The NFL is broadcasting partners with CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN, which largely insulates the most powerful sports league in the country from just about every significant member of the sports media. Obviously the networks can do critical reporting on the NFL, but as we saw last year with ESPN and PBS jointly reporting on concussions — there are some lines the league doesn’t want crossed.
In a surprising turn, ESPN has been leading the charge calling for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to step down, and the two most prominent figures who have been driving this narrative weren’t even with the company 14 months ago: Keith Olbermann and Jason Whitlock.
ESPN President John Skipper took a chance on Olbermann – who has had a career pocked with highs and lows since leaving ESPN in the late 90s – in July 2013 in a hire that was dismissed in some corners of the internet by people who just don’t get it. So far, so good: ESPN likes Olbermann’s smart TV show so much it has been moved from the unenviable 11 pm slot (when it wasn’t bumped by live sports) to 5 pm.
Back in early August, right after Roger Goodell slapped Ray Rice on the wrist with a light 2-game suspension, Olbermann called for the commish’s resignation. It was as if he anticipated this snowballing – a month later, video of Rice knocking out his then-fiancee emerged, and the star running back was quickly released by the Ravens, suspended indefinitely by the NFL, and Goodell’s job could be in jeopardy.
And then there’s Skipper’s other hire from a year ago, Jason Whitlock – stolen from rival Fox Sports days before the network was going to roll out Fox Sports 1 – whose ESPN.com front-page column Monday ended with this surprise: “Goodell created this mess a long time ago. He should soon follow Ray Rice in looking for a new line of work.”
Even Bill Simmons got in on the act Wednesday.
Where are the Fox, CBS and NBC columnists and TV talking heads calling for Goodell’s resignation? CBS had Robert Kraft at the US Open Monday night and Tuesday he was on the CBS morning show and produced nothing remotely compelling on the Rice/Goodell situation. Then again, CBS did just land the new Thursday night NFL package (debuting this week!)
ESPN is paying the NFL $1.9 billion a year through 2021 for Monday Night Football. NBC, CBS and Fox also have lucrative, lengthy TV deals with the league.
Are columnists and nationally-known figures like Dan Patrick (who was on the Today Show this morning), Peter King, Boomer Esiason, Terry Bradshaw, etc not willing to go there because they’ll need Goodell and/or the front office down the road? Ultimately, will NFL owners be upset at them and perhaps cut the information flow and/or not return texts?
Or maybe they simply don’t believe there’s enough here to justify Goodell’s ouster, and they need more than the 2-games/knockout video/Associated Press report?