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Posts Tagged ‘ESPN’

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on December 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

The “Bowl Championship Series” is a misnomer. There is no series, just one game between two teams. This year, the 2-team sweepstakes is between No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 2 Alabama. Forget every other team. They only are playing for goodie bags and the right to wear a bowl insignia taped to their shoulder pads. Makes you wonder why we follow the Top 25 national poll when just Nos. 1 and 2 matter to the BCS.

The BCS format is a light year away from the excitement and team equity of March Madness, where every single Division I team from a conference has a shot at  winning it all and being interviewed by Billy Packer and Jim Nantz. It’s a bracket where the lowliest underdog can go as far as the No. 1 seed. Testament to that are the runs of these “unheard-ofs” who made it all the way to the Final Four: NC Charlotte of the Sun Belt in 1976, Indiana State of the Missouri Valley in 1977, George Mason of the Colonial in 2006 and VCU, also of the Colonial, in 2011.

This year, there are 35 bowl games, some bearing the names Chick-fil-A, GoDaddy.com and MAACO. Think this “series” is corporate-driven? Aside from the LSU-Alabama game, who’s going to watch the other 34 extravaganzas? Alums, friends, families and viewers who haven’t discovered NCIS and Law and Order marathons on USA Network.

Forget that a bowl game is a reward. Thirteen teams have a .500 record and one, UCLA, bears a losing mark.  At least the 6-7 Bruins are playing for a worthy cause — in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Think Notre Dame’s excited to be in the Champs Sports Bowl vs. Florida State? To that end, think the Seminoles are jacked up? This stellar match-up insults each program which has captured multiple national championships.

But for Ohio University, one more TV game is valuable when recruiting against Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green for that prized safety out of Shaker Heights High School. For those interested, the Bobcats face 7-5 Utah State from the Western Athletic Conference in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Dec. 17 at 5:30 EST time. For most other teams, TV exposure means little since most their games are on some ESPN channel every Saturday.

Michigan is in the Sugar Bowl, which sounds great but means nothing. Brady Hoke and his crew had one goal (OK, two, including beating Ohio State) back in August and that was to win the national championship, not a New Year’s Bowl game with zero national title implications.

Not only isn’t the BCS a “series” but it’s blatantly unfair, especially to schools outside major conferences. Since the BCS contracts with only the biggies (SEC, ACC, PAC-10, Big Ten, et. al.), schools like Boise State (formerly of the Mountain West) have basically no shot at the national championship. Even if the Broncos go undefeated, they’d probably be left out of the picture.

Even perfection for the big boys guarantees nothing in the eyes of the BCS.

Penn State finished 12-0 in 1994, including a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon but finished second to Nebraska in the final poll. Imagine Joe Paterno saying to his team, “Sorry boys, we’ll have to do better next season. Twelve and oh just didn’t cut it.”

Or Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville telling his players, “Fellas, let’s try to bring it up a notch next year,” after his team went 12-0 in 2004 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl only to finish No. 2 in the final poll.

This year, five teams finished at either 12-1 or 11-1 and among them, only Alabama (11-1) in playing for the title. Oklahoma State, Boise State, Houston and Stanford  — all 1-loss teams –will compete in other meaningless bowl games.

No wonder Boise State and Texas Christian wanted “out” of their former leagues. The Broncos will now play in the Big East for football only. So much for regional rivalries vs. Utah, BYU and Air Force. I’d hate to be the athletic director running my new travel budget by the VP for Student Affairs. But if the national title is goal No. 1, Boise St. had to make the move – a senseless one, logical only in the eyes of the money-driven BCS.

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on October 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm
Not long ago, a lawyer acquaintance dropped me a note after the University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier dismissed starting quarterback Stephen Garcia, allegedly because of his problems with alcohol and marijuana, according to ESPN.
 
