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SPORTS MEDIA: FIVE WHO GET IT, FIVE WHO DON’T
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts
THEY GET IT
Rachel Nichols, ESPN — If she wanted, Nichols could hire a battalion of lawyers and all but own Disney Company. And maybe she should, now that her cowardly network bosses have removed her from sideline reporting duties at the NBA Finals, avoiding a possible mutiny from Maria Taylor and other Black personalities. Remember, her comments about Taylor — that racial considerations led ESPN/ABC to replace Nichols (who is White) with Taylor (who is Black) as ‘‘NBA Countdown’’ host — were made in the presumptive privacy of her Disney-paid hotel room, at Walt Disney World, where a Disney-installed remote camera picked up her explosive dialogue, allowing it to be heard by a Disney employee/creep who made an audio tape of her conversation and leaked it throughout the Disney-owned network and to the New York Times. But Nichols took one for the team, as they say, issuing an on-air apology to Taylor when Disney should be apologizing to Nichols for invading her privacy. ‘‘So the first thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t be the story. And I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals,” Nichols said on her daily NBA show, ‘‘The Jump,’’ a day after the Times expose appeared. ‘‘But I also don’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here at ESPN. How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team.” That gesture did Nichols a lot of good — now they’ve run her off the Finals when, as we know, she became ‘‘the story’’ only because the network’s microphone and rogue employee(s) made her the story. Disney is fortunate that Nichols’ mother-in-law is Diane Sawyer, who made her mark as an elite broadcast journalist at ABC. Otherwise, the scene of the Orlando drama might be renamed Rachel Nichols World. Perhaps someday, at this rate, it still might be. Shame, shame, on the Disney decision-makers.
CC Sabathia, media star in waiting — With Major League Baseball needing a reset and its leaders requiring lobotomies, maybe Sabathia is the cure as a fresh, all-resonating voice. Fans tired of John Smoltz, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and the general humdrum effect can look forward to Sabathia, who lets his opinions fly with viral, Barkley-esque impact. Problem is, he doesn’t want to work in a traditional booth and would prefer to do podcasts from the stands at ballparks. Well, what is so wrong about that? Fox, ESPN, TBS and MLB Network should be all over his idea, which could revolutionize baseball broadcasting and help bring the sport into the 21st century. His new memoir, ‘‘`Till the End,’’ might be the season’s most interesting conversation piece, topping even two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, lauded by Sabathia as ‘‘the best baseball player on this planet … ever.’’ He details years of alcoholism, such as the night in 2009 when his wife found him passed out in a lounge chair — naked, all 350 pounds of him — at Beyonce’s 40th-birthday bash for Jay-Z. Amber Sabathia had the strength to help save her husband’s life. Now, networks will have to deal with her as his media agent.
Marv Albert, retiring legend — For 55 years, his voice resonated through a sport as much as any arena sound, including a dribbled basketball. And to the very last syllable, Albert was humble, thanking broadcast colleague Reggie Miller, producers, directors, statisticians, production crews, camera people — paying tribute to everyone but himself. He actually looked embarrassed by the reception after his final broadcast, when fans at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena stuck around after the Hawks were ousted to give Albert a standing ovation, as Miller joined in. ‘‘I wish I were starting all over again. It has been such a joy,’’ he said. ‘‘So for the last time, thanks so much for watching. I’m Marv Albert, saying thank you and good night.’’ I miss him already.
Boris Becker, blunt realist — Realizing her boycott threat wasn’t helping an otherwise thriving career, Naomi Osaka said she’ll answer questions at news conferences during the Summer Olympics. I’m skeptical that her hiatus, which started at the French Open and continues through Wimbledon, involved mental health issues as much as the controlling whims of a Generation Z multimillionaire. Becker agreed, with the tennis legend/analyst telling the Times of UK: ‘‘If you can’t deal with the media, it’s very difficult to be a professional tennis player. The tour isn’t possible without the press. And it’s difficult to make your prize money, or money for your sponsors without the media. It’s not something we look forward to. But it’s part of the job. You have to learn to deal with it. … Is that really pressure? Isn’t it pressure when you don’t have food on the table? When you’ve got to feed your family and you don’t have a job? When you have a life-changing injury? Isn’t that more pressure? You’re 23, you’re healthy, you’re wealthy, your family is good. Where’s the f—king pressure?’’ With the Games in her native Japan, Osaka has no choice but to speak to the people. The litmus test will be at the U.S. Open, where the media will be aggressive, if not harsh. Will she flee again? All I know is, Osaka was well enough to tweet last month that she’s on the cover of Vogue Japan.
Katie Nolan, ESPN — This is what happens when a sports network boss showers a personality with more than $1 million a year, then loses his gig in a cocaine scandal. Katie Nolan is being marginalized, if not shipped away, by the Regime That Succeeded John Skipper. She’s the latest disciple of Bristol-bounced Dan Le Batard to see the ziggy sunset, but credit the ex-bartender for keeping her trademark sarcasm a year after the cancellation of her show, ‘‘Always Late.’’ When a follower commented that her Twitter photo features her winning a Sports Emmy, Nolan wrote, ‘‘I gotta change it but every picture of you feels like it sucks after a picture like that.’’ Who’s going to sign Nolan? Skipper and Le Batard, I’m sure — but likely with one less contractual zero.
