It might be easier to cure COVID-19 than separate politics from a Colin Kaepernick discussion. I will try anyway. The problem with signing him to an NFL roster, pointing him to the field as the avatar of social justice and letting him kneel as long as he damn well pleases — with Mark Bradford commissioned to paint history’s portrait — is what follows when the “Star-Spangled Banner’’ ends and he starts taking snaps.
At best, he is a serviceable quarterback.
At worst, he is a lousy quarterback, someone you wouldn’t draft on your fantasy team.
What legions of Kaepernick supporters conveniently forget, assuming many actually have seen him play, is that he hasn’t been the evolutionary, cover-of-GQ, freak-out-defensive-coordinators performer since, oh, 2013. And with his level of competence in doubt, not to mention his emotional and physical framework, common sense suggests that all 32 teams will — and should — continue to avoid him, knowing Kaepernick’s addition would create even more hysteria within a community than clubs were willing to absorb before the sickening police murder of George Floyd. Were he a failsafe difference-maker, by all means, give him a fair contract and watch him perhaps rally a franchise and a city as Hollywood writes the script. But face it, Kaepernick remains a wild, spinning-wheel risk who might show up at practice wearing socks with pigs dressed as police officers.
Do we want that as a nation? No. Even as ESPN abandons its stick-to-sports policy to accommodate fast-and-furious commentary on race, we cannot let race become our foremost sports event. And teams shouldn’t feel obligated to sign Kaepernick as a hurried response to our collective outrage and grief. The current push to return him to the NFL feels knee-jerk-like and impulsive. Yes, there is hell to pay in this country after the succession of hate killings, the unending pain of racial inequality and police brutality. But returning Kaepernick to football, much as it would be a symbolic triumph over unspeakable societal ills, doesn’t make things right in America.
“I still don’t think (the NFL has) gotten it right. Until they apologize, specifically, to Colin Kaepernick, or assign him to a team, I don’t think that they will end up on the right side of history,” said NFL veteran and Players Coalition co-founder Malcolm Jenkins, speaking for black America on CBS. “At the end of the day, they’ve listened to their players, they’ve donated money, they’ve created an Inspire Change platform; they’ve tried to do things up to this point. But it’s been one player in particular that they have ignored and not acknowledged, and that’s Colin Kaepernick.”
Apologize? A question: Which free agent would I prefer, Cam Newton or Kaepernick? Newton, as most would agree. Of course, amid an explosive and defining moment in time, leagues and teams should aspire to any right side of history, but that isn’t realistic in this case. Aren’t owners trying to win a Super Bowl for cities that use tax money to build stadiums and fans who purchase season tickets? Or are we supposed to ignore that the NFL is a $15-billion-per-year industry wrapped around the ideal of clutching a championship trophy in February? In that vein, does anyone honestly see Kaepernick doing much more in the league than standing on a sideline in a ball cap? Such a sight only would further infuriate his advocates, figuring the NFL and his team still were punishing him for launching the peaceful kneeling protests that changed the world.
The grotesque Floyd visuals, followed by a landmark video featuring Patrick Mahomes and numerous star players, forced a sudden, dubious about-face from commissioner Roger Goodell in his weakest blindspot: relations with African-American players. Now, the NFL “condemns racism and the systematic oppression of black people.’’ Now, the league “was wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourages all players to speak out and peacefully protest.’’ Now, “We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.’’ So how does that translate to Kaepernick signing with a team before the 2020 season, if and when it takes place?
And why should it translate? Because the Rev. Al Sharpton says so? At Floyd’s funeral in Houston, Sharpton not only delivered the eulogy but demanded the NFL give Kaepernick a job — in the same speech. “It’s nice to see some people change their minds. The head of the NFL said, `Yeah, maybe we was wrong. Football players — maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.’ Well, don’t apologize. Give Colin Kaepernick a job back,’’ preached Sharpton, commanding a standing ovation.
“Don’t come with some empty apology, take a man’s livelihood, strip a man down of his talents and four years later, when the whole world is marching, all of a sudden you go and do a FaceTime talking about (you’re) sorry. Minimizing the value of our lives. Your sorry, then repay the damage you did to the career you stood down. Because when Colin took a knee, he took it for the families in this building. And we don’t want an apology. We want him repaired.”
