A lot of ego exists in sports radio. Many people in the business have inflated opinions of themselves. Bruce Gilbert is not one of these people. He’s one of the most humble individuals you’ll ever meet in the industry.
Bruce could walk around like a peacock as the Westwood One/Cumulus Media Sports SVP and the guy who once hired Colin Cowherd at ESPN. But Bruce still resembles the younger version of himself that was elated to call high school hockey games in Wisconsin for 25 bucks a pop.
The tie-in with hockey makes a lot of sense because Bruce truly does resemble a hockey player. He’s an incredibly hard worker, but when it comes time to receive accolades, he’d rather put his head down as if to say, “I can’t achieve anything without my teammates.” Maybe it’s his Midwestern roots as a kid born in a little town north of Champaign, Illinois. Maybe it’s because Bruce is simply a genuine dude who gets respect because he shows respect.
Bruce is one of the brightest programming minds the business has ever seen. He hasn’t just randomly stumbled onto success; the guy knows what he’s doing. When Bruce talks about what he looks for in a host and stresses the importance of attending conferences like the upcoming BSM Summit, there are a lot of people that can benefit from his views.
We also chat about what the sports radio industry does best and worst, as well as what Bruce would change about his career. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When in your life did you think, hey, sports radio might be what I want to get into?
Bruce Gilbert: Well, I’m so old, Brian, that there was no sports radio when I decided I wanted to get into radio. My dad was in the radio business. I had great parents and a great dad. He would let me come to the radio station. Every radio station he worked at was just magic to me. From the equipment to the announcers to just the activity and the buzz in the building.
I think I was probably about five years old when I was like, this is what I’m doing. I wanted to be a disc jockey, man. I wanted to play records and talk up the intros and be a disc jockey. To me it was like, you get paid for this? You got to be kidding me. I had a destiny that started at a pretty young age.
BN: What was your first radio gig?
BG: My dad was the general manager of a radio station in Binghamton, New York. WNBF. It’s still there. It’s a news talk station. It was owned by Stoner Broadcasting at the time. They were the flagship station for the Binghamton Broome Dusters, which was the minor league hockey team that played there. My first job was board-oping Binghamton Broome Dusters games at the age of 14. I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade.
I prayed that the game would go really fast because if it got over between 9:30 and 10, I got to play a few songs before the network news at the top of the hour. That was my dream. It turns out it’s funny, I ended up in sports radio; I started in sports and ended up in sports. It was awesome. It was the coolest thing ever to be able to do that.
BN: What led to you being on the programming side of the business?
BG: That’s just what I fell in love with. It was probably at that time, being a teenager, it was about the music and listening to music radio. In that part of the country, we were all influenced by legendary radio station WLS. WLS was in 50 states, a huge 50,000-watt Clear Channel AM radio station that played top 40 music. We all wanted to be big-time disc jockeys on WLS.
I think the other thing is my dad was in sales and it just didn’t seem as sexy. Even though he tried to tell me and he was right, he’s like don’t you see all the sales people drive the really nice cars and all the disc jockeys drive the really shitty cars? [Laughs] And I said I don’t care, I want to be on the air. That’s what I want to do. That’s where it all came from.
BN: When you’re evaluating a sports radio talent, what are you looking for and what are you drawn to?
BG: I know this sounds like the cliché answer, but the number one thing I’m looking for is authenticity. With authenticity, I think I would add to that you’ve got to be real, you’ve got to be self-deprecating, but you also have to have a life. By authenticity, it’s not just being authentic in your sports opinions, like I’m going to be authentic in what I think about that coach or that player. You have to be authentic about how you live, where you go, who you talk to, what you’re into, what movies you watch, what television shows you binge, what motivates you, what aggravates you, and all those things.
I guess what I look for, it’s one thing to be authentic, it’s another thing to be openly authentic. I’ve often said that the greatest talk show hosts, regardless of what they’re talking about, are willing to basically perform open heart surgery on themselves every day. I’m going to open it up and just throw it out here. I’m not going to apologize for it because that’s what’s in my gut. That’s what’s in my heart. That’s what’s in my soul.
You can get away with a fake persona or an over-the-top personality that you create that is some sort of alter ego for a little while, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. The only thing that’s sustainable is being you.
BN: When you look at the sports radio industry as a whole, what do you think is working well and what do you think should be a lot better than it currently is?
BG: What’s always worked well, when done right, when sports radio is done effectively and in a compelling and engaging and authentic way, it’s the ultimate escape. We’ve seen that again during these incredibly odd times we’ve been living in, now going on two years.
