How NFL helped put ESPN on the TV map

An excerpt from my latest Chicago Tribune column:

Plus some video from the 1981 draft in which Sam Rosen questions why the Giants would use the second pick on Lawrence Taylor. How did that work out?


Chris Berman has told the story so many times it now feels like he was there for the meeting.

Back in 1979, Chet Simmons, president of a new network called ESPN, made a proposal to Pete Rozelle to air live coverage of the NFL draft. While Rozelle might have been the most media-savvy commissioner in sports history, even he couldn’t comprehend why ESPN would bother covering an event where basically nothing happened from a visual standpoint.

“To Pete, it sounded like reading names from the phone book,” Berman said. “Everyone said, ‘Who’s going to watch?’”

Simmons, though, persisted and ESPN covered … Continue Reading

McHenry fallout: Peeping-Tom journalism will have TV personalities on best behavior

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.


This is a guarantee: Every personality in TV sports, big or small, now will be the nicest people in the world in the wake of what happened to Britt McHenry.

Chris Berman will bring flowers to the IRS auditor who will be dissecting his taxes. After making a trip to renew his driver’s license only to hear he is missing a form, Bob Costas will flash a big smile and tell the DMV clerk, “Oh, you’re so kind.”

And you can sure if a big TV sports star gets a car towed, he or she will merrily pay the fee and depart by telling the person in the booth, “Have a lovely day.”

Nobody will dare make the same mistake McHenry did in verbally abusing a towing attendantContinue Reading


Sports gets snubbed by Pulitzers, again

An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter:


Dave Anderson remains a member of a very small fraternity of Pulitzer Prize-winning sports reporters and columnists. Only three columnists have been cited: Besides Anderson, Arthur Daley of the New York Times [1956], Red Smith of the New York Times[1976] and Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times [1990].

On the reporting side in recent years, George Dohrmann of the St. Paul Pioneer Press won in 2000 for his reports of fraud in the Minnesota basketball program. Ira Berkow shared the 2001 Pulitzer for national reporting for his article “The Minority Quarterback” in a New York Times series on race in America.

The next sports Pulitzer winner wasn’t until 2013 when John Branch of the New York Times won for feature writing for a story on skiers killed in an avalanche. … Continue Reading

Are NFL schedule-makers down on Bears? Only 2 prime-time games

The new schedule is an indicator that the NFL might not be high on the Bears’ outlook this year.

The Bears only are scheduled for two prime time games this year: Monday night at San Diego on Nov. 9 and Thanksgiving night at Green Bay.

It marks the Bears’ fewest prime time games since 2005 when they only made one appearance. In fact, the Bears have played at least four prime time games every season since 2005. They have been featured on five prime time games in each of the last three seasons.

The networks love airing Bears games in prime time. The Bears, with their vast history, are considered one of the national teams in the NFL. Their appeal usually produces solid ratings.

So if the Bears are even close to being considered respectable, 8-8 or 9-7, they will … Continue Reading

Bryan Price needs an education on role of media

By now, you’ve probably read or heard Bryan Price’s rant at C. Trent Rosecrans. Obviously, the Reds need to hire a good media consultant to work with him. Allow me to suggest my good friend, Kevin Sullivan.

Loved this tweet:

Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post weighed in with a column. He writes:

Now, no beat writer is doing his/her job if he/she isn’t sending out that info in real time – whether it comes from the manager or not. Providing instant information is part of the job. Wait till after the game, and you’re nine innings late, and your readers are poorly served.

Later, he writes:

This is a key point: All reporters can ask of the people they cover – managers, general managers and players – is that they don’t lie. There are times (and this instance

Continue Reading

Remembering brutal honesty of Doug Buffone: ‘Don’t give me this Kumbaya stuff and we’ll try again next week’

A very sad day in Chicago with the passing of Doug Buffone.

Ol’ No. 55 played the most games of any Bear. Even though the linebacker finally retired in 1980, he never lost his passion for football and the Bears.

One of my all-time favorite days in the business occurred last fall when I watched the Bears-New England game with him and his long-time teammate and radio partner Ed O’Bradovich. Their Bears postgame radio show on WSCR-AM 670 was a must-listen and they were in vintage form after the Patriots slaughtered the Bears.

I reflected back on that day in a column in the Tribune:

Before the game, Buffone repeatedly said the Bears had to hit the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski at the line. Sure enough, the Bears didn’t touch him and the star tight end caught three touchdowns.

At one

Continue Reading

Stopwatch patrol: All hail 2:02 game on Sunday night

Did ESPN ask for a partial refund?

Last night, the Sunday primetime crew witnessed St. Louis and Adam Wainwright knock off Cincinnati 2-1 in a game that took 2:02. I can’t remember a quicker Sunday night game.

The fast game would have allowed ESPN to air a bonus “30 for 30″ if it so desired.

The previous Sunday night, it took 3:24 for the Yankees’ 14-4 win over Boston. While still a slog, that actually was quicker than previous years.

It appears as if MLB’s pick-up-the-pace initiative is working to some extent. Games seem to be moving faster.

However, there’s still room for improvement. On Saturday afternoon, I tuned into the Baltimore-Boston game. I had Orioles starter Chris Tillman on my Dick Allen MVP fantasy team.

It was a labor to get through it. The Orioles held a 2-1 lead … Continue Reading

Is Pete Rose one step closer to being reinstated? Will be guest analyst for Fox on MLB

Fox Sports announced Saturday that it has hired Pete Rose to be a guest analyst for its studio coverage of Major League Baseball on Fox and Fox Sports 1.  According to Ken Rosenthal’s story on, the network didn’t need the approval of MLB to hire Rose. However, Fox said Commissioner Rob Manfred was aware that it was auditioning him for the role.

“As a courtesy, Fox informed us that they were interviewing Pete Rose for an on-air studio position,” said Pat Courtney, baseball’s chief communications officer. “The decision to hire on-air talent for its telecasts rests solely with Fox.”

The move, though, will prompt much speculation that Manfred will reinstate the 74-year-old Rose. Given that sports leagues work closely with their broadcast partners, it is unlikely Fox would have hired Rose at this time if MLB had strong objections. … Continue Reading

Why is Britt McHenry story news?

Seriously, I’m interested in knowing why social media is exploding over a person most people barely know about before yesterday?

Why does a bad moment in someone’s personal life suddenly become news?

Did McHenry’s behavior merit a suspension from ESPN?

What does the entire saga say about our priorities in news coverage?

Please stay tuned for more on this issue.


 … Continue Reading

Chicago ratings: Cubs fans jumping back on bandwagon; Why NBC pulling for Blackhawks

An excerpt from my latest Chicago Tribune column:


Cubs: If they win, they will watch. It didn’t take long, as the ratings already show Cubs fans are jumping back on the bandwagon.

CSN did a 4.22 rating for Cincinnati’s 3-2 victory over the Cubs Tuesday night; 1 local ratings point is worth approximately 35,000 homes. The game ranked first in primetime in Chicago in every male demographic and with everyone age 18-49.

On Monday, the Cubs’ 7-6 win over Cincinnati still pulled a 3.94 rating despite airing on CSN Plus. The game peaked with an 8 rating in the late innings.

All told, the three Cubs games on CSN averaged a 3.6 rating, more than double last year’s season average of 1.5.

And it’s just a start for the Cubs and CSN. The ratings will soar much higher with … Continue Reading