For most basketball team personnel and fans, the injured list garners a negative connotation because it sidelines athletes, alters routines and threatens the longevity of playing careers, like that of Robbie Hummel.
Sometimes, though, athletes simply get unlucky and suffer injuries because of external factors, some of which are not even related to the game itself. Then when one fully recovers, it can seem like a matter of time before they are penciled in on the injured list and within a state of limbo. Oftentimes, injuries on any given night seem inevitable, and unfortunately for Hummel, he knows this tale all too well.
Throughout his collegiate and professional career, Hummel experienced a deluge of obstacles when it came to staying healthy. As a top recruit out of Valparaiso High School, he matriculated at Purdue University where he studied management and played for the Boilermakers men’s basketball team.
Following a successful freshman season in which he was named a member of the First Team All-Big Ten, Hummel suffered from back spasms and a broken vertebra, limiting his availability and minutes on the court. The next year amid a stretch of 10 straight wins in conference play, Hummel tore his right ACL and in recovery, re-tore it, forcing him to sit out of his senior year and redshirt to play again and prove his worth.
After his redshirt senior year where he stayed relatively healthy and was named the recipient of the Thomas A. Brady Comeback Award, Hummel was drafted 58th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012. In that first year though, he played professionally in Spain and endured a right meniscus injury.
Upon his recovery, he took the court with the Timberwolves in 2013, appearing in 98 games over two seasons with the team. In the middle of that second year, his professional career was cut short when he fractured the fourth metacarpal in his right hand and was ruled out indefinitely – but he never gave up on the NBA or the sport of basketball.
As a native of Valparaiso, Indiana, Hummel was often around the hardwood either as a player or a fan. The game was rooted in the area’s culture and a regular part of people’s lives, especially in the wintertime when the weather was not conducive to playing sports outdoors.
Whether it was watching Bryce Drew hit “The Shot” for Valparaiso University, attending high school basketball games in his youth, or following the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s, basketball was the center of Hummel’s world.
“I was a kid that filled out 20 brackets just to see if I could get one that was right,” Hummel said. “….I loved to play and I still love to play. I wish I could move better – now that I’m 33, I don’t move great – but I love the game; I’ve been around it for such a long time.”
Upon enduring the injury as a member of the Timberwolves, Hummel traveled to Syracuse University to participate in Sportscaster U. The program, offered for free to NBA players, was organized by the National Basketball Players’ Association in conjunction with the university’s heralded S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and taught by Syracuse Orangemen color commentator Matt Park.
Over the years, some of the camp’s attendees have included Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Tobias Harris, all of whom learn from Park and other program contributors in settings meant to replicate the industry.
“It was just a crash course in all things broadcasting,” Hummel said. “….We called a game for TV; we called a game for radio; we did a demonstration at Syracuse’s practice facility like you’d see on a College GameDay-type setting. You got a really good idea of all the things you could possibly do in the media.”
Hummel began the subsequent year playing overseas in Italy with Olimpia Milano with the thought of broadcasting in the back of his mind. It became more prevalent though when he tore the labrum in his shoulder, forcing him to return to the United States to get surgery and undergo rehabilitation for six months.
During this time, Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter reached out to Hummel and asked if he wanted to help out with the team, offering his home as a place of residence. Hummel agreed to work with the team in West Lafayette, Ind. and continued to work his way back from the injury.
Shortly thereafter, the Big Ten Network called Hummel to inquire about his interest in becoming involved with some of its in-studio coverage of conference tournament games. To reiterate, Hummel had not given up on returning to play in the National Basketball Association but wanted to experiment working in the space and gradually adapted as time went on.
In fact, he proceeded in the 2016 preseason with the Denver Nuggets but was waived before the start of the regular season. As a result, he signed to play internationally in Russia but longed to be home with his family and friends. Making one last attempt at an NBA comeback, Hummel was preparing for a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks but hurt his back the day before, an occurrence he considered a sign that it was time to move on.
Luckily for Hummel, he had accepted the chance to appear on the Big Ten Network and was noticed by a broadcasting agent during the stint. Despite lacking broadcasting experience, the agent was interested in potentially representing him and the two kept in touch regarding future opportunities in the industry.
Once Hummel knew his playing days were over, he and his agent worked on closing a deal for him to join the Big Ten Network and ESPN as a color commentator and studio analyst. He looks at the misfortunes in his career on the bright side, associating his various injuries as steps to his discovery of a career in sports media.