The reason I thought of you is because a while back, we exchanged a few emails about how alcohol has pervaded college athletics,” he wrote. “I’m sure you have heard of the recent troubles with our quarterback who was finally let go. Alcohol was a big problem for him. The University also had a problem with alcohol and its fraternity rush that was so bad that it had to suspend rush for several weeks this fall.
“It seems to me that it is inconsistent with the University’s and Athletic Department’s policies to have Budweiser as the primary sponsor all of the
pregame shows. At the same time, Coach Spurrier has a line of wines bearing his name and then he appears in radio spots warning against drinking and driving and touting designated drivers. I wrote to the athletic department 2010 but was summarily ignored.”
I’m not all that familiar with the South Carolina situation, but his e-mail doesn’t surprise me. College athletics couldn’t exist these days without the advertising and sponsorship money that major breweries pump into big-time college football and basketball, not to mention the NFL, which has its own problem with far too many athletes drinking too much.
Spurrier, by the way, does own Steve Spurrier Vineyards. A Google search, in fact, revealed the following story posted by a South Carolina television station on the vineyard’s newest product.
It reads, ““Coach Steve Spurrier has announced the latest offering from Spurrier Vineyards–“Gamecock Garnet”–with proceeds set to go to the Steve Spurrier Foundation and USC Golf programs.The wine is offered at more than 50 retail locations throughout South Carolina, including several in the Midlands.
   
Spurrier said the commemorative wine is offered through a partnership between Southern Wine and Spirits of South Carolina.  Southern Wine and Spirits Vice President and General Manager Tom Collins said in a news release that the wine celebrates the Gamecock Football Team’s SEC Eastern Division championship in 2010.
  
“The wine is a great way to recognize the title and also benefit South Carolina
Golf
& Coach Spurrier’s charities,” Collins said.”
I like a glass of Chardonnay as much as anyone, and I suspect Spurrier must be something of a connoisseur, as well. But the notion that a football coach at a major state university who just released his star quarterback for excessive drinking owning his own vineyard that produces an alcoholic beverage surely smacks of some serious hypocricy, even if the golf team and other charities are beneficiaries.
Wonder how many kids at the school are heading to their local Piggly Wiggly and showing their school spirit (pardon the expression) by plunking down $15 for a little Gamecock Garnet, and then getting blitzed guzzling it down on Saturday night after the big game.
With so many campuses facing serious problems with binge drinking on campus, one might think the university might have something to say about the head coach’s wine business. Apparently, as long as the Gamecocks keep winning, it’s no problem for anyone save the star quarterback, who is no longer with the football team because he can’t handle his alcohol. 
 

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on July 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Channel 4 said a heartfelt goodbye to sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak last week, with a 4-minute tribute that ended with long-time anchor Jim Vance telling her that she’d become a star at the station in the six years since she arrived and will be a star sooner than later when she moves to ESPN.

Czarniak’s move to the so-called “Worldwide Leader” raised some eyebrows around town, if only because she seems to be going from a being a great big beautiful fish in a big-time pond to being something of a minnow in a humongous great lake at ESPN, where countless anchors abound on a wide variety of channels morning, noon and night.

At least in Washington, Czarniak had carved out a significant identity, sharing anchoring duties with Dan Hellie at a station that always has made more room for sports at 5, 6 and 11 than any of its local competitors, even after the late, great George Michael left the station three years ago.

Michael once described Czarniak as the best hire he ever made and it would be difficult to argue that premise. Not only was she perfectly telegenic, she worked heavy-duty hours off camera and developed many important relationships with key figures on all of Washington’s college and pro sports operations.

Truth be told, I was never a huge fan of “Lunch With Lindsay,” her signature feature on the station when she interviewed a wide variety of sports people while also breaking bread with them on camera. I thought it was a tad contrived and a little too sappy for my taste, but at least she had tried something a little different, and it definitely had some appeal to many casual sports fans who tuned in.

Why did she leave? Only Lindsay knows for sure, but I suspect the merger of Comcast Sports and NBC Sports had something to do with it. One of her biggest boosters was Dick Ebersol, the long time major domo of all things NBC Sports. When he left in what was described as a contractual dispute a few months ago, one of Czarniak’s biggest fans at the network level was not around to offer her more and more plum assignments—more Olympics, more NASCAR–that she clearly craved.

