As a result, the tone and coverage of the Sunday NFL pregame shows had to be altered. It wasn’t a normal day for football.
For the most part, the networks got it right. Fox NFL Sunday dumped a Kurt Russell opening and instead began the show with a somber discussion of what occurred. ESPN’s Sunday Countdown also eliminated Frank Caliendo’s regular comedy bit and put its focus on the tragedy.
Then there was CBS’ NFL Today. The opening of the show made it seem as if it was just another Sunday. The analysts talked about the playoff races.
Richard Deitsch of SI.com wrote in a harsh critique:
Had CBS headed straight into thoughtful analysis and reporting of the story after its opener, it would have saved itself from these kind of critiques. Instead, CBS compounded the shill job by opting not to talk about the murder-suicide for the next five minutes.
Think about that kind of editorial judgment. What did The NFL Today talk about? It talked about clothing. After analyst Bill Cowher mentioned what kind of ties he and Shannon Sharpe were wearing, viewers were treated to a chuckle-hut segment on the AFC playoff race. Then came a discussion on the NFC postseason picture. Finally, after an excruciating five minutes that should be shown in journalism schools across the country as an example of what not to do on a big story, Brown made the most awkward-of-awkward turns by saying, “All right, fellas, a little switch here.”‘
Michael Hiestand of USA Today had the response from CBS:
When asked Sunday if CBS should have done things differently, executive vice-president/production Harold Bryant told USA TODAY Sports: “I don’t know. It was about trying to find the right balance. We covered it very well.”
The balance, he says, was about giving CBS’ NFL studio analysts more time to talk about the Belcher news — they got two segments — but also “still cover what’s going on today.”
The backlash has been pretty intense. There was only one top story going into Sunday’s games, and it wasn’t the playoff races with five weeks left in the season.
I’m pretty sure CBS realizes it made the wrong call.