“I thought about how, in a way, not wanting to play overseas and giving up professional basketball at the age of 28 or 29; I kind of beat people my age to the profession,” Hummel said. “A lot of people play until they’re 32-33 years old and I have been doing this for five years now. They’re retiring now and trying to get into this and I kind of beat people my age to it.”
Although Hummel has continued taking the floor as part of FIBA 3×3 World Cup – in which he was named the 2019 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year after leading his team to a gold medal finish – broadcasting is his primary focus and means to stay connected to the game. His travel schedule is quite intensive and sometimes involves multiple cities in the span of just a few days in which he broadcasts basketball games on different mediums.
This requires continuous preparation to be sure he is ready for the next broadcast and his process is intensive: it consists of watching 30-40 clips of individual player highlights using Synergy Sports Technology; compiling a spreadsheet with relevant stats and information; and keeping a notebook with information about the previous games he has called.
Yet relying on comprehensive preparation and knowledge of tendencies usually goes out the window by gametime, instead focusing on what is taking place on the floor and reacting to it. When the game takes place, the preparation instead serves the purpose of contextualizing situations and enabling Hummel to more effectively think in the moment.
“I make a sheet – but I only make one just because writing stuff down helps me remember,” Hummel said. “I think that I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been very comfortable not having to look down. If I put it on the sheet, I look it over before the game and I can draw from that as I’m watching the game. I think [that] has been a process because early on, I’m sure I was looking down a decent amount and you’re missing stuff.”
Just as most color commentators aim to do, Hummel brings a different perspective to the broadcast than his play-by-play announcer thanks to the perspectives afforded to him playing professional basketball. He tries to simplify his deft knowledge of the game, acquired through years of experience at different levels, to make it coherent for the average viewer. He looks at Jay Bilas and Jim Spanarkel for validation in his style in which he simply tells it like it is using familiar vernacular to best serve his audience.
“I think I would be somebody who’s not speaking in cliché,” he said. “I think that I really try to watch what’s happening on the floor, and I think my favorite guys that do this that I listen to have been people who have been very good at making complex basketball plays more simple for the viewer.”
Hummel is not far removed from playing professional basketball when comparing him to other color commentators or studio analysts – but the haste evolution of the sport has engendered him to adapt. The game today is predicated on an increased volume of three-point shooting and a positionless style of play prioritizing defensive matchups. Much like sports media, its rapid transformation coerces flexibility in thinking and versatility in performance.
“I think that going through those situations and understanding how you want to guard these things is really beneficial to then talk about that on air,” Hummel said. “You can see the way that teams are scheming and you can kind of relate [it to] your own experience.”
Throughout his time working in sports media, Hummel has paired with several play-by-play announcers – most regularly Jason Benetti, Brandon Gaudin and Kevin Kugler. In frequently working with the same group of play-by-play announcers (although that has somewhat changed this year), Hummel is able to do his part in fostering synergy, facilitating a more seamless broadcast.
The familiarity with Benetti, for example, kept Hummel from interfering with his call of David Jean-Baptiste’s game-winning three-point shot on Westwood One Radio. The last-second heave, which took place just past halfcourt, defeated the Furman Paladins in the Southern Conference Tournament championship game to send Jean-Baptiste’s team, the Chattanooga Mocs, to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.
“He talked for a minute straight and I’m glad I wasn’t jumping in or interrupting him because he was so good,” Hummel said of Benetti’s call. “Just kind of taking that in and watching those Chattanooga kids get to go to the NCAA tournament; then on the other side of that [to] see Furman – and you hate this part – the devastation on one side [and] the elation on the other.”
The process of cultivating synergy demands time and genuine investment, along with cooperation on both sides in order to effectuate a compelling broadcast product for consumers on a nightly basis. Through activities such as going out to dinner or conversing about topics not related to the job, colleagues are able to learn more about one another and bring a personal element to the broadcast when appropriate.
“I think getting to know your partner is incredibly helpful,” Hummel said. “I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked with great people. It’s something that I definitely recognize and am thankful for because those guys are great.”
When Hummel is doing games for Westwood One Radio, it is more difficult to find space in which to intersperse his analysis and opinion than it is on the Big Ten Network and ESPN. During one broadcast, it was apparent to him that the Michigan State Wolverines were pushing the pace of play during the NCAA tournament, necessitating the play-by-play announcer to keep up with the game and call the action.