The chance to do SportsCenter for a national audience, as well as the promise of covering some big-time events, including more NASCAR, surely had to be appealing. Here’s hoping that a promising young talent, the hardest-working woman in local sports television, can find her niche in Bristol, CT, and fulfill Jim Vance’s prediction of future stardom on a larger stage.

Sad News: It’s been a tragic month in Washington sports broadcasting what with the death of Nick Charles and Nat “The Cat” Albright.

Charles spent four good years working at Channel 4 before being enticed away by a fledgling news operation based in Atlanta known as CNN at the dawn of the cable age. He would go on to anchor a highly popular and entertaining national sportscast on the network with Fred Hickman, giving the ESPN boys a run for their money and their audience for many years. Charles then became the long-time voice of Showtime Boxing, covering a sport that always was his true passion.

Albright, who died last week, was a long-time radio personality in the Washington market working at several stations. He also was well known in the early days of sports radio for doing “recreations” of major league baseball games, including the Brooklyn Dodgers and old Washington Senators.

Back in the day, Albright and others around the country would sit in a studio at the station (not the ball park) and recreate the games from a pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play wire that came across the teletype machine from every press box in the country. They used sound effects to simulate fan reaction or the crack of the bat. The very best re-creators made you believe they were actually in the ball park.

In his later years, Albright also made himself available – for a small fee of course – to do a game-like, personalized voice-over on a client’s telephone answering machine or voice-mail message. Nat “The Cat” was quite the character and will be missed.

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on May 27, 2011 at 7:12 am

As I watched the “60 Minutes” report on Lance Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think back to a conversation on the subject of performing enhancing drugs I had many years ago with a lineman on the Washington Redskins teams I covered back in the 1970s.

Back then, the pharmaceutical of choice in pro football was amphetamines, black beauties some called them, even if they often were purloined from the medicine cabinets of wives and girlfriends using the diet pills to help them lose weight. There was no drug testing at the time, and plenty of players were looking for any advantage they could get.

In any case, when I asked the player why some guys would feel the need to use such stimulants, he looked at me and smiled. I don’t have the notes from that conversation, and will paraphrase here. He said something to the effect that when he looked across the line at the man he had to block and saw him wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, clearly high on something beside adrenaline, he had little choice than to match him pill for pill, the better to stay in the starting lineup, the better to keep his job.

He didn’t like doing it, knew it was against the rules and probably hazardous to his health, but that was the price he was willing to pay to play at the highest level of the game, no pun intended.

I suspect that Armstrong, if given a healthy dose of truth serum, might also say the same, particularly in a sport where doping has been part of the Tour de France and long-distance culture seemingly forever. Think about it. Would you try to ride a bicycle over the Alps if you didn’t have a little extra help in a bottle or from a needle?

Armstrong has become a true American hero, if only because he conquered the cancer that very nearly killed him and then built himself into a human diesel engine capable of beating everyone in his sport in the world’s most famous bike race. Does the fact that he was probably fueled with substances just about everyone else he was racing against also was taking diminish his accomplishment?

You could argue the point either way. Of course it was wrong for any of them to be using drugs now obviously banned. Then again, wasn’t it also a level playing field? After all, as my friend and former Washington Post colleague Mike Wise wrote last week, “in the seven years Armstrong won the Tour de France, just one cyclist on the podium beside him from 1999 through 2005 was never connected to performance enhancers. That means every rider — save one, who placed second or third – was dirty.

So, in a cycling culture that employed synthetic chemists like masseuses, the only other rider who didn’t use was the guy who won all the time?”

The most troubling aspect of all of this is Armstrong’s repeated denials in the face of a wave of evidence, circumstantial as it might be, against him. I’m tired about hearing how he never failed a drug test as evidence that he was clean, when we all know how easy it became for the athletes to almost always stay a step or three ahead of the testers, in every sport.

