In the old days, there was the talk-show apology tour, a trip to Oprah’s coach or The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Then came the reality era, with fare like Dancing With The Stars geared toward rehabbing reputations. These days, you might as well become a television analyst for Fox and FS1 if you are looking to change your image with the public.
Last month, the network added to its reputation as a sports rehab house when it hired former NFL quarterback Michael Vick as an analyst. Vick has long been a compelling subject as an athlete, but also intensely polarizing: He was jailed for 21 months in 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting ring and recently suggested on FS1 that Colin Kaepernick would be wise to cut his hair as part of his pitch to work as a quarterback. (Vick apologized repeatedly afterward.)
I learned a long time ago that sports television executives do not factor in off-the-field issues with on-air hires unless their league partners have issues. They also do not factor in how a sports subject treated the media (including their own staffers) as a hiring prerequisite. For instance, Bobby Knight, a quintessential bully, could not have been more anti-media (including with ESPN reporters) during his career as a college basketball coach. So naturally ESPN hired him and feted him until his lousy broadcasting performance proved to do him in.
It is about one thing above all: Do sports network executives believe the person will be compelling on television? Fox Sports believes Vick will. Time will tell if the public agrees and forgives his crimes. There is currently a Change.Org petition with nearly 80,000 signatures for Fox Sports president Eric Shanks to remove Vick from his position. That won’t have any impact unless the sponsors are impacted. Vick will appear on Fox NFL Kickoff, which runs on Fox the hour before Fox NFL Sunday. He will also make appearances on cable channel FS1 throughout the week.
One of Fox Sports’s most successful rehab stories had been Pete Rose, whose crazy grandpa on-air persona proved to be a compelling watch on Fox’s MLB studio show. But Rose will no longer appear on air — as reported last week by The Hollywood Reporter — following accusations of him having a sexual relationship with a woman in the 1970’s before she turned 16, according to court documents. “We are not commenting on The Hollywood Reporter story,” a Fox Sports spokesperson told SI.com last week.
Of course no one has used sports TV better to rehab their reputation than Alex Rodriguez. Suspended for the entire 2014 MLB season for using performance-enhancing drugs, Rodriguez has been a revelation for Fox as an MLB analyst, a thoughtful and cogent baseball wonk with an innate ability to explain things to an audience in a digestible way. His reinvention narrative has drawn plenty of interest in the media, even beyond sports. Last month Rodriguez was on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter with the headline: The Redemption of A-Rod Will Be Televised.
Asked by that publication how he was able to rehab his image, Rodriguez was succinct. “You have to own your sh–.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable stories)
1. ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham resigned from the network this spring because of his growing discomfort with the damage being inflicted on the players he was watching each week. He’ll be a guest of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast this week and we’ll examine in-depth why he made his decision and whether it foreshadows others covering college football following in his lead.
1a. ESPN said its coverage of Alabama’s win over Florida State on ABC drew 12.6 million viewers and had a streaming audience of 237,000 viewers. That makes it the ESPN network’s most-watched and most-streamed kickoff weekend game on record. The overnight rating was up 49% from last season’s ABC Saturday Night Football opener. ESPN said the average minute streaming audience for Alabama’s victory was ESPN’s second most-streamed regular season game ever behind last season’s double overtime Michigan-Ohio State game. The game peaked at 14,118,000 viewers between 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET.
1b. The top 10 TV markets for Alabama-Florida State
10. West Palm Beach
1c. ESPN said its average overnight rating for the seven games on ESPN/ABC was a 2.8 overnight while Fox/FS1 averaged a 1.0 overnight for its four games.
1d. ESPN said its Ohio State-Indiana college football opener last Thursday drew 5.4 million viewers (5.1 on linear ESPN) on ESPN and its Megacast options. The company said that was its biggest Thursday college football opening game in history.