“You feel like you’re maybe stealing a paycheck in the sense that it’s so much more of a play-by-play guy’s game,” Hummel explained regarding broadcasting games on radio, “and it makes sense because the play-by-play guy has to really let the viewer know what’s going on. TV is much more of [an] analyst’s game because you can watch; you can see it with your two eyes [and] the play-by-play guy doesn’t have to say every little thing that’s happening.”
Hummel enjoys calling college basketball games and hopes to continue doing it for a long time, but he would like to pair it with another job down the road: calling NBA games. Last season during an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Chicago Bulls organization, he was asked to step in on a few broadcasts to fill in for radio analyst Bill Wennington. It was representative of a full-circle moment, as Hummel grew up listening to former Bulls announcer Doug Collins and followed the dynasty led by Hall of Fame guard Michael Jordan since the team played just one hour away from his hometown.
Yet it came in an unfavorable circumstance, a scenario Hummel did not wish had occurred, but nonetheless gave him his first chance at broadcasting an NBA game. It was the beginning of an unprecedented stretch in which Hummel worked with a slew of different commentators – including K.C. Johnson on three minutes’ notice for one game in January – and experienced back-to-back game-winning shots by all-star forward DeMar DeRozan.
“To do the Bulls games and get to be back in that setting was terrific,” Hummel said. “….It was a great time [and] I hope I get to do more. I hated the fact that I was doing it because Stacey King and Bill Wennington got COVID; that’s not what you want to have happen to get that opportunity.”
It just so happened that during his stretch on the Bulls broadcasts, another team had experienced a similar outbreak of COVID-19 and needed Hummel to be prepared not to fill in on its broadcast – but to potentially suit up and appear in an NBA game. On Dec. 19, the Bulls were facing the Los Angeles Lakers and Hummel was not sure whether he would be broadcasting or playing in the game. Thankfully, no Lakers players ended up testing positive for the infectious disease and Hummel was behind the mic.
In a similar mold to what Kirk Herbstreit just completed in regularly broadcasting college football with Chris Fowler on ESPN and NFL Thursday Night Football games with Al Michaels on Amazon Prime Video, Hummel has interest in potentially one day taking on a dual role. There are subtle differences between basketball at the college and professional levels, according to Hummel, largely because of the elevated style of play in the latter. It was after filling in on the Bulls’ broadcasts when he recognized the margin between both entities in terms of shot-making and athleticism.
“I love the atmosphere of college basketball and the pageantry,” Hummel said. “I think that playing for your school is such a special, unique thing for these kids and just the atmospheres that we see in college hoops…. To see those things up close is very special but the NBA, from a talent perspective, is just [at] a different level.”
Off the court, a difference between these two levels of basketball is in the responsibilities of the athletes. In college, the athletes are students majoring in different subjects; therefore, they are responsible for attending classes and achieving a satisfactory level of academic performance. In the NBA, the athletes are students of the game of basketball, immersing themselves in the sport although some pursue additional outside business ventures. No matter the level or the circumstance though, there is a quality Hummel believes he must exhibit to earn and maintain the respect of team personnel, fans and colleagues.
“I think fairness is the biggest part,” he said. “[Being] critical and giving a guy his props when those props are due; [and] it’s not personal saying a kid takes a bad shot or makes a bad decision. [It] doesn’t mean he’s a bad player or a bad kid. I think as long as you’re verbalizing that, it’s okay to be critical when that time [comes].”
Hummel has broadcast the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament on Westwood One Radio and would like to one day have a chance to do it on television. If the right situation were to become available in which to coach, he would consider lending his vision and expertise to help a team win in that way as well. No matter what the future holds for him though, he aspires to remain involved in the game of basketball, the sport that continuously knocked him down but, in so doing, gave him a lucky break and fostered a new career.
“This is a career that I want to do for a long time,” Hummel said. “I feel fortunate that I get to do it because it is a privilege to get to watch high-level basketball whether it’s in the Big Ten or other conferences or doing some Bulls games…. I am fortunate in that regard and it is kind of crazy to look back as to how it can be a silver lining.”
