a major work in progress at the network, especially when its executives continue to insist that Piers Morgan is something soccer fans want on a pregame show. (On that end, Morgan has been greeted as warmly as Scooter, the now-deceased animated cartoon that Fox Sports once used to explain baseball pitches.)
On the plus side was the addition of Brad Friedel to its Champions League finals coverage. The longtime U.S. national team goaltender is the current stopper for Premier League club Tottenham. He was funny and engaging, deeply knowledgeable about the players, and transparent to the point of admitting that he wanted Bayern Munich to win so his club could advance to the Champions League next year. In a recent profile of Freidel, SI's Grant Wahl reported that his contract with Spurs runs through 2012--13, then he'll re-evaluate. With FOX gearing up its coverage with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup, Friedel should get serious consideration for some role.
10. Colin Cowherd, ESPN: First things first, and I've written this before: It takes great skill to conduct a national sports-talk show on a daily basis and Cowherd has built a large audience where others would not have done so. He's also been generous promoting voices both inside and outside ESPN. But what remains maddening about his show is his continued misguided, sweeping generalizations on topic after topic, often ones outside of sports. He was rightfully banged for insulting the NHL media as a whole by saying that the coverage is generally conducted by "young, cheap people." That was in reference to the questions asked at a John Tortorella press conference and it came from someone who has appeared in hockey press boxes about as much as Amelia Earhart this season, or in recent seasons for that matter.
The more reckless comments were regarding New Orleans, which Cowherd called the least safe major city in America. This has become a Cowherd specialty: spew some nonsense socio-economic take that often flies in the face of data or reporting by reputable places. He's waxed similarly about unemployed people in Ohio and why NBA point guards without a father figure won't lead you to a title.
What's fascinating about all this flotsam is that the more Cowherd talks, the more his star rises in Bristol. Last week, colleagues breathlessly tweeted his time running a mile on a Bristol track as if Sir Edmund Hillary had just conquered Everest. His new contract, the plans to build a TV show around him after he leaves SportsNation, and the ESPN executives and PR types who are bowing to him like he's Chairman Mao had me recalling a conversation about Cowherd I had a couple of years ago with an ESPN PR staffer. Near the top, the starry-eyed staffer said, as if having just watched Michael Jordan hit a game-winning jumper, "Man, isn't Colin great?"
I should have paid more attention then, but what's clear right now is that this is Cowherd's world we're living in, just another young, cheap person getting it done in the sports media.