We all hear Sharpton. Yet I wish he was sitting with me in various NFL press boxes during Kaepernick’s second-to-last season in the league, when I covered him as a San Francisco columnist. The experience was unwatchable, so wretched that he was mercifully replaced by BLAINE GABBERT. Even as one who suffered Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, Craig Krenzel, Cade McNown and Jonathan Quinn as starters in Chicago — poet Carl Sandburg should have called it the City Of Weak Shoulders — the 2015 Kaepernick debacle was the ugliest QB stretch I’ve seen. He improved the following season, but not enough to impress the new 49ers’ braintrust of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, who chose to release him two years before they established undeniable credibility by reaching the Super Bowl.
Does anyone remember this? Rather, does anyone want to remember this? Well, you should. Because it’s not nearly as simple as crying racism and concluding that every franchise has blackballed Kaepernick. Unless I was asleep the day his name was placed in the same breath as “`Hall of Fame,’’ we’re talking about a guy who wouldn’t start for most teams right now and would want a truckload of money to be a backup; he demanded $20 million per season, you might recall, from the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. And while he can’t be faulted for inactivity, the fact remains he hasn’t taken a snap since the 2016 season and will be 33 in November. All you need to know is the first sentence of his Wikipedia bio: “Colin Rand Kaepernick is an American civil rights activist and American football quarterback …’’
Activism first, then football.
The proper order in 2020.
Nor can it be ignored that late last year, the NFL attempted to arrange the unprecedented: an in-season tryout for Kaepernick. The idea was hatched by the famed rapper Jay-Z, Goodell’s new social justice advisor. All teams were invited to an on-field workout and interview at the Atlanta Falcons’ facility, but Kaepernick’s camp was suspicious — why was it scheduled on a Saturday, as general managers and personnel directors were preparing for Sunday games, instead of a Tuesday off-day? A half-hour before the tryout, he abruptly left the site — he said he didn’t trust the private nature of the workout or a league liability waiver — and forced scouts and media to drive more than an hour to a high school field, where he conducted a public session for the eight evaluators who showed up. The others went to the airport, wanting no part of the circus.
“I’ve been ready for three years. I’ve been denied for three years,” Kaepernick said afterward. “We are waiting for 32 owners, 32 teams and Roger Goodell to stop running. Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people. We are ready to play. We are ready to go anywhere.”
In the process, he shunned the basic protocol for any job-seeker: At least respect the process of those doing the hiring, or they won’t hire you. Said the league’s most powerful owner, Jerry Jones: “That situation probably from the get-go had a lot more that wasn’t about football involved in it, and consequently we got the results of that dynamic.”
Yet the Kaepernick defenders ramble on, aware that it’s the popular and woke approach to take. Said late-night host Jimmy Fallon: “The NFL feels so badly that they’re this close to scheduling another fake workout for Colin Kaepernick. Here’s a fun fact: I just said Colin Kaepernick’s name one more time than Roger Goodell did.”
Difficult as it is to compartmentalize race, Kaepernick remains a football issue. Others who have kneeled on NFL sidelines — including his partner in San Francisco, Eric Reid — have continued to make sizable league salaries because they’ve been more reliable and relevant at their positions than Kaepernick had been at his. He also is a victim of the role he plays as a quarterback — face of the franchise, most important berth on the team — and how that is conflated by his status as the most visible civil rights activist of his time. He’ll never stop being Colin Kaepernick, the peaceful kneeler, and whatever upside there is to signing him — the scant chance he might reclaim stardom — is weighed down by owners fearful that a Kaepernick media frenzy would swallow their teams whole.
As we’ve seen, sports owners will sign ex-cons if they can help win championships. Kaepernick is one of the proudest Americans of his time, but there’s no assurance he wants to play football as much as advance his much larger platform as a historic martyr. I remember chatting with him, in a group of writers, weeks before his abysmal 49ers season. Unprompted, out of nowhere, he said he didn’t need to play football, that his life would be fine without it. That proved to be true, and I must ask, why should that change now?
America needs a racial reckoning. That doesn’t mean America needs Colin Kaepernick to play football.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack 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.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.