For athletes, stepping away from any sport can be a difficult challenge, leading them to want to remain immersed in it. Throughout his time playing basketball, Robbie Hummel had a sense that his future may lie working in sports media since he was always fascinated with who was calling the games in which he played and listening to their commentary.
He also became friendly with Larry Clisby, the play-by-play announcer at Purdue University, and, from him, learned about the industry and the art of broadcasting itself. Without his indefatigable drive to succeed in a new chapter of his life, Hummel may not have made it to where he is today: one of the nation’s top college basketball analysts with an auspicious future ahead.
“I think taking advantage and picking the brain of the play-by-play guy at your college when you’re there [and] talking to guys who are doing games [is important],” Hummel advised former athletes, “and then if anything kind of comes by chance, [it could] maybe be something that you could do. I do look back and [ponder] if I had said ‘No’ to [the] Big Ten Network and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to focus on helping the team.’ I might not be doing this.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
30 Sports Media Predictions for 2023
The sports media industry is a unique animal that can never be tamed, and 2023 will be no different. The news cycle of all the latest moves, acquisitions and technological transformations are what keep sites like this running.
It’s an industry that everyone is interested and everyone has an opinion on because it affects their everyday lives – whether they want to admit it or not.
How will that industry change in 2023? Here are some of my way too late, three weeks in media predictions for 2023.
- By the end of the year, NBA rights will be close to settled. ESPN and TNT will continue to keep their rights but it’ll be a much smaller package. TNT and CBS will bid together and split inventory. TNT won’t air Thursday games until after January, CBS will air weekend afternoon games. ESPN will be added into the NBA All-Star rotation and air the game every other year. TNT/CBS will be added to the Finals rotation and air a simulcasted Finals on the years it doesn’t air on ESPN and ABC. NBC/Peacock will acquire a streaming exclusive package of Tuesday games with some playoff games and a couple of random regular season games for NBC to promote the package on Peacock. The Finals will air in Spanish on Telemundo and Peacock. Amazon will acquire the rights to the in-season tournament, play-in games and air a free game of the week produced by the RSNs to promote NBA League Pass as an Amazon Prime Channel customers can buy.
- The NBA will create its own behind the scenes show with Amazon Prime
- NASCAR will continue to split its rights between Fox and NBC/Peacock
- ESPN and Fox will split the College Football Playoff but ESPN will keep the college football national championship and Rose Bowl exclusively no matter what year it is in the deal
- Amazon will acquire Pac-12 After Dark Saturday night rights and take the Pac-12 Network over the top – making it an Amazon Prime Channel. ESPN acquires the rest of Pac-12’s rights
- A celebrity sports production company will take control of Pac-12 Network’s unscripted programming and distribute it on Amazon
- Bill Simmons will host an NBA megacast produced by Omaha Productions for ESPN
- Omaha Productions will take control of an ESPN channel (ESPNU or ESPNEWS) and produce its own slate of programming and/or move the podcasts it produces over to the network for linear viewing
- Jake Paul’s media company, through PFL’s relationship with ESPN, will produce programming for ESPN+
- The Pat McAfee Show will air live on delay on FanDuel TV in addition to the YouTube stream
- NWSL rights will be split between Apple and CBS. The final will simulcast on both outlets.
- ESPN and the UFC will agree to a new deal
- Endeavor will acquire WWE and keep Vince McMahon and Nick Khan in charge
- WWE Raw will stay on USA Network, WWE Network stays with Peacock, WWE Smackdown will go to Disney+/ESPN+
- Netflix airs their first live sporting event as well as live after-shows about its sports reality shows
- Bally Sports and the MLB come to a streaming agreement that includes MLB.tv
- NFL Media will be acquired by Sony, which will use Embassy Row to produce all shows (they already produce GMFB and Amazon’s live sports talk). All international games will move to NFL Network with the exception of those earmarked for ESPN+ and Peacock. Sony will use NFL Network/NFL+ as an extra way to promote movies, leverage Game Show Network in cable negotiations and package it together with Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune into an OTT bundle of its own.
- Tom Brady will not join Fox Sports and his deal will be voided
- LeBron’s Uninterrupted will produce NBA games for a new rights holder, probably Amazon if they win rights
- Dan Patrick will announce his semi-retirement, he’ll stop hosting on Fridays, continue podcasting and leave radio as a whole in 2024. Marcellus Wiley and Ross Tucker as a duo will replace him, with DP’s production company producing the radio/TV simulcast
- ESPN and FanDuel will sign an expanded partnership in a surprise after it was rumored that ESPN and DraftKings had a deal
- A major professional sports team will sign part of its local rights away to an OTA company (Nexstar or Scripps), using those games to start its own local subscription service
- The WNBA will sign a rights deal with ESPN, CBS, Amazon, and NBC/Peacock. ESPN will keep the Finals exclusively.
