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White Privilege? Stephen A. Smith Owes Steve Nash A Direct Apology

Stephen A. Smith erroneously said Blacks don’t receive NBA head-coaching jobs without previous experience, as Steve Nash did, then doubled down as executives from left-leaning ESPN sat still in a racially torn America.

Jay Mariotti

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There are times, admittedly, when I feel sorry for ESPN as it slogs into a muddled future, rationalizes its plight with faux self-importance and leans so far left politically that no chiropractor can fix its crooked spine. Maybe Nielsen’s expanded metrics system, measuring “out of home’’ viewership for the first time, will be a ratings game-changer for live events and studio shows. But this is not a time for sympathy or hope.

Today, I am disgusted with the place.

Never has it entered my brainstream to make this type of remark: “The only reason (a team) hired (a coach) is because he’s Black.’’ During my eight years as a panelist on ESPN’s “Around The Horn,’’ such a flagrantly racist comment never would have made it to air. The producers would have halted the taping. I’d have been sent home and told never to return. And, of course, I would have deserved the entirety of professional punishment and accompanying public shame.

But the people who run the company and control the editorial product — Bob Iger, Jimmy Pitaro, Norby Williamson — are drowning these days in hypocrisy disguised as social awareness. They want equality, right? Then they should embrace equality for all races instead of allowing a Black network personality, the ubiquitous Stephen A. Smith, to say Steve Nash was hired to coach the Brooklyn Nets only because he is White.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way around this. This is white privilege. This does not happen for a Black man,’’ Smith said on “First Take,’’ his weekday TV program. “No experience whatsoever? On any level as a coach? And you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way around this. This is convenient bigotry, race-baiting and truth-twisting of the worst kind. At a time when broadcast networks allow Black commentators to stoke the searing flames of racism without accountability or consequence, Smith was permitted to express a sweeping, headline-grabbing, social-media-inciting take without considering facts or circumstances. As one who has supported him in the past, I might wonder if it’s another example of his being overworked by a network that can’t get enough of him on its platforms. But this time, his lapse is too reckless and damaging to be pardoned.

When Smith says “this does not happen for a Black man,’’ he’s claiming that a White NBA great is being gifted an undeserving opportunity as a neophyte — Nash has no previous head-coaching experience — when such a raw chance never would be accorded a Black man in the league. Wrong. Wrong as one can be.

See Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, 1994.

See Doc Rivers, Orlando Magic, 1999.

See Isiah Thomas, Indiana Pacers, 2000.

See Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors, 2011.

See Jason Kidd, Nets, 2013.

See Derek Fisher, New York Knicks, 2014.

Also see Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016, who was a career assistant when summoned in midseason to replace a White head coach, David Blatt, a move that ended with LeBron James celebrating a historic Finals triumph over the Warriors.

In fact, in a list compiled by NBC Sports, nine of the last 16 NBA head coaches hired with no previous coaching experience have been Black. Does Smith realize that the last three coaches to win championships — Lue, Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Toronto’s Nick Nurse — were hired without NBA head-coaching experience? That the Nets have employed eight Black head coaches since 1989? Would you like to do research, Stephen A., before exacerbating the tempest of racial relations in a divided America? And would ESPN like to make a statement about on-air credibility by at least reprimanding Smith and showing that the network actually cares about the veracity of its content? Nah, the aforementioned executives lack the requisite political testicles, already driving on the shoulder of the left lane when the center lane always makes the most sense in sports TV.

During his incendiary fit, Smith should have known the hire was directly attached to Nash’s close working relationship with Nets superstar Kevin Durant, who is Black. Nash’s individual workout sessions with Durant were essential during their time together with Golden State, where Nash served as a player development consultant for five years. They traded trash-talk out of mutual reverence, a Hall of Famer and two-time league MVP trying to maximize the monstrous skills of a future Hall of Famer, compelling Durant to tell reporters in 2018, “He’s someone I can talk to about anything and somebody I really respect. His basketball mind is probably the best I’ve been around. He tries to simplify the game and keep me conscious of those things as well. It’s simplifying and keeping it easy for yourself. I’ve learned so much. So many people taught me how to play. He’s continued to teach me different things I can put in my game. I’m very grateful for him.”

When Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks sought a head coach, guess whose voice in the organization weighed paramount? Durant’s voice, in concert with teammate Kyrie Irving’s voice. As a tag team, they signed lucrative contracts with the Nets last year knowing they’d influence coaching and roster decisions. It’s well worth emphasizing that Durant and Irving, both given to robust activism during their careers, didn’t let race interfere with the head coach they desired. If Smith knows anything about the NBA — and he has covered the league for decades — he’d have realized the strong links between Nash, Durant and Marks, who played with Nash in Phoenix and became a close friend. He also would have considered how Nash has rejected other coaching and front-office offers through the years, preoccupied with his GM duties for Canada’s national team, his Warriors role and Hollywood production interests. Plus, given Nash’s time with Golden State, who wouldn’t want to channel the culture of Kerr, whose teams only won three championships and went to five straight league Finals?

But Smith saw only one thing: a white face. And he wondered why Nash was appointed when seasoned Black coaches such as Lue and Jackson were available. So, this somehow became a case of “White privilege’’ when the facts scream otherwise. If we must go down White/Black separation highway — for the record, I’d much prefer we all got along in this world as equals — first-time White NBA head coaches such as Kerr, Nurse and even Larry Bird in the wayback machine all have fared quite well. And just as Rivers has enjoyed a stellar coaching career that might end with another league title, in the Disney World Bubble with the L.A. Clippers, most Black coaches on the neophyte list have not succeeded. I don’t draw much from such data, but I thought Stephen A. might want to deal in a few facts.