Like every radio station, we had a dip at the beginning of the pandemic. As sports came back, so did sports radio; 2021 was a really good year for the sports format. I think it’s because people got burned out on all of the negativity and the depressing news stories that were repeating themselves over and over. On top of it, how everything became politicized and the country got more and more divisive.
The only true uniting thing was sports. Sports unites us all. It unites people and galvanizes people in a really tight-knit community kind of way. You and I may be polar opposite politically, but if we end up sitting next to each other at the game and we’re both rooting for the same team, I don’t care what your politics are, I’m high-fiving you when we score a goal, or we get a touchdown, or we hit a home run.
That is what sports radio does best. When it’s in its prime and it sticks to the fun of the games and the storylines of the real-life heroes and villains in sports, it’s the perfect escape from all the madness of life. That’s the positive. I don’t see that ever not being a positive in a really true way. That’s motivating to me and what I love about this format.
Now how did you phrase that; what are we not doing well?
BN: Right, yeah, what isn’t where it needs to be currently?
BG: I know it sounds like I’m programmed to say this and it’s the hip, cool thing to say and everybody’s woke and all that stuff, but sports radio is way too old and way too white in general.
Look, there are people that are doing a great job of bringing in new voices from different backgrounds, but I think it’s problematic. Especially when you look at television sports and how much better they’ve done with female anchors, female reporters, female play-by-play announcers, and we’re just behind.
I think it’s a product of not digging deeper or going wider. It’s also a product of radio maybe not paying as well as television, radio maybe not being as sexy as it once was. But those are just excuses, right? If you look at the audience of the marketplace and you look at the demographics and the ethnic backgrounds of those that participate in America’s most popular sports, I don’t think sports radio is close to being reflective of those constituencies.
It’s incumbent upon those of us that are in this format to make that happen. It is true you want the best person for every open job, but you also just can’t keep recycling the same people over and over. You’ve got to go give some new people a chance. They’re going to have to stumble a little bit and figure their way through it, but if they have the right support, it will make the format more relevant and I think give the format more life moving forward.
BN: The word escape stands out to me. When sports radio dips into a political issue, it can be an interesting conversation, but it becomes less of an escape. Where do you stand on that dilemma?
BG: Yeah, it’s a great point. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how to address that. My personal opinion — and this is based heavily on watching how those things impact research and ratings — is that we can’t be an escape if we go down the political path. Sports radio is most successful when it’s apolitical because being apolitical is one of its true positives. That’s the uniting part. The minute we get political, we’re not uniting anymore, we’re divisive.
As much as you want to be authentic and you want to talk about what people are talking about, I think my experience is saying, and what I’ve seen as I’ve watched it unfold, I would say it’s a mistake to get political or go into those areas that could be perceived as political. We have a small audience to begin with. It’s a niche format. Why do you want to alienate part of that audience by taking one side or the other on a political issue that’s going to actually run people off?
BN: With the BSM Summit coming up, why is it important to be there?
BG: Well, first of all, we all miss each other, right? None of us have been able to see each other because we haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years, and a lot of us know each other and go back a lot of years. There’s a real value in just being able to connect with people.
The side effect of being able to connect with people is I think you learn in those situations that some of the things that you see as obstacles or problems that you’re dealing with, it’s really healthy to talk to other people that are going through the same thing and realizing, oh, I’m not alone in this. They’re having to get over that hump as well. It works in the reverse in a positive way. You see somebody that has come up with a solution or done something unique, that becomes contagious and that drives us forward.
The other reason I think it’s important is because when somebody like Jason takes the time and makes the effort to pull all those people together, and he works his ass off on this thing, I just really respect that. That is a strong message from a person that this is worth our time and worth getting away for a couple of days and shutting ourselves in a room and trying to make it better.
One of the problems with any business, I think, is complacency. If we don’t sit down in a place like that and be honest with each other about what our challenges are and how to address them, then we’re going to become complacent. I think what Jason’s done really well is he’s made it a point to not allow it to be a place where we all just sit around and pat each other on the back and talk about how great we are or live in the past. He’s done a really good job of making it about the now and going forward.
I look forward to that because look, I’ve been doing this a long time; the minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now when you look at video platforms, all the different digital platforms, how to get your things out on social media, the algorithms, all the different things that we never had to deal with that we now need to deal with. You can’t deal with it if you aren’t willing to learn it and understand it and grow.
That’s why I think it’s critical. I think it’s even more critical because of the work that Jason puts in. It’s not just a hey, let’s get together and scratch each other. It’s let’s really, really make this worth our time.