- DirecTV will keep the commercial rights to Sunday Ticket
- NBC RSN’s will air on Peacock
- Super Bowl averages 102 million viewers if the game is close, 97 million if its a blowout
- NBA Finals and World Series both average 10 million viewers
- NBA takes over production of its own network, teams up with Microsoft when the new rights deal begins
- The CW acquires rights to another low-level sports, sublicenses college sports, air celebrity boxing/combat sports
- DraftKings launches its own TV network (maybe even a diginet?), airs Dan LeBatard’s show
Here are some non-sports media predictions:
- CNN starts its own primetime panel show similar to The View or The Five with both genders, mixture of newscasters and comedians/personalities
- CNN hires Hasan Minhaj to host in primetime once a week on Thursday nights
- Tom Llamas takes over NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt goes back to Dateline, becomes NBC’s Diane Sawyer with the goal of getting big newsmaker interviews that turn into primetime specials while also creating specials for NBC News Now
- Digital outlets team up together to create a smart TV news network that takes ad dollars away from NBC News Now and ABC News Live
- CBS News head is replaced by Wendy McMahon
- Al Roker retires from Today, stays on as a host on the 3rd hour
- Today gets syndicated to non-NBC stations
- GMA3 keeps Amy Robach, TJ Holmes goes to Nightline and 20/20, Deborah Roberts takes over for Robach on 20/20, DeMarco Morgan will co-host w/Robach
- It’s announced that the 2024 Oscars will be simulcasted on Disney+
- Charles Barkley gets a monthly showcase of some type on CNN
- NewsNation launches a newscast with Elizabeth Vargas on The CW
- The CW gets a new name
- Seth Meyers’ show does in fact move to MSNBC and NBC affiliates get an hour back
- Stephen A. Smith gets a chance to talk politics on a TV network on a regular basis, either on a cable net/ABC News Live or a premium channel
- Bill Maher and John Oliver will produce some sort of content for CNN
- Chelsea Handler takes over The Daily Show
- Desus Nice takes over CBS’ late night slot for James Corden
- Paramount Global is sold
- More live sports talk moves to TNT or TBS including NBA TV shows
- Vice is sold, its channel is sold to a different company
- Ana Cabrera takes over 11 a.m. on MSNBC
- HLN will no longer broadcast on television, it’ll be a true crime FAST channel
- Robin Meade becomes a host on NewsNation
- A major news network opens a bureau w/ a big name talent hosting from Nashville or a news brand launches in the region targeting middle America with major names and investment
- A news show rivaling 60 Minutes will launch on Netflix
- Vox will bolster its FAST channel with some talent from cable news
- Fox News will lose lawsuit to Dominion and forced to pivot some programming to straight news as will Newsmax
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
The Sales Survey Says…
“I surveyed the survey as well and have five takeaways that could make you more money.”
I pay attention anytime a survey comes out about what media salespeople think. The Center for Sales Strategy (CSS) took the time to survey 139 sales managers and 153 salespeople who all had 11 or more years of sales experience in radio, TV, cable, digital, and newspapers. The survey was conducted in October of last year across several different market sizes. The survey results can lead you down some paths that could help you make more money, feel more satisfied in your work and get some help doing it. These are intended to provide management with better insight into resource investment, sales staff direction, and increased revenue for this year.
The study focused on the sales department structure, learning, and development, setting appointments and the sales process, sales enablement, and the media industry’s outlook and culture. You can download a copy of the report if you give them your email here. I surveyed the survey as well and have five takeaways that could make you more money.
WHERE TO WORK?
49% of sales managers want you to be in the office 50% of the time. So, if you have a manager who believes this when they call for two in-office meetings or training sessions per week, don’t get on Zoom. Be there! And go in Friday morning too. Be honest if you have a manager who doesn’t care where you work. Do you get more done at home in private or with peer pressure and energy at the office?
