I’ve never been able to work at a place where I couldn’t say “fuck.” Don’t get me wrong. In the board room, such language is clearly inappropriate… unless the CEO says it first. It’s not like I can’t control my tongue. I can and have but every once in a while, a timely f-bomb is in order. There’s something to be said for the effectiveness of a perfectly placed expletive.
When I was living in Orlando years ago and looking for work, I actually thought about going to work for Disney. That might not have lasted long considering my aforementioned affinity for the occasional F-train. Mickey and company just wouldn’t approve.
As most of you know, Disney owns ABC which owns ESPN, which is why ESPN radio and television personalities are suspended with glaring regularity for saying and doing things that range from the mundane to the outright offensive. Suspensions have become so commonplace the network should have its own penalty box.
Most recently Colin Cowherd, who was on his way out of Bristol anyway, had the remainder of his contract shortened for implying that baseball couldn’t be all that complex of a sport if Dominicans could understand it. Needless to say, that didn’t go over well with his Hispanic listeners.
Countless others have either been suspended or fired over the years for opening their mouths and inserting their feet. The list includes Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Stephen A. Smith, Britt McHenry, Tony Kornheiser, Woody Paige, Jemele Hill, Dana Jacobson, Jay Mariotti, Steve Phillips, Jalen Rose, Rush Limbaugh, Rob Parker and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few. It’s an ever-growing list of people who have been sent to ESPN’s principal’s office for wrong-doing.
Like I said before, Mickey don’t play that.
As a result of so many people overstepping their bounds, ESPN’s sports coverage has become so Pablum and white bread, it’s hard to take the network seriously or at least listen to it without the mute button close at hand.
Since ESPN has already suspended half its staff, I thought I’d take a look at some of the rest of the on-air personalities and set odds on the next one to be suspended.
Place your bets, people.
The Ber-hemoth has been with ESPN ever since they opened the doors, which largely explains why we can’t get him off the air. If nothing else, ESPN is loyal to those who were there to break ground, back when they were showing nothing but ping pong and curling 24/7. These days, Berman mostly works the football circuit combined with the occasional baseball events during which he makes us wince with his billionth “Back, Back, Back” routine. While most of us would love for Berman to become the next personality suspended, it’s just not going to happen. If the guy hasn’t been suspended yet for keeping a half-filled flask in his jacket pocket or for cursing at interns on-set and on-air, the odds are he won’t be any time soon.
Bob Ley is one of the true journalists left at ESPN. Every once in a while, you’ll still see him doing Sportscenter as needed but he’s mostly known for anchoring ESPN’s Outside the Lines, the network’s closest attempt to provide anything slightly newsworthy. Like Berman, Ley is also an ESPN lifer, one of the network’s originals. Ley would have to basically prance through the French Quarter naked shouting ESPN sucks for the network to even consider taking him off the air for his improprieties and even then they might let it slide.
In an industry traditionally dominated by men, Linda Cohn stands on her own merit. After joining ESPN in 1992, Cohn can still be seen hosting SportsCenter and doing a better job than the majority of her male counterparts. While not entirely uncontroversial, Cohn remains as professional as they come. Despite the fact that my good friend J-Dub has what can politely be described as an unhealthy Linda Cohn fetish, it would take him bum-rushing the set while she’s on air for the network to suspend her and even then that might not happen, even if she were the one warranting his advances.
Ryen Russillo is a day-time radio talk show host who splits airtime with the far more pompous Scott Van Pelt. Russillo recently re-signed with ESPN which means they like what he has to say. Plus they need some opinionated analysis now that Colin Cowherd is gone. Russillo’s and Pelt’s radio show followed Cowherd on ESPN U for some time. Russillo is professional and runs a solid broadcast. His addition to the Van Pelt show made it somewhat tolerable. That being said, he hosts a long show and it’s perfectly possible that, while he might not mean it, something might slip out that offends one party or another.
Van Pelt moonlights between his own show and the occasional golf coverage. He’s that annoying kind of sportscaster that thinks everything he says is funny when it’s actually far from it. The only thing offensive about Van Pelt is his ego and unfortunately you can’t get suspended for that otherwise there wouldn’t be a network. Van Pelt thinks he’s far more controversial than he is which only compounds his annoyingness. Other than that, he’s pretty squeaky clean. Besides, in his own mind, he’s far too important to the network to risk saying anything that might lose him airtime. How would ESPN ever survive his absence?
Welcome to the Walt Disney World of ESPN reporting. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic have been on the air in the mornings for four hours a day for years with barely a blemish, which is pretty impressive considering how tightly Mickey monitors the commentary of its personalities and how much controversial material Mike and Mike have covered over the years. When I listen to Mike and Mike, I can’t help but feel like I’m listening to Sports for Dummies which is why I quickly turn it off and never tell anyone I actually tuned in in the first place. Mike and Mike are far too politically correct for the network to even consider suspending either of them.