His publicists keep insisting his accusers have ulterior motives, book and movie deals, publicity for themselves. But really, they’re now coming clean because they don’t want to lie under oath and risk perjury charges followed by jail time. It’s time Armstrong did some of the same.

Ebersol Out: I always used to joke that I had a program key on my laptop that automatically wrote in “the smartest man in sports television” whenever I typed in the name Dick Ebersol, the long-time and powerful major domo of NBC Sports

Now that needs to be amended, because Ebersol is no longer in sports television, at least for NBC. He resigned last week when he could not come to terms on a new contract with his new bosses at Comcast, the cable giant now large and in charge of an operation that includes The Golf Channel, Versus and a dozen regional sports networks¸ including a Washington division.

The timing of a move that sent shock waves throughout the industry seems a bit odd, considering that bidding on the television rights for the 2014 Winter and 2016 Summer Olympic Games is set to begin on June 6. Ebersol would have led the NBC team, as usual, and almost certainly would have been favored to secure the Games for his new employers, if only because of his longtime profitable relationship with the International Olympic Committee.

Now, clearly all bets are off, and don’t be surprised if the ESPN/ABC juggernaut comes out the winner in all of this, even if the revolting prospect of having Chris Berman fill the Jim McKay/Bob Costas host role will definitely come into play.

Ebersol did not look all that smart in overbidding for the last two games in Vancouver in 2010 and London in 2012. The package cost $2.3 billion and Vancouver lost $223 million, with London likely to do the same. Still, over the years, Ebersol made his company many more millions than he lost, particularly with groundbreaking deals with the NFL, the U.S. Golf Association, the PGA of America, Notre Dame football and all those other Olympics that turned a tidy profit on his watch.

What’s next for Ebersol? Wouldn’t it be something if the IOC hired him as a consultant in the bidding process, or later put him in charge of producing the international feed for the Games? Stranger things have happened, don’t you know, for still the smartest man in sports television.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at badgerlen@aol.com or at badgerlen on Twitter. His new book, Golf List Mania, is now available at local bookstores and on Amazon and Kindle.

MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on May 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm

The first time I ever traveled to Bristol, Connecticut to do a story on a then-fledgling new cable network called ESPN, I found myself interviewing Keith Olbermann one-on-one, before he really was Keith Olbermann.

That is to say, before he and Dan Patrick had actually become household names anywhere else but their own households. I found Olbermann to be charming, brilliant and hysterically funny. But as a former editor dealing with plenty of outsized egos at my own newspaper, I also knew this was one guy who surely was going to be a thorn in the side of anyone who had the unenviable task of being his immediate or even distant supervisor.

Olbermann spent a good portion of our time together moaning about not having an office, about not having a secretary, about being paid far less than he deserved and about being treated shabbily by the boobs in the executive suites who sometimes just never got his act – even if viewers were then falling in love with the SportsCenter tag team of Olbermann and Dan Patrick – far and away the best duo in the network’s history.

And now, along comes a new oral history by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, the long-time, Pulitzer Prize-winning television critic for The Washington Post that confirms everything I ever witnessed up close and personal more than two decades ago. The book’s title tells you everything you need to know: Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World of ESPN.

Here’s a sampling from an excerpt published in GQ Magazine:

Olbermann: “When I was at CNN, we used to look at ESPN as our comic relief, because for a long time, in terms of sports news, CNN was a ten-times-better product than ESPN. I used to look at my old friend [Chris] Berman sweating away in the studio without a teleprompter, trying to read his notes. I thought, Thank God that there’s somebody on the air in worse shape than we are. And then I finally figured out how they survived for nearly a decade with no funding: They were in the middle of nowhere. Across the street was a McDonald’s, what was always reputed to be a toxic-waste area, and cows. So unless you’re a free-lance dairyman, there was no place else to go.”