DON’T LET YOURSELF FEEL UNDERAPPRECIATED
If you feel like the 38% of salespeople who report only feeling sometimes valued or never, or you are amongst the 1/3 who feel like your manager only talks to you about your positives because they have to do something about it, suggest to the manager what motivates you to improve and see if that makes a difference. If it is that important to you and you are unhappy, move on. Go down the street. 72% of sales managers think their staff should increase, not decrease.
63% of salespeople have between two and five face-to-face meetings with prospects weekly. Sadly, 37% do not. 93% of our managers want to see salespeople have four or more per week. Make it a goal to zoom or see one prospect per day. Does that sound THAT difficult? 80% of the sellers agree that it is much harder to get an appointment in 2022 than in 2017. Give the prospect a written proposal of what you discuss. 75% of your managers think you present too few written proposals weekly. ONE SHEETS and avatars! ! How can a prospect buy what isn’t defined?
KNOW YOUR PACE
Half all salespeople say it takes less than 30 days to find, present and close a prospect. 88% say it takes less than 90 days. The truth is probably in the middle. When you do your pipeline report, remember these stats. Allow a few months for the fruits of your labor.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The top 3 categories of business being chased are recruitment, home services, and healthcare. DO IT.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
How Are Broadcasters Supposed To Cover Alabama Basketball Right Now?
“It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court”
As you’ve probably seen or read by now, Alabama men’s basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder in connection with an early morning shooting last weekend near the Tuscaloosa campus. A 23-year-old woman was killed. Miles, a junior forward from Washington DC, is no longer on the team.
Last Saturday, Alabama had announced before its game against LSU that Miles would miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Following Miles’ arrest his bio has been removed from the athletic department website, and the university’s statement said he “has been removed from campus.”
It’s another incident that puts sports in proper perspective. There have been too many of these ‘incidents’ lately. Whether it be due to gun violence, sexual violence, bus or plane crashes, or the latest tragedy when we all watched a man brought back to life on a football field. Sports is meant to be entertainment, a way to escape the challenges of everyday life. Now it seems to be causing us to think more about outside noise than the actual games that we’re supposed to be watching.
Let’s focus for the moment on the Alabama situation. The Crimson Tide are having a basketball season for the ages. As of the time I’m writing this, Alabama is #4 in the AP Top 25 with a record of 15-2. Many analysts and experts in college basketball circles think this team is actually the best team in the country. A good bet for the Final Four perhaps and maybe even a national title. Now what?
Head basketball coach Nate Oats spoke to reporters Monday, but not about his team’s prep for another game and a chance at another win. He had to speak about something he probably never imagined he’d have to in his career. One of his now former players has been charged with murder.
“I just want to start by offering condolences to the family and friends of Jamea Jonae Harris, the young woman, mother, daughter who was taken away too soon from a senseless act,” Oats said in a prepared statement. “This is an incredibly sad situation. Hearts go out to her loved ones. I’m keeping them in my thoughts and prayers as they continue to grieve.”
Oats called it a tragedy all around, especially for the victim’s family. He then addressed the message to his players.
“Wish we weren’t having to address this situation, but we’ve got to pull together as a team at this point and … really be there for each other.” Oats said. “This is a really difficult situation, and we’ll continue to support each other as we process this and balance school and basketball,” Oats said. “To that end, we regrouped this morning to maintain our routine and some structure in the midst of this situation and we’ll practice before heading up to Nashville for the Vanderbilt game.”
Last week we talked about the handling of the Damar Hamlin situation, that unfolded on the field in Cincinnati during the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals. Hamlin needed to be resuscitated once on the field and once on the way to the hospital. ESPN’s broadcast crew handled the situation about as well as they could. Information was scarce and there was no room for rumor or speculation.
Now, bringing it back to Alabama, what do you do, when you’re a broadcaster for the Crimson Tide? How much attention should be given to the shooting and the results?
Once again there is no handbook to say, okay you do this, then this and then this. Nope. I’m sure ‘higher ups’ at the school and the stations will have some input as to how it will be handled. It’s a delicate situation to say the least. A life was lost. A player that, more than likely, the broadcast crew interacted with numerous times, has been accused of murder. All of it makes you really think.
So, here’s how the crew on the SEC Network decided to handle talking about the Darius Miles arrest during the Alabama/Vanderbilt game. The announcers, Courtney Lyle on play-by-play and Carolyn Peck as the analyst, briefly mentioned the Miles situation at the start of the game. Saying they would talk about “what Alabama has been dealing with off the court.”
