After one shortened season as a studio analyst for NBC Sports and the Oakland Athletics, Dontrelle Willis won’t be returning to the same role this year. Instead, the charismatic broadcaster and former pitcher announced he’s joining the Los Angeles Dodgers as a special assistant in their player development department.
A World Series champ and two-time All-Star, Willis last pitched in the majors during the 2011 season at the age of 29. After injuries and lack of pitching command derailed his playing career, Willis joined FOX Sports as a studio analyst in 2015.
Now 39, Willis is still listed as a FOX Sports analyst and contributed to their postseason coverage last year. But continuing as a baseball analyst for a national outlet, while being part of a Major League Baseball team’s payroll is a conflict of interest that has been called out before.
Last year, ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza was blasted for her baseball commentary while she was simultaneously an employee of the New York Mets. Mendoza criticized pitcher Mike Fiers for his role in uncovering the Astros sign-stealing scandal. At the time of her comments, the Mets were considering what to do with their manager at the time, Carlos Beltran who reportedly played a key role in helping the Astros cheat.
Ultimately, Mendoza parted ways with the Mets and remained with ESPN. Mendoza is not the only person who has attempted to hold similarly conflicting dual roles. Alex Rodriguez, who works for ESPN and FOX Sports has held advisory roles with the Yankees, TBS analyst Pedro Martinez has also been simultaneously employed by baseball teams. Dontrelle Willis will be the latest example if he remains with FOX Sports, depicting the same conflict of interest that Mendoza was criticized for.
Joe Buck, Troy Aikman Visit Bristol For First Time Since Signing With ESPN
“My anticipation for the start of this season is literally off the charts; I’ve never been this excited.”
Monday Night Football on ESPN is going to have a new sound this year with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the broadcast booth. The deal is reportedly worth a combined $165 million, and will officially begin on September 12 when the Denver Broncos visit the Seattle Seahawks at 8:15 p.m. EST on ESPN.
“I’m thrilled to officially welcome Joe and Troy to ESPN and Monday Night Football,” said ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. “They are elite broadcasters who have been at the forefront of our industry for more than two decades [and] are universally respected, and fans truly appreciate their candor and expertise.”
Buck and Aikman visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol for the first time today. The broadcast duo, now entering their 21st season in the booth together, is switching networks for the first time, a move that was initiated because of Aikman’s expiring contract. Throughout the season, Aikman had an inclination that it would be his last at Fox; however, he would have stayed at the network. The original thought, according to Aikman, was that he would call Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime while continuing his role in doubleheader games with Fox – but it was quickly realized that it would not be feasible.
“ESPN began conversations with me, and it was an opportunity that was just the best fit for me,” said Aikman. “I didn’t think that was going to happen until a little bit after the Super Bowl.”
Buck’s contract was not set to expire until the end of this season, but after watching his veteran partner change networks, the possibility existed that he too would depart.
“When I knew Troy was gone, I think there was a little bit more intensity in my talks with Fox about ‘Was I going to stay there?,’ or ‘Was I going to try to continue my relationship on-air with Troy?’,” Buck reflected.
After approximately a month of negotiations between Buck and Fox, the broadcaster was off to ESPN. While the negotiations moved quickly, Buck never felt like he was taken for granted by Fox after working there for 28 years.
“They tell you how much you’re worth to them every time a check arrives,” said Buck. “They prove all that stuff by letting you continue to do it, and the relationships that we had. It was very collegial and very friendship-driven, much more so than employer-employee at Fox, and I expect the same will continue here at ESPN.”
Much of the media landscape across the National Football League has been significantly altered going into next season. Whether it is Buck and Aikman going from Fox to ESPN; the new Fox booth of Kevin Burkhardt and, upon his retirement, Tom Brady; the addition of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime with Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit; and Mike Tirico being moved into the lead Sunday Night Football role with Cris Collinsworth, the game will adopt a new sound upon the season’s opening kickoff.
ESPN Head of Event and Studio Production Stephanie Druley commented that amid the new broadcast landscape, the network believes it now has the number one football broadcast booth in the country. Additionally, she revealed the addition of a second Monday Night Football booth to be announced in the coming weeks as part of the network’s new broadcast rights deal with the NFL. The secondary booth will be calling three games this year and five games next year, and an announcement with more details is forthcoming.