THEY DON’T GET IT
ESPN — As professional as Nichols was in her apology, what followed was Amateur Hour. In an awkward segment approved by company executives, the show producers had NBA analysts Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson immediately weigh in on her comments. I have no idea what either ex-player has to do with this story — and they only made the mess more political, with Perkins thanking Nichols for ‘‘accepting responsibility for your actions’’ and Jefferson acknowledging that conversations between Nichols and Black colleagues at ‘‘The Jump’’ have been ‘‘very difficult’’ and ‘‘don’t end here.’’ This revealed the existing racial tensions that served to force Nichols off her NBA Finals assignment; did the network set her up? Again, if I’m Nichols, I’m lawyering up. The segment was an orchestrated attempt to appease Taylor and ‘‘NBA Countdown’’ colleagues, such as Jalen Rose, who reportedly were ready to storm off the studio set recently in a Nichols-related beef. If Taylor and others want to walk off the set during the Finals — the biggest annual assignment in their careers — go for it. In the element most important to viewers, the show isn’t very good, lapped repeatedly in watchability by TNT’s ‘‘Inside The NBA.’’ This debacle only makes the show more distasteful.
Swerving sports pundits — In a rambling piece that tried — and failed — to appease all sides in a very complicated legal case, Bill Plaschke opined that Trevor Bauer is ‘‘obviously constitutionally deserving of the presumption of innocence.’’ Yet just one paragraph earlier, the Los Angeles Times columnist all but convicted Bauer of sexual assault by demanding he be removed from the Dodgers, writing, ‘‘Pitching for the Dodgers and representing the city of Los Angeles is not a right, but a privilege. Based on the accusations and evidence … Bauer has, at the very least, badly abused that privilege.’’ Then he writes that Major League Baseball must ‘‘listen equally to the accuser and the accused.’’ I’m confused. We’ve evidently entered the Assume Phase of the Bauer case, where media people decide to be judges, detectives and lawyers without knowing a thing about what actually occurred, unless they happened to be in his Pasadena home on two occasions when he says rough sexual acts were consensual, as encouraged via text messages by a woman who says Bauer went frighteningly too far and assaulted her. Consent will play a prominent legal role, but I don’t see that explained by Plaschke or in other similarly swerving columns. What we have here are allegations, which are not facts or ‘‘evidence.’’ Plaschke urges MLB to ‘‘find the truth.’’ Shouldn’t he and other columnists wait for it before swimming in legal waters? If Bauer is convicted, have at it. Until then, don’t assume … unless you know.
Phil Mickelson, winner to whiner — Only weeks after teaching life lessons as the oldest player to win a golf major, Lefty went daffy. Yes, with Mickelson in town for a tournament, the Detroit News had every right to apprise its audience of a local story involving the gambling man, whose dirty betting deeds surfaced in a Michigan jury trial in 2007. Seems he allegedly was cheated out of a $500,000 payoff by a mob-connected bookie named ‘‘Dandy’’ Don DeSeranno, who hailed from Grosse Pointe Park — making this Mickelson’s version of the cult movie, ‘‘Grosse Pointe Blank.’’ Rather than acknowledge a true story and move on, Mickelson blasted the newspaper, badgered News reporter Robert Snell on Twitter and threatened to never return to Detroit, calling the story ‘‘very opportunistic and selfish.’’ What Mickelson missed, in dismissing it as old news, is that the court transcript didn’t appear until 2018. Here’s some advice for Phil, at age 51: Stop dealing with organized crime figures. This isn’t the first time.
Washington Post — When a legendary sportswriter retires in the social-media age, it’s best to allow accolades to arrive privately in his in-box and not splice them together in a self-serving newspaper compilation. By the time numerous journalists and other figures had praised Thomas Boswell in a lengthy Post story, I was beginning to think he was a press-box combination of Jesus Christ, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama. I kept reading a quote rehashed from the late Georgetown basketball coach, John Thompson, who once said, ‘‘Thomas Boswell writes for the Heavens.’’ My God, it’s just sports, folks. We’re really not important, except to each other, as exhibited by the planet’s complete disregard of ‘‘World Sports Journalists Day,’’ which came and went July 2 despite the promotional efforts of something called the International Sports Press Association. I’m sure the unassuming Boswell is wondering why everyone didn’t just DM him.
Twitt-iots, ad nauseam — There is more than one Rachel Nichols in the world, including an actress who tags her Twitter ID line as ‘‘NOT ESPN REPORTER!’’ That didn’t stop trolls and losers from bombarding the Rachel Nichols who isn’t embroiled in a racial controversy. She wrote: ‘‘I woke up to HUNDREDS of Tweets YELLING AT ME and I had no idea what was happening! I was horrified and so sad. … As soon as it started happening, I was like… oh no.’’ Of course, the mobs never apologize. I know of vast, vacant, horse-poop-stenched land north of Bakersfield. Can we place these sad, vacant humans out there, with no Wi-Fi or electrical outlets? They can eat if they behave.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.