There was no further mention through the first media timeout. Instead, they talked basketball, including talk of Vandy’s upset of Arkansas and Nate Oats’ notes about Alabama’s defense in recent games.
Coming out of the first timeout, ESPN put up a graphic stating the charges against Miles and some of Coach Oats’ comments about the situation and his team. Peck then spoke about Oats and how he told his team about the charges. The story she told, continued saying how Oats brought the team together Sunday and let them decide whether or not to practice. They chose to skip Sunday and regroup according to her commentary.
It’s obviously not in the comfort zone of most sports broadcasters to be talking about violent acts off the court. I’m not sure what was said to Lyle and Peck before the broadcast, so it’s hard to really critique.
Having said that, I really wish Peck, who is a former college basketball coach, could have spoken about what Oats must be going through. He had to tell his team that one of their fellow players was accused of murder. Peck might have also delved into what the job of a coach is, off the floor. Looking out for his or her players as people as well as athletes. Again, it’s easy for me to say, and I’m not privy to what the broadcasters were allowed to say by producers or the school. I just felt like an opportunity to humanize the story went by the boards. Especially from a credible source, like a former coach.
I’ve never been in the situation directly. I’ve had to deal with deaths during broadcasts. I mentioned the Daryl Kile game in 2002 a couple of years ago in a column. When I was with the Padres, our bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds fought an admiral bout with cancer, but succumbed to the disease in the middle of our 2012 season. I knew Akerfelds and actually had a hard time keeping it together when news of his passing was made public. This Alabama situation is totally different.
To me, there are a few things broadcasters need to keep in mind when dealing with situations like these. Our natural inclination is not to want to talk about it. We just want to concentrate on the games and what’s happening on the court or field. I get that. Audiences are going to tune in and, especially in the case of a local broadcast, wanting to know what’s happening from their trusted voice – you. Fair or not, that’s the position you’ll likely find yourself in, if God forbid this happens to one of your teams.
One thing that is absolutely critical in this particular situation, is wording. Remember in the United States, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. While the court of public opinion may have already made up its mind, you do not have the luxury to do so. Verbiage is very important. Miles has been ‘charged’ with capital murder. He is ‘alleged’ to have provided a gun to the shooter. You as the broadcaster have to play it straight, even if you have the opinion that he’s guilty, that’s not the case right now.
The problem here is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you read the statement from the school, the audience will say “that’s not enough”. If you go into detail and let it consume the broadcast, others will say, “enough, we already know this, get on with the game,” right?
Case in point, NFL broadcasters took a lot of heat for coverage of the return to the field of DeShaun Watson. The Browns quarterback was accused by numerous women of sexual misconduct and was suspended for 11 games. The CBS telecast, according to a New York Times article, covered the accusations against Watson about 10 minutes before kickoff but the complaints made against Watson were not detailed during the game itself.
Late in the game, the CBS play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes mentioned the “mixed emotions” of Browns fans as they reckoned with the “weightiness of the allegations with Watson.”
Analyst Jay Feely added, “We were conflicted, getting ready to prepare for this game, because you want to show empathy for the women impacted and affected by this.” Feely said.“You have to talk about football as well.”
I get it, these were serious allegations and there were numerous complaints about Watson. Not to minimize the impact of his actions, but Dedes and Feely are expected to talk about the game on the field. Are football fans tuned in for social commentary? There are many other outlets for more pointed opinions. Just by mentioning the gravity of what was going on, they probably said more than a lot of fans expected.
To have an opinion on something other than sports as a sportscaster opens you up to the “stick to sports” tired reaction from fans. This is the problem. Incidents like this, straddle the line between sports and news. How much should be handled by each department is pretty critical. During some recent sportscasts I’ve delivered, I had to talk about the news of journalist Grant Wahl dying in Qatar. While everyone wanted to know how and why, I only talked about the facts, and the decorated journalists’ career. Our news department carried the rest.
Judgement and true feelings are at play here. We are human beings and everyone reacts to tragedy and death differently. In our situation as broadcasters, we have to be sympathetic to the victim, empathetic for what the team is now going through and realistic as to how much you should or shouldn’t say about the situation. There is no cut and dry way to handle this, you do the best you can and that’s all that can be asked of you.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.