ESPN Producer Bill Wolff: “Chris Berman made that place. But the guy who made ESPN a household word, the guy who made ESPN mean something in the market to everyone, was Keith Olbermann. God, he was a genius. He just reinvented sportscasting by being the smartest guy who ever did it. And watching him in the mid-’90s was a pleasure. It was appointment viewing: What was Olbermann going to say that night.”

Dan Patrick: “I remember [producer] Gus Ramsey and Mike McQuade would always say, “Are you still in the life raft?” If they had screwed up with Keith, then they would be excommunicated. You didn’t know from day to day if you were on or off, and it was tough for them, because they didn’t have the power to say to Keith, “Hey, stop; grow up.” Everything he did was personal. And that was what made him great. And if he felt like you had just turned on him, then you had actually turned on him, and that was something that was very, very deep to him.”

Herb Granath, ESPN Chairman:“I was enraged by Olbermann. Guys like that just piss me off, you know, because there’s no loyalty. It’s just me, me, me. There was no choice but to get rid of him.”

Wolff: “Keith and authority don’t get along—ever. But he can also be one of the most loyal employees. Do not take a shot at Keith’s guys; he will protect them, always. But he was hard to manage—I mean hard! Keith is a dark guy. If you take everything Keith says at face value, you will find your reason for living diminished.”

More ESPN: The Worldwide Leader recently announced new endorsement guidelines for its on-air talent in the wake of major criticism of so many seeming conflicts of interest. They were best exemplified by Erin Andrews, a so-called sideline reporter, having a deal with Reebok which she will now have to give up.

They’re also going to make SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt end his deal to promote Titleist golf, something that never should have been allowed in the first place. In reading over the lengthy memo explaining the new procedures, nowhere did I see Chris Berman’s name mentioned, a travesty for a guy who never met a commercial endorsement he couldn’t embrace – from beer companies to restaurant chains and weight-loss products.

Until Berman, who often anchors a news desk during major events, stops plugging products, the new policy won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.

Dr. Jack Ramsay…A long drive back home from a road trip to Pennsylvania was made oh so much more pleasant when I heard the familiar voice of  Dr. Jack Ramsay providing the color analysis on the national ESPN Radio broadcast of the seventh game of the Memphis-Oklahoma City playoff game Sunday night.

Dr. Jack piled up 864 victories in his Hall of Fame coaching career in the NBA, including the 1977 world championship with the Portland Trailblazers. He’s now 86, but judging from his prescient and precise commentary, he clearly hasn’t lost a step. Just for old times and old timer’s sake, wouldn’t it be nice if ESPN/ABC or TNT assigned Dr. Jack to a game in the conference finals over the next few weeks?

Tough Talk… Former PGA Tour player Brandel Chamblee is becoming one of the most outspoken voices on The Golf Channel, a man who’s not afraid to speak his mind, particularly when it comes to Tiger Woods.

In a conference call with reporters the day before The Players started, he said, “I think there’s a really good chance that he’ll be gone before he was last year (when Woods missed the cut). Even though he said yesterday that his knee was fine, Tiger Woods has been all over the map, we know that and this is a Pete Dye golf course that’s all over the map. There are bunkers, there are mounds. So it’s not very hard to imagine Woods in a situation where one knee is two feet higher than the other and he’s got to make a golf swing. It’s fairly likely he’s going to re-injure himself playing this golf course.

We’ve watched Tiger age so rapidly right before our eyes,” he said. “Right before our eyes we’re watching him where he’s shuffling off the course. It’s really sad to watch what’s going on with Woods on the range where this phenomenal athlete with the former best swing perhaps of all time is now in a sense kind of an old man out there . . . going through all of the moves that look like he’s handicapped . . . trying to reverse the moves that don’t come naturally to him. It’s really sad to see someone of that talent going through what he’s going through right now.”

The next day, Woods played nine holes, shot 42 and left the premises.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at badgerlen@aol.comor badgerlen at twitter. His latest book, Golf List Mania, is available at local bookstores and Amazon.com.


MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on April 13, 2011 at 10:16 am

AUGUSTA, Ga.–There lots to love about the Masters, the first major championship of the season. A world-famous, immaculately maintained and landscaped golf course, the best-buy ticket in all of professional sports ($200 for a four-day badge), storied champions, rich traditions and more memorable moments than you can shake a 9-iron at.

And yet, there is plenty to dislike, as well. At the risk of jeopardizing our annual press credentials, the following list represents the dark side of the exclusive club and its famous April event.

But first, a shameless plug. This is one of more than 130 golf lists between the covers of a new book, authored by myself and former Chicago Tribune golf writer Ed Sherman, released just this week. It’s called “Golf List Mania” published by Running Press and now available on Amazon and your favorite bookstore, as well. It’s a $15 steal of a deal, much like the $3 beers and $2 egg salad sandwich you can purchase at concession stands all around the pretty premises here.

And now for Augusta National: The Bad and The Ugly:

10. Hold The Cheese: The club’s signature green, cellophane-wrapped pimento cheese sandwich sold for a proper pittance at concession stands ought to come with a free sample of Pepto-Bismol. Plaster that yellowish goop between a few bricks and you could build a pretty cheesy new clubhouse wing.

9. Bibs Are For Babies: Not for the poor caddies forced to don those white one-piece, long-pant coveralls that make an already tough march around the hilly property a sweat-soaked nightmare for the lowly loopers. It’s one de-humanizing tradition the toon-a-ment could easily get along without.

8. Oh The Hypocrisy: Augusta National counts among its members a number of former past presidents of the United States Golf Association, the governing body of the sport charged, among other noble goals, with making the game accessible to one and all. Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate for all of them not to pay dues to a club that has never allowed female members?

7. Outside The Ropes: The Masters is the only event on the PGA Tour schedule that does not allow credentialed media to cover the sport from inside the gallery ropes — a major handicap for enterprising golf writers trying to give readers more than what they just watched on television. Tough to judge how long that putt was when you’re at the back end of a 10-deep crowd around the green.

6. Hypocrisy Continued: Augusta National is listed as a main sponsor of The First Tee, a nationwide initiative designed to attract youngsters, especially inner city kids, to the game. Last time we checked, the boys and girls enrolled in the city of Augusta’s First Tee program have never been invited to play the Augusta National course or even use its world-class practice facility, though they do get a few free tickets to the Masters. How generous.

5. Fan Patronizing: A golf fan is a golf fan everywhere, that is, except Augusta National, where they are pretentiously referred to as patrons. And poor Jack Whitaker, the long-time CBS Sports broadcaster and essayist who, in 1966, described a gaggle of spectators as a “mob” on the air. The next year, and for many more after that, he was asked to stay home.

4. A Little Reverence: Surely that must be in the User’s Guide for all CBS and ESPN broadcasters assigned to The Masters telecasts. Hushed tones are mandatory, and hold the one-liners, thank you very much Gary McCord. On the air, he once described Augusta National’s warp-speed greens being as slick as bikini wax. The next year, he was Whitaker-ed off the broadcast team forever.

3. User Unfriendly: As much as The Lords of The Masters say they care about their precious patrons, they don’t do much about the outrageous ticket scalping going on outside their gates or on the internet. During the practice rounds, while attendance figures are never divulged, crowds of 60,000 or more swarm around the course, making for a mob scene behind the ropes, a clogged elbow-to-elbow merchandise area and long lines at the beer counters leading to even longer lines (and uncomfortable waits) to use the restrooms. Oh yes, during regulation play, there are no walking standard-bearers conveniently showing spectators the scores of every player in the group, a standard feature of every other event on the schedule.

2. For Shame: It took until 1975 for the first African American player, Lee Elder, to “qualify” for The Masters, even if Charles Sifford should have been invited years earlier when he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open. Not until the PGA Tour mandated that all clubs hosting an official event not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or gender did Augusta National admit its first African American member in 1990. The club won’t disclose anything about the make-up of its membership, but you could probably count the number of African-American and Jewish members on two hands. Maybe one.