For Buck, being welcomed to ESPN was representative of a full-circle moment, as his father Jack called Monday Night Football on the CBS Radio Network with Hank Stram. While Buck idolized his father and strived to one day be like him, he was always attentive as to what was going on in one of the other booths in the stadium.
“I knew as a little kid something special was going on two doors down, and that was when Howard Cosell was there; Don Meredith was there; Frank Gifford was there – and it was, ‘Man, that is the peak of sports and media,’” said Buck. “My anticipation for the start of this season is literally off the charts; I’ve never been this excited.”
“This is an opportunity with ESPN that I’m really excited about,” added Aikman. “We’ve been doing it so long in one way [and] it feels like it’s 2001 again…. I have nothing but respect for the people I worked [for] at Fox, and appreciate the way I was treated for the 21 years I was there, but am excited for the next chapter.”
NFL Explains How World Cup Effected 2022 Schedule
“We didn’t strategically deploy any of our games to either go really strong or go a little less strong, because we knew there was going to be soccer that day.”
This will be the first year that the World Cup will be contested during the NFL season. It isn’t a challenge professional football is used to in America. That is why Mike North, the NFL’s vice president of broadcast scheduling, told Richard Deitsch that it was important to do some homework.
“Very early in the process we got with our broadcast partner at Fox and we knew that there weren’t going to be any windows where Fox was not going to be able to broadcast an NFL game,” he said.
The real effect had to do with the NFL’s international schedule. Five games will be played outside of the United States borders this season. North said he wanted to understand the potential schedule for the World Cup so he could create the best atmosphere for the international contests.
“I’m not sure we’re doing the right thing for the fan in Germany if we’re playing in Bayern Munich’s stadium while the German national team is playing a World Cup game; I’m not sure we are doing the right thing for our fans in Mexico if we were playing a game in Mexico on a day when the Mexican national team was playing. So we were certainly aware of the World Cup schedule and worked very closely with our friends at Fox to make sure we were aligned on how we were going to approach it.”
North said that he wasn’t worried about football beating fútbol. He just wanted to understand what he was putting his teams up against.
“We didn’t back out of any of our windows. We didn’t strategically deploy any of our games to either go really strong or go a little less strong, because we knew there was going to be soccer that day.”
FIFA moved the World Cup to the final two months of the year in 2022. To play the games any earlier would have meant players would have been dealing with extreme heat in Qatar.
The first match will be played on November 21. The final is scheduled for December 18. That overlaps with weeks 11 through 16 of the NFL season.
Peter King: ‘Tom Brady Needs To Study Cris Collinsworth’
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is.”
Peter King dedicated a not-insignificant portion of his “Football Morning in America” column this week to advice for Tom Brady. FOX announced last week that the Buccaneers’ quarterback will become the network’s lead NFL analyst upon his retirement.
Brady’s decision and his reported salary have been the source of much speculation and prediction amongst his soon-to-be colleagues.
King is optimistic that Tom Brady will be entertaining and informative when he makes his FOX debut. He did offer the GOAT a little bit of advice about what he should be doing in the months leading up to calling it quits on his playing days and starting his new career.
“I think what I’d do if I were Brady is study Cris Collinsworth—and honest to goodness, I don’t say that because I work for NBC,” he wrote. “I say it because Collinsworth knows how to talk X’s-and-O’s conversationally, he’s an easy listen, and he can criticize when the time comes.”
Interestingly, last week, Collinsworth says he hears from most former players that are getting ready to make the jump to broadcasting. He was surprised he never heard from Tom Brady before FOX announced their deal.
King had two other suggestions. The first was that Brady watch multiple games from start to finish so that he can hear what the give-and-take between a broadcaster and analyst sounds like. The other is that he has to commit to being interesting and not censoring himself. King has faith that Brady will be able to do that.
“He’ll know that to be good, he has to get out of his comfort zone of all niceties and tell it like it is. On that LeBron James show last year, Brady said, ‘Ninety percent of what I say is not what I’m thinking. There’s a part of me that doesn’t like conflict, so in the end I always just try to play it super-flat.’ That has to end once he’s on TV if he wants to be any good.”