1e. ESPN said its Sunday night telecast of West Virginia-Virginia Tech on ABC drew a 2.9 overnight rating, beating UCLA-Texas A&M on Fox by 32%.
2. Episode 134 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features two staffers from The Athletic: Stewart Mandel, the editor-in-chief of The All-American—a national college football site for The Athletic—and Seth Davis, the managing editor of The Fieldhouse—which will focus on national college basketball for The Athletic. In this podcast, Mandel discusses what kind of content his site will produce; why he made the writer hires he did; why he has not hired any writers of color; not being renewed by Fox Sports and when he learned Fox Sports was eliminating all written content to pivot to talking-head videos; how he would convince someone not from the local areas of The Athletic to sign up for it; how to convince people to pay for content they are used to getting for free; the college football teams with the most NFL talent; what he has learned about being an editor, and much more.
Davis discusses why he engages in politics on social media; whether he worries that discussing political or social issues will cost him potential readers; how CBS feels about him tweeting politics; who he has hired for The Athletic and why he hired them; when his site will launch; how The Athletic will be seen in college basketball circles, the importance of breaking news versus commentary, and much more.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
3. Cool moment on the Pac-12 Network: USC center Jake Olson, blind since age 12, snaps for the first time in a live game.
3a. Turner Sports has hired Rosalyn Gold-Onwude for a full-time NBA sideline position. Gold-Onwude has spent three seasons as the Warriors sideline reporter for NBC Sports Bay Area and earned praise for her work among viewers as well as longtime NBA media staffers.
4. Sports pieces of note:
•On the politics of college football, by Spencer Hall of SB Nation
• Via Andrew Maraniss: Frank Dowsing, Mississippi State’s first black football player, is almost unknown today
•ESPN’s Mina Kimes profiled Aaron Rodgers
•New York Times writer Mike McIntire on allegations of academic improprieties involving former FSU football players
•GQ’s Clay Skipper profiled Kirk Cousins
•Texas Monthly went inside the Texas quarterback factory
•Harvey Araton, on aging tennis players finding their best days
•The Houston Chronicle, with a definitive humanistic piece on Hurricane Harvey
•For Politico: Eric Columbus offered a detailed look at the immigration initiative, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
•Via Jamie Lowe for The New York Times Magazine: The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires
•Dallas Morning News reporter Alfredo Corchado, on deportees becoming easy prey for gangs along the U.S.-Mexico border
•From Ryan Grim of The Intercept: The Sordid Double Life of Washington’s Most Powerful Ambassador
•Via Bloomberg: Harvey Wasn’t Just Bad Weather. It Was Bad City Planning
•From Adrian Chen of The New Yorker: The Fake-News Fallacy
5. Inside The NFL begins its 40th season with a new cast member: Former Ravens linebacker and current Fox Sports broadcaster Ray Lewis. He joins Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and host James Brown. The show premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
5a. Showtime’s season-long documentary series on Navy Football — A Season With Navy Football — debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
5b. After 46 days of production, HBO ends this cycle of Hard Knocks on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. With the new roster reduction policy, the episode will feature 37 players being released by the Bucs.
5c On Sunday, NBC racing announcer Leigh Diffey called the F1 Italian Grand Prix in Stamford, then flew to Watkins Glen to call an IndyCar race three hours later. Nice work.
5d. This piece was an interesting glimpse into the world of sports media competition and sourcing. The background: (Denver) 9News Broncos reporter Mike Klis, a former Denver Post writer, inadvertently sent out a direct message on Twitter telling a source not to confirm to a Denver Post reporter that Brock Osweiler was being signed by the Broncos. This stuff happens in the sports media; it’s just rare to see it out in the open.
5e. Former Fox Sports executive Jerry Steinberg says the Sports Broadcasting Fund, which helps people in the sports broadcasting business pay bills related to disasters and medical issues, has raised more than $35,000 to broadcast professionals in need in Houston.
For more information on the Sports Broadcasting Fund, visit here.