Hands down, Skip Bayless has to be one of the most annoying personalities ESPN throws at us on a daily basis. He’s one of the taking heads ESPN has put on First Take, a show whose tagline is Embrace Debate or something stupid like that. Bayless goes head to head with Stephen A. Smith on set, shouting over the top of one another with one of them inevitably taking a stance that nobody agrees with, just for the sake of argument. It’s like that relationship you grew tired of years ago. It’s only a matter of time before Bayless says something suspension-worthy which might actually make that show worth watching. The only problem is that viewers are already so tired of his act none of us will be listening.
The former Denver Broncos linebacker has been Chris Berman’s sidekick on ESPN’s NFL Primetime ever since the program first hit the air in 1987. The show has won seven Emmy awards to date and Jackson just won the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award this year. That being said, he was harshly criticized back in the day for keeping quiet when Rush Limbaugh dropped his comments about Donovan McNabb. Either way, that’s behind us. Jackson will remain on that show and unsuspended for some time to come… at least if Chris Berman has anything to say about it.
Chicago’s own Mike Ditka also sits on the set of NFL Primetime. He wouldn’t be Ditka if he didn’t say something jarring every once in a blue moon. Ditka is currently 75 years old and is scheduled to once again offer up his old school insight on the set of that program this season. That being said, it’s perfectly imaginable that Ditka slip and say something he truly means about the athletes today, like calling them pussies or something. And it’d be worth it too. After being suspended for that, he’d probably just tell the network to screw off which would be doubly as exciting. At even money, this might be a smart bet.
Mel Kiper, Jr. is ESPN’s NFL Draft expert. He’s the only man in America not labeled as a sexual deviant for spending so much time watching college boys sweat. In all seriousness, Kiper’s wife must go nine months out of the year without seeing him and is probably happy with that arrangement. Kiper’s been known to ruffle a few feathers in his day, most notably for going after the former Colts GM back when that team was continually irrelevant. Viewers tolerate Kiper’s antics, and hair, understanding that analyzing the potential future of over a thousand college athletes a year, from the famous to the obscure, is actually a pretty tough job. It’s doubtful, although still somewhat possible, that Kiper says anything controversial enough to get him suspended. He’s not as untouchable as he is unlistenable.
Melrose is another one of those on-air personalities that ESPN has dubbed an expert in their respective sport. Kiper does draft stuff, Ditka does NFL and the mullet does hockey. In fact, ESPN barely consults anyone else on the NHL as if Melrose’s word was the gospel. Melrose is a putz and a Canadian one at that. He did say “shit” on air once before the network bleeped it but that wasn’t enough to warrant a suspension. That was also five years ago which means he’s due to drop another curse word soon, we can only hope. That being said, ESPN has no one else to turn to for its hockey coverage so Melrose is probably safe… unfortunately.
Dicky V is getting up there. He’s 76 years old and going strong, recognized mostly for his vivacious on-air personality. Nobody has come to symbolize ESPN’s coverage of college basketball more than Vitale. He’s pretty squeaky clean as well, traveling the nation, giving motivational speeches to high school athletes and carrying on the message of his late friend, on-air companion and fellow paisan, Jim Valvano. That being said, Vitale is getting a little long in the tooth and something might just pop out that can be misconstrued by the powers-that-be. Nah, I take that back. Vitale has used the same scintillating and sensational one-liners for so long, it’s impossible at this point for him to come up with an original thought. I’m setting these odds high for even if Dicky does say something offensive with a capital O, the network will give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to early Alzheimer’s.
These days, Ravech is mostly known for his bad wig and even worse Baseball Tonight coverage. He’s worked at ESPN for over twenty years. Enough people alongside him have been suspended over the years, including Ravech’s former Baseball Tonight set partner, Steve Phillips, who was fired for having sexual relations with a considerably younger production assistant. Having been with the network for so long and seen his partners come and go, Ravech should understand the rules of the game and not do anything stupid. That being said, Mickey is always watching.
Michael Wilbon has been pretty uncontroversial ever since leaving his Washington Post gig for ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. In fact, I’ve watched that show on and off ever since it hit the air in 2001 and I can’t remember Wilbon ever saying a single thing that offended me, which is offensive in and of itself. That doesn’t mean he’s due. That just means he doesn’t have it in him.
Jason Whitlock has played the race card so often one would think he’s a blackjack dealer. That being said, he’s softened his tune ever since joining ESPN full-time. There was once a time when Whitlock’s articles at the Kansas City Star were must-reads just to see who he’d piss off next. These days, he’s toeing the company line and sickeningly so, knowing that one slip could land the man without a paycheck and Whitlock likes his meals far too much to be missing one. The old Whitlock would have been kicked off the air repeatedly by now. The kinder, gentler Whitlock is now a regular substitute on Pardon the Interruption. That show is not live which gives the network plenty of chance to edit Whitlock’s commentary but unfortunately, he’s been hanging around Wilbon far too much to say anything that might have any sort of shock value in its truthfulness.