New football movie: Sportswriter shares story of hard-to-believe journey to Hollywood

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on how one sportswriter made it to Hollywood.

From the column:


Sportswriters usually don’t get any closer to Hollywood than paying $9 to see a movie.

So for Neil Hayes, a former sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, being part of a movie premiere was remarkable in its own right. However, how he got there is a story straight out of Hollywood — as in so implausible that it only have been concocted by a movie script writer.

When The Game Stands Tall” hits the theaters Friday. Starring Jim Caviezel, Michael Chiklis and Laura Dern, the movie is based on Hayes’ book about the historic 151-game football winning streak by De La Salle, a high school in Concord, Calif.

Hayes, while working for the Contra Costa … Continue Reading

Big Ten Network set standard for others to follow

My latest column for the Chicago Tribune is on the Big Ten Network preparing for its eighth season.

From the column:


If you watch ESPN, you have seen the million or so (estimate might be on low side) promos hyping the new SEC Network, which made its debut last week.

It’s been there, done that for the Big Ten Network (BTN). The network has been around for light years in terms of the new media landscape.

Consider that when the BTN launched in 2007, Twitter barely existed and the idea of watching television on your mobile phone still sounded like a crazy idea.

“Back then, one of our big decisions was whether we would spend the extra money to broadcast in HD,” said BTN president Mark Silverman, laughing at the idea of even asking that question now.

The BTN … Continue Reading


DVR alert: New documentary on Bo, Barkley and Big Hurt at Auburn

The new SEC Network  is airing a documentary tonight at 9 p.m. ET about a special era for Auburn.“Bo, Barkley, and The Big Hurt” focuses on the school having three transcendent athletes on its campus during the 1980s: Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley and Frank Thomas.

The three were reunited last year at the Auburn-Alabama football game. Barkley contends he is the top Auburn athlete; Jackson is second and Thomas is third.

As the clip shows, the guys weren’t about to argue with Barkley.… Continue Reading

Finebaum: No restriction on curbing criticism on SEC Network

Earlier today, I posted my Q/A with Paul Finebaum. However, I thought this was worth a headline.

Paul Finebaum didn’t get to where he is today by holding back his views. He’s outspoken, candid, and of course, critical when events warrant. Just ask some of his targets through the years.

So naturally, people will be watching to see how Finebaum handles himself now that he works at a TV property that bears the SEC’s name. Here is his answer when I asked him about it.


Finebaum: What I’ve been told, is we are going to be able to do the same thing on this program we’ve always done.  There are a lot of people out there waiting for a train wreck or waiting to see what happens when we criticize a coach or a president or an athletic … Continue Reading

Why does Washington nickname debate have to be framed as liberals vs. conservatives?

In his poorly-worded diatribe about the Washington nickname, Mike Ditka threw out this statement: “We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world?”

Indeed, whenever I write about the debate over whether to keep the name, I often get tweets or comments saying all the fuss is due to a bunch of liberals.

In responding to a post this week about Phil Simms’ stand on the issue, a reader wrote: “Give me a break. Tempest in a Liberal Teapot.”

Really, this about liberals and conservatives?

Does that mean conservative have a lack of sensitivity to a group of Americans, Native Americans in this case, who say the Washington nickname is extremely offensive?

What’s so hard to understand? The team’s nickname is based on the color of someone’s skin. Nowhere in society would you be allowed to use … Continue Reading

Ditka on Washington nickname debate: ‘What are you going to call them, a Brownskin?’

Guess we know where ‘Da Coach’ stands on the issue. And it isn’t pretty.

He likely went a bit too far an interview with Mike Richman at

“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” Ditka said. “It’s so much [expletive] it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Brownskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is.

“Its been the name of the team since the beginning of

Continue Reading

Mushnick labels Marshall ‘a miscreant’; Says Showtime wrong for using him on Inside the NFL

New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick isn’t a big fan of Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” using Brandon Marshall as a regular analyst this year.

His Sunday column included an item that labeled the Bears receiver a “miscreant”:

“Rinse, lather, repeat: Since his rookie year with the Broncos in 2006, talented WR Brandon Marshall, now with the Bears, has relentlessly coveted and won extra on-field TV attention through unsportsmanlike, me-first, excessive demonstrations, not to mention extra off-field attention. Frequently arrested, he eventually earned a suspension for violating the NFL’s personal code of conduct.

“And that must explain why of all the active NFL players that Showtime/CBS’ “Inside the NFL” could this year choose as a regular player/panelist/analyst, the shot-callers chose Brandon Marshall.”