If the conversation never should “stick to sports,’’ especially in 2020, what sports can do in such cases is try color blindness. And maybe give Nash credit for being anything but another accomplished White guy getting a cushy break. He has paid a measure of coaching dues working for the Warriors and helping not only Durant but Steph Curry. Also, Smith might be surprised that Nash has used George Floyd as his Twitter profile picture since that horrific day in May, when Floyd was choked to death by a White police officer in Minneapolis.

Steve Nash will use his voice as Nets coach: 'It's important to support  this fight'

“As a human being, it’s hard to live with racial injustice,” Nash told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, a more responsible ESPN-employed voice in this instance than Smith. “It’s important for white people to take a deep look at what is occurring in our communities and what has been occurring for 400 years. A component of this conversation needs to be that white people need to not be offensive about white privilege or inequality. They just need to be honest, have those conversations and ask ourselves how we would feel if we had endured this 400-plus-year history. So, for me, it’s hurtful and it’s wrong. That’s why I have expressed my opinion on the matters because some of us are hurting and it’s not fair.”

It’s not as if the Nets didn’t consider Black candidates, such as interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who will remain in Brooklyn as the league’s highest-paid assistant and would have been named permanent head coach had Nash rejected the Nets’ overtures. Vaughn, by the way, went 58-158 in 2 1/2 seasons as a head coach in Orlando. In a market where the dominant status of the dysfunctional Knicks never has been more vulnerable, the Nets went for the newsier hire. It’s a big story in New York, Nash coaching Durant and Irving; Lue or Vaughn coaching them is not a huge story, nor is it a huge story that retread Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Knicks. “After meeting with a number of highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds, we knew we had a difficult decision to make,” Marks said. “In Steve, we see a leader, communicator and mentor who will garner the respect of our players. I have had the privilege to know Steve for many years. One of the great on-court leaders in our game, I’ve witnessed firsthand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success. His instincts for the game, combined with an inherent ability to communicate with and unite players towards a common goal, will prepare us to compete at the highest levels of the league.”

I am not alone in admonishing Smith. “I was very disappointed in some of the guys talking about White privilege,” Charles Barkley said on TNT. “They’re like, `Well, this doesn’t happen to Black guys.’ And I’m like, `It happened to Doc Rivers. It happened to Jason Kidd. It happened to Derek Fisher.’ When you have a responsibility, especially when you have to talk about something as serious as race, you can’t be full of crap. You’ve got to be honest and fair. Steve Nash is a great player and a good dude. … Now, do we need more Black coaches in the NBA? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in college football? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in pro football? Yes. But this wasn’t the right time to say that today. Good luck to Steve Nash.”

Even Smith’s ESPN teammate, Jay Williams, fired back on Twitter: “Come on SA. Steve Nash being chosen over Mark Jackson/Ty Lue is not “White Privilege”.. 2 superstar black athletes ultimately made the decision & we know who they are and what they are about.”

At a time when people see color, count faces and point fingers, four Black NBA head coaches have lost gigs this season: Vaughn, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and the Knicks’ David Fizdale. In a 30-team league in which about 80 percent of the players are Black, there are seven head coaches of color — five are Black, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is of Filipino descent, and Charlotte’s James Borrego is Hispanic. The number has slipped from the 14 minority head coaches during the 2012-13 season, meaning the four teams with vacancies will have pressure to hire Black coaches, with New Orleans and Philadelphia — which fired Brett Brown, who is White — interested in Lue. Most owners and general managers are not looking at race, not in the NBA. They would kill to find the next Rivers, so vital to the Clippers as a coach and to the league as a transcendent leader. Is it a problem that more Black assistants don’t get opportunities? Yes — and the Clippers’ Sam Cassell is among those who deserve shots right now. But unlike Magic Johnson in the ‘90s — a head-coaching hire comparable to the Nash appointment — there aren’t many retired Black superstars who want to coach in the league.

Chauncey Billups on Warriors being named 'coma' lineup: Are y'all kidding  me? | NBA Countdown | ESPN - YouTube

Chauncey Billups would be a natural, but he has aspirations to run a basketball operation. Juwan Howard, who would be in demand, prefers to stay at the University of Michigan for now, while Patrick Ewing is proving himself at Georgetown. Look, teams want a coach who can win and excite the fans, challenges more important than ever when the coronavirus could keep paying customers out of arenas well into 2021, or longer.

Not that Stephen A. Smith ever would apologize for swinging and missing badly. Acknowledging an egregious mistake would ruin his shtick. The next day, decibels rising again, he refused to back down: “I mentioned `white privilege’ yesterday. I have a message to those who feel I was wrong, that i need to apologize, that I don’t know what I’m talking about: I don’t give a damn what y’all feel. Y’all can kick rocks. I don’t give a damn. I’m not budging from my position one inch. I called it `white privilege’ yesterday. I’m calling it today. I’m calling it `white privilege’ a month from now, a year from now, five years from now.’’

Even when, in this case, it’s utter foolishness to say it. Smith should apologize directly to Nash. And the apology should be televised because, after all, the reason he’s on the air so much is so ESPN can squeeze him for all the attention his act can muster. Never mind that his subject matter is dangerous and flammable and filled with the hatred that makes America a sick place. Ratings are ratings!

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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