BN: What’s something valuable that you’ve taken away from the Summit before?
BG: I get two really critical things out of Jason’s Summit in particular. One, a lot of affirmation. You’re always experimenting and trying new things. It might be one little thing that you’re doing in one little market and you wonder if that’s the right thing. Then you go there and you hear somebody talk about something similar or maybe even something exactly the same and you’re like, okay, good, I respect that person and that person is trying the same thing or thinks that’s a good idea. There’s an affirmation aspect to it.
The second thing that I always get out of it is just motivation. What comes out in two days with a group of people like that is that most of us aren’t in this for the paycheck — although we all like to get paid — but we’re in it because it’s a passion. I think about outside of my wife and kids, my two loves in life are sports and radio. I get to do them both every day. What happens is you see that passion come out in different ways. Not all of them that are there are radio people specifically. They may be in a tangential business, but that passion is overwhelmingly motivating to me and I find myself recharged, re-energized.
I think affirmation, motivation, and sometimes those two actually drive you to try something that maybe you’ve been thinking about. I know I’ve had this happen where I’ve been thinking about something for maybe years and you go to a conference like that and you’re like, why the hell haven’t I done that? Now I’m going to because I keep putting it off, and if so-and-so can do it, or so-and-so believes it’s a good idea, then I’m going to go forward.
BN: What’s the most gratifying aspect of your job?
BG: That’s easy: Watching other people succeed. When I see someone who I know is busting their ass or has been trying to get something to work for so long and it clicks and it happens, or the ratings finally happen, I totally am driven by that. I love seeing it.
Those are the people I then absolutely want to help as much as I can. By help, I mean help their career, help them grow, help them find the next job or whatever they want to do that’s important to them. That, to me, it’s all about that. It’s about watching people win that really deserve it and earned it.
BN: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
BG: I don’t dwell on the bad stuff but certainly over the past couple of years, the most difficult thing has had to be downsizing our teams. Everybody has been through it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Nobody ever deserves to lose their job, especially if they love what they do. But everybody can’t keep their job. It’s just not realistic. It’s not how it works.
You’ve experienced it yourself, unfortunately, and you’re an extremely talented talk show host that I think is remarkably bright and unique. So if guys like you can lose your job, it can happen to anybody.
I have to admit, I’ve met a couple of people in my career that actually enjoy firing people and I’m telling you those people are either the devil or they’re just not human. There is nothing fun at all about having to tell people that their position no longer exists. It absolutely blows. That’s the worst by far.
BN: Yeah, absolutely. That’s crazy; I can’t imagine someone enjoying that.
BG: There are some people that do. They’re proud of it. It’s like something’s wrong with you. [Laughs]
BN: Put your current job to the side, it doesn’t count toward this question. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had during your career?
BG: Maybe this is nostalgic and we romanticize things, but probably when I was working at my dad’s Wisconsin-owned radio station. I think when I had the most fun was doing play-by-play. I used to do high school basketball and high school hockey, believe it or not. I loved it, man. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The hockey games were outdoors. I was standing in a snowbank with a headset on calling a high school hockey game, freezing my everything off.
I think about those times and I’m like, that was a freakin’ blast, man. It was so much fun. I’m sure I had some worries, but I don’t remember having a single worry in the world then. I didn’t have a family to support yet, so it was just like, make your 25 bucks doing play-by-play and go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and life is good.
BN: [Laughs] Totally, man. For you personally, do you look to the future as far as goals or are you an in-the-now type of guy?
BG: I think for me personally, I’m definitely a here-and-now person. That’s how I was brought up. That’s my Midwest upbringing. My parents were like, as long as you’re getting a paycheck from somebody, you give them 150%. You get up in the morning, you bust your ass and go to work for them, and you do everything to make them look good and smart and make them money. If something else happens to come along, then you consider it.
That’s the reason I say I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of things just organically come my way. I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to fall into those places. I guess a lot of really good people that have helped me and looked out for me, mentors of mine.
But yeah, I don’t get fixated personally. There’s no guarantee. For me personally, I’m all about today being as great as it can be and tomorrow being whatever it’s going to be.
BN: If you could change anything about your career, would you?
BG: No. Not at all. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’ve made some mistakes. I absolutely have made some mistakes. I think I made them with good intentions. Even when I made the wrong step, it all made sense when I did it. That’s not because I’m smart or I did everything right because like I said, I’ve made some mistakes.
But just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you have to have regrets. I don’t regret it. All of those things get you where you’re at now, good and bad. I’ve made some mistakes, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve been extremely lucky, man. Extremely lucky.
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.