The assessment seems a bit harsh. While Marshall did have problems earlier in his career with Denver and Miami, … Continue Reading

Sports Illustrated puts girl Little League pitcher on cover

Hey, it’s August. College football doesn’t start until next week, and there’s still three weeks until the NFL plays for real.

So why not?

At, managing editor Chris Stone explains the decision.

Thirteen-year-old sensation Mo’ne Davis, who plays for Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons, has become the first Little Leaguer to grace the national cover of Sports Illustrated. The 5-foot-4 inch, 111-pound eighth grader is not only taking the Little League World Series by storm, but also she has captured the nation’s attention.

“Last week, this week, maybe next week, she’s owned the sports conversation,” Sports Illustrated manager editor Chris Stone said. “How often do you get to say this about a 13-year-old girl? It’s the easiest type of story to identify as a cover story.”

“The writer, Albert Chen, said it perfectly in the story, ‘She’s a lot of things to

Continue Reading

Little Leaguers rule again in Chicago TV ratings: Beat Johnny Manziel and Chris Sale

Score another victory for Chicago’s Little Leaguers. They topped a couple of big stars, Johnny Manziel and Chris Sale, in the local TV ratings Monday night.

Jackie Robinson West’s 8-7 victory over Rhode Island pulled a 3.5 rating on ESPN2 in Chicago. That means the game was seen in an estimated 125,000 homes in the area; 1 local ratings point is worth nearly 36,000 homes.

Jackie Robinson topped the 3.0 local rating for the Manziel show during ESPN’s coverage of the Washington-Cleveland game. Meanwhile, despite Cy Young candidate Sale on the mound, the White Sox-Orioles game only did a 1.0 rating on Comcast SportsNet.

The kids figure to rule again tonight when Jackie Robinson West takes on Texas at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Meanwhile, on the national level, Manziel continued to deliver ratings. The game did a 4.8 overnight … Continue Reading

Is Phil Simms’ stance on not using Washington nickname a game-changer?

Phil Simms made the most headlines yesterday since his days as the Giants quarterback.

The CBS analyst said he decided he probably won’t use the derogatory nickname for the Washington team when he calls one of their games.

From Barry Wilner’s story in the Associated Press.

“My very first thought is it will be Washington the whole game,” Simms told The Associated Press on Monday.

Simms will work the Thursday night package the network acquired this season and will have Giants-Redskins on Sept. 25. He isn’t taking sides in the debate over whether Washington’s nickname is offensive or racist. But he says he is sensitive to the complaints about the name, and his instincts now are to not use Redskins in his announcing.

“I never really thought about it, and then it came up and it made me think about

Continue Reading

ESPN 30 for 30 beats Jerry Seinfeld in winning Emmy

Jerry Seinfeld probably went, “Newman,” after his Comedians in Cars lost out to ESPN’s 30 for 30.

Congratulations to all the folks at ESPN 30 for 30. Their work is superb and the recognition is deserved.

The official release:


ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 Shorts series took home an Emmy for Outstanding Short-Format Nonfiction Program Saturday night at the Primetime Creative Arts Emmys. This was the first nomination and first win for the documentary series, which is from the creators and producers of ESPN’s critically-acclaimed 30 for 30.

30 for 30 Shorts was nominated alongside other popular programs “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” “COSMOS: A National Geographic Deeper Dive,” “I Was There: Boston Marathon Bombings,”  “Jay Leno’s Garage” and “Park Bench With Steve Buscemi.”

“ESPN Films originally began with the idea of presenting great storytelling as documentary films, but … Continue Reading

Chicago news: Dan McNeil out at WSCR

It’s official.

Dan McNeil’s tenure is done at WSCR-AM 670. His partner Matt Spiegel broke the news at the end of today’s midday show.

McNeil’s departure shouldn’t come as a big surprise. McNeil had been off the air since the end of June, when his contract ended.

The two sides couldn’t agree on a new deal, and they parted ways earlier this week. McNeil had sought a substantial raise from his reported $300,000-plus per year salary. The station, meanwhile, had stuck with McNeil despite two extended absences due substance abuse problems.

Spiegel read a statement on behalf of himself and WSCR. He said the station wanted McNeil back, but “Mac wanted to do some different things.”

“It’s been a great ride for the last five years,” Spiegel said. “I’m confident I will get a great new partner.”

McNeil’s departure leaves … Continue Reading