1. Where The Girls Aren’t: The club has no female members, though women at least are allowed to play the golf course as guests. You want more hypocrisy? How about the PGA Tour recognizing all Masters statistics and prize money in its official stats, including the money list and world rankings, despite its much-ballyhooed anti-discrimination policies. The Tour reasons that since Augusta National runs this major event, not the Princes of Ponte Vedra, and all of their players would kill to participate, they have no power to force the issue. Oh please.

LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on February 3, 2011 at 8:05 pm

With the possibility of an NFL lock-out looming, it appears that Dan Snyder’s back-up plan is to spend the 2011 season trying to sue the pants off a tiny Washington media outlet, the City Paper.  What a great way to pick up cash to offset lost ticket revenue!  Although, I’ve read that Snyder’s lawyers have suggested that any proceeds will be donated to charity.  If so, can I suggest starting a legal defense fund for the City Paper?  We’re not talking about the Washington Post.

According to the Associated Press and other major news organizations, the Redskins owner is suing the City Paper and its parent company for $2 million plus punitive damages and court costs claiming defamation in a November 19th article called “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder.”  And, depending on which on-line report you read, Snyder either is or isn’t seeking the dismissal of the story’s author, Dave McKenna.  Snyder is also reportedly upset with other articles that have appeared in the City Paper since 2009, and he seems notably unhappy with the photo art that went along with the “Fan Guide” that depicts Snyder with a beard and devil’s horns.   Reportedly, Snyder’s lawyers have gone so far as to get a west coast rabbi to label the crudely drawn horns as “anti-semitic.”   For the record, Snyder is Jewish.

Now, to be completely honest, I had not read the McKenna article until the lawsuit story broke.  And, I couldn’t pick Dave McKenna out of a lineup even if he was alone.  I would classify the writing as “tongue-in-cheek” humor with an EDGE.   A SHARP EDGE, at that.  At first glance, the article’s “A-Z” approach pretty much hits all the low points of the Snyder-era as Redskins owner; on and off the field.   (I think we can all agree that the “high points” wouldn’t make for much of an article).  To call it libel or defamation is a stretch, at best.   To call the photo embellishment of Snyder anti-semitic is a longer stretch.   To call it unflattering would pretty much hit the nail on the head.

So, I can see why Danny is displeased with his portrayal.  But, why on earth would he draw attention to a not-so-positive article from a media outlet with a very limited readership (sorry City Paper) and turn it into a NATIONAL HEADLINE and splash it across the worldwide web, ESPN, the Washington Post, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum?  Is it because to claim libel somebody actually has to have read the allegedly libelous article in the first place?   If it were only that simple for Snyder’s lawyers.  You see, there’s the issue of proving malice, and there’s the sticky little issue of Snyder being a public figure (unflattering stuff comes with the territory).   Oh, and I seem to recall this little note from my Business Law class in college, “You can’t libel someone with the truth.”   And, while Snyder is claiming the article in question contains “lies, half-truths, and innuendo” designed to smear him, the City Paper says the facts of the story are facts.  And, let’s not forget the First Amendment here.  Danny’s lawyers could clearly use a little re-fresher on this one.

So, what is the truth?  Well, the truth is, as they say, out there.  Snyder may lose, but he can afford to lose.   The City Paper probably can’t afford to win, lose, or draw.  Money is power, and Danny is flexing the money muscle, for sure.   But, bizarrely, this might actually be the best thing that’s ever happened to McKenna and the City Paper.   Money just can’t buy the exposure they’re getting right now.

As for the outcome,  Snyder might wind up proving the original point of McKenna’s article. (If you get my drift).  And, if you didn’t, let me just say that Danny might just have clinched another “Sports Jerk of the Year” award from Tank McNamara.   More critically, however, Snyder may have committed the biggest PR blunder in NFL history.   Never bite the hand that feeds your ego.  The City Paper is an easy target for a bully and his legal team, but it’s not alone out there. The media can and will bite back.

And, the fans?   Dan Snyder lost them years ago.

Ross is the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0 www.aberdeentradingco.com