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Jay Williams Learned To Be Himself By Watching Mike Golic

“My parents always made sure that it resonated with me that I was way more than the sports I played. I think that went to even another stratosphere when I went to Duke.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has a saying. “You never are. You’re always becoming.” I’ve heard him say it in the one time I’ve ever had the chance to interview him. JJ Reddick, who played for Coach K at Duke, has talked about what that quote means to him on an episode of his podcast. 

It’s a quote I couldn’t help but think about last week as I logged on to Zoom to chat with Jay Williams. This is a guy that went from promising NBA rookie to wasted talent to budding broadcaster to perhaps ESPN’s marquee name for basketball coverage. 

Starting August 17, he becomes something else – morning radio host. 

Jay Williams Inks Multiyear Extension With ESPN/ABC | Hollywood Reporter

“My parents always made sure that it resonated with me that I was way more than the sports I played. I think that went to even another stratosphere when I went to Duke,” he tells me. “You wouldn’t think that would occur. You would think basketball would be such a primary focus, but when I got there, one of the things that really lured me to the program was Coach K saying ‘I promise you, by the time you leave here, you’re going to be a better man.’”

Being a better man has served Jay Williams well. This is a guy that would have been the top pick of the 2002 NBA Draft if not for the availability of a freak of nature and unrivaled marketing opportunity named Yao Ming. He was immediately put on the US National Team for the 2002 FIBA World Championships. Jay Williams was supposed to be the guy the Chicago Bulls built their future around.

That was all before his motorcycle accident.

Enough has been written about the 2003 crash that derailed Jay Williams’s playing career. There isn’t anything new I can add to the story here. Williams points out that when his life plan changed so drastically, he had to lean into to Coach K’s wisdom. It didn’t matter what his shooting percentage was or that he was a prolific scorer for the Blue Devils. The only ability he needed was the ability to evolve.

“I almost died. I have a limp when I walk. I separated my pubic symphysis by 13 and a half inches. I didn’t have the proper functionality in that area for a long time. So, for me, people go through things in life. Life happens if you’re lucky enough to experience life.”

It wasn’t a quick path, but to go from where he was the morning after his accident to where he his today should answer any question about whether or not he is ready to meet the challenges that come along with a daily radio show.

The new morning show will also feature Keyshawn Johnson, who comes to the East Coast from ESPN 710 Los Angeles, and SportsCenter anchor Zubin Mehenti. 

Whatever it is Williams is in the process of becoming, he knows there will be a hill to climb. It’s hard to find someone that will tell you they don’t like Jay. It’s even harder to find someone that doesn’t sing the praises of Mike Golic, the ESPN Radio icon who’s 22 year run in mornings on the network had to come to an end for Williams to get his shot. 

After a month of tributes, Golic finally said goodbye to the ESPN Radio audience on Friday morning. It was an emotional affair, born of a decades long relationship with his audience. Williams says he had a similar connection to Golic. It was Mike Golic’s influence that Williams says was a turning point in his media career.

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“I’ve been with ESPN for a long time. Mike Golic was the first person I saw on there for an extended period of time doing that show. I remember sitting there thinking to myself ‘Wow, that is really cool. Mike Golic Sr. is Mike Golic Sr.’ He’s very comfortable with who he is and he is very comfortable being that person on camera.

“It was the first time in my career that I ever thought ‘I’ve gotta figure out who I am, so I can be who I want to be on air.’ I never thought about who I was. I was too busy running. I was too busy giving my opinions about other things to ever have an opinion about myself.”

Williams is quick to tell me this isn’t a role he campaigned for. He described hearing that Golic would no long be a part of ESPN Radio everyday like going through the death of a loved one and experiencing the stages of grief.

“I called him and I said ‘look Mike, I don’t know how this all happened, but I am in this position right now and I want to be great at this. I want to be a different version of you. And all your fans, I want them to listen to us. I don’t want to alienate anybody.’ Mike is so great. He said ‘Look, I have had an incredible run. Just be who you are, Jay. I’ve always had incredible times talking to you and relating to you. Just be the person that is relatable.’”

Aside from having to replace the name most associated with the network, Keyshawn, Jay, and Zubin are launching their show during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Now look, we have written plenty here about how a lack of live sports is no excuse to produce bad content, and these three certainly have more sports to work with than anyone that was on air in March.

Things do look a little less like a sure thing now though than they did even just two weeks ago. The Miami Marlins and Major League Baseball are serving as a cautionary tale for what can happen when you rush a season to fruition with no bubble and no real plan in place for what happens in the event of a breakout.

Williams has plenty to say about Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball. He’ll be able to say everything he wants about the NBA during ESPN’s TV broadcasts. As it relates to the start of his new radio show, he has his eyes squarely on football.

He sees the mountains that had to be moved just to get the NFL to workout testing and reporting protocols and it worries Williams. Just how prepared is the NFL?

“The fact that the league has these stiff reprimands for players that don’t show up to training camp, and yet these things aren’t in place, it puts them in a weird situation as well,” he says of NFL players. “So, with travel and with playing in frigid conditions, and seeing this whole thing, it’s not trending in the right direction.”

ESPN Analyst And Businessman Jay Williams Adapts During Coronavirus,  Discusses NBA Cruise Ship Plan

Williams is even more steadfast in his thoughts on college football in the fall. He says that the coaches and the schools have so much responsibility to get this right. They owe it to their players to make smart decisions about when to play and when to shut things down.

“I think that the responsibility for the collegiate universe is so imperative, and it is so challenging, because we all now recognize that this is about money,” he says of college sports. “This is about sustaining schools and issues of what these schools’ overhead is.”

Of course Covid-19 will be a major topic of conversation, particularly in the early days of Keyshawn, Jay & Zubin. We’ll all be counting down while simultaneously praying, bargaining with the universe, or simply crossing our fingers and hoping that football happens.

Jay Williams says he doesn’t want to be debating morals and ethics every morning, but he is clear in where he stands on this. He wants to understand how people with opposing views justify where they stand.

“I’m not a politician. I’m not a scientist. But for anyone that says ‘well, the cases are so slim’ I would say ‘I don’t know what the long term effects of Covid are. I don’t know what those data points or what those metrics are.’ It would be hard for me to tell somebody to go out and perform when I don’t know if it will have long term effects on you, or maybe it won’t. I don’t know.”

As my time with Jay began to wind down, and I sensed we were becoming friends, I asked him to be honest. Yes, the morning drive slot on ESPN Radio is one of the most valuable positions in all of nationally syndicated sports radio. I know he is excited, but how about put out? Is there anything at all he is dreading about August 17?

“I wake up early all the time anyway,” Williams says. He then acknowledges that waking up early and waking up and being ready to have involved conversations by 6 AM are two very different things. “Mike Greenberg told me what you’re doing is not your job. It’s your lifestyle. It will become your lifestyle.”

When morning radio becomes his lifestyle, Williams acknowledges that one of his favorite morning routines will have to change.

“My daughter comes in my bed every morning and we read and we play and that will be no longer. I’ll have to find other ways to do that.”

Jay Williams Talks 'Serendipitous' Life as a Working Dad After Almost Dying  in an Accident at 21 - World Medicine Report

Positivity is the name of the game for Jay Williams though. You can still have the same kind of quality time with family at a different time of day. Morning radio, he says, is an opportunity to professionally grow in a way that he is prepared and excited for.

“In the big scheme of things, this is my job. I love my job. This platform is going to allow me to build connective tissue to people. That ultimately is my purpose.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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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?

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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. 

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BSM Writers

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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

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