After being in the spotlight for a number of race-related issues within the last few weeks, it’s clear that ESPN has some self-reflecting to do.
As BSM previously reported, a conversation was recorded last year and only recently released to the public, between ESPN NBA reporter Rachel Nichols and LeBron James’ advisor Adam Mendelsohn. During the conversation, Nichols accused ESPN of making Maria Taylor the NBA Countdown host because of diversity pressure last year.
Earlier this week, Stephen A. Smith made comments on First Take about MLB All-Star Shohei Ohtani’s need to use a translator during interviews, questioning his marketability.
In the wake of these events, Variety reports that ESPN plans to take a closer look at its issues of diversity and inclusion, going as far as examining the exit interviews of employees who have recently left the network.
“Change takes time, and I ask for your partnership on this journey,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a memo circulated to employees last week. “Know that our leadership is committed to accelerating our efforts and working toward a collective goal — an ESPN where everyone feels they belong.”
Pitaro also noted that executives at ESPN plan to address issues around diversity and inclusion at a company-wide town hall later in the month.
“We will continue to have focused conversations with the Black and African American community at ESPN in the coming weeks,” said Pitaro. “As always, we value an open and honest dialogue.”
Variety also reports that in an effort to address these concerns, the network has already created programs aimed at examining inclusion at the company and calling on employees to join groups devoted to diversity and mentoring.
According to Pitaro and Variety, “the company was ‘seeing progress’ in terms of hiring employees from a greater range of backgrounds, noting that out of 116 staffers hired in 2021, 52% were people of color and 42% were female. Pitaro also noted that 63% of ESPN’s executive team was female and/or a person of color.”
While the memo largely focused on ESPN’s culture, Pitaro did weigh in specifically on the controversy surrounding Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.
“I do want to be clear on one thing: Maria Taylor was selected as ‘NBA Countdown’ host last year because she earned it. Please know our commitment is that assignments and opportunities at ESPN are based on merit and any concerns, remarks, or inferences that suggest otherwise have been and will continue to be addressed.”
Lauren Shehadi: Ernie Johnson Is The Model For Studio Hosts
“To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness.”
In addition to her job at MLB Network being a host on MLB Central, Lauren Shehadi is hosting TBS’s Tuesday night baseball coverage each week with Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, and Pedro Martinez. The Tuesday night games are new for Turner Sports this year after doing only Sunday games during the regular season in addition to the network’s postseason coverage.
Shehadi was a guest on The Kyle Koster Show this week and she was asked what the goal was for her with the MLB on TBS Tuesday broadcasts. She takes a lot of inspiration from what she sees on Inside The NBA on TNT.
“I always think about Ernie Johnson in the same building. To me, he’s the greatest in-studio host. What he does best is facilitate greatness. He gets the most out of Shaq and Kenny [Smith] and Charles [Barkley]. If there’s no ego involved, it’s all about how the show can be so great.
“You look at him and you think how can I be like that? You want to be authentic and be yourself, but in the sense of getting the best out of your guys and girls that you talk to every day. That was my goal going in, Be authentic.”
Shehadi said she gets to spend a lot of time with Johnson and the rest of the Turner Sports crew. Tuesday nights tend to be something of a corporate family reunion.
“On Tuesday nights, we all sit in a room and we all watch NBA, MLB, and NHL when it’s on. We get Shaq’s reaction to Sandy Alcantara’s slider in real-time. What we see from Inside The NBA is when they do demos. When they get up and walk and they are casual and they do little bits, that’s what we try to take to our show, but we want it to feel authentic.”
When Shehadi isn’t hosting Turner Sports’ baseball coverage, she is a part of MLB Central every weekday on MLB Network with Robert Flores and Mark DeRosa. On that show, the goal for her is how to make baseball relatable to everyone:
“That’s the sweet spot of MLB Central. No question is silly. Nobody is smarter than the other. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at each other. It is just a fun 4 hours, grab your coffee, let’s talk the game, let’s laugh because life is short and baseball is fun.”
AT&T Sportsnet’s Kelsey Wingert Shows Off Stitches After Being Drilled Line Drive
“The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.”
Baseball reporters at the regional level have some of the toughest jobs in all of sports. Not only do they cover each for all 162 games, but there’s always the potential for getting drilled by a foul ball.
While all MLB ball clubs have expanded their netting this season to protect fans sitting close to the field, Rockies sideline reporter Kelsey Wingert suffered a nasty injury via a foul ball earlier this week.
A scary incident took place on Monday’s outing against the Rockies and San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver. In the ninth inning, Giants outfielder Austin Slater hit a foul ball off Daniel Bard, with the ball heading straight to the dugout, right where Wingert was standing while reporting for AT&T Sportsnet.
After getting attended to by the Rockies medical staff and walking it off, giving fans a “thumbs up,” Wingert ended up having to go to the hospital where she received multiple stitches to her forehead.
The 29-year-old reporter took to Twitter on Wednesday to express her gratitude towards the Rockies organization and AT&T Sportsnet general manager David Woodman, who along with his wife Paula, stayed by her side at the hospital.
“I had a CT scan to make sure there was no internal bleeding or fractures and all came back clear. Thank God,” Wingert said on Twitter Wednesday. “The stitches will have to come out in a week. I’m very lucky it wasn’t worse. It was just really scary and bummed me out given the circumstances.”
You would think this was the first time Wingert got hit by a ball but back in 2018 while working for Fox Sports and the Atlanta Braves she was struck by a foul ball while standing near a camera past the Braves dugout, resulting in a fractured eye socket.
Wingert retweeted a photo taken of her black eye after returning home where she made light of what could’ve been an awful occurrence.
While recovering from her wound, Wingert will be taking a few games off. The veteran reporter is expected to get married in June. Doctors are “hoping” the scar doesn’t effect her big day.
Greg Olsen To Partner With Kevin Burkhardt For Super Bowl LVII
“Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.”
The deal isn’t done yet, but Andrew Marchand of The New York Post reports that Greg Olsen is on his way to joining Kevin Burkhardt in the top NFL booth at FOX. Although Tom Brady will take over that role after he retires and leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Olsen will spend at least this season on FOX’s A-Team.
Last season was the first Burkhardt and Olsen worked together. They largely won rave reviews.
Earlier this year, the former Panther told The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte that he was disappointed he didn’t get to call a postseason game. He will more than make up for that in 2023. As Burkhardt’s partner, Olsen is in line to be the analyst for Super Bowl LVII.
Marchand writes that we could get a taste of what is to come in February. He speculates that if the Buccaneers are not in the Super Bowl, it is possible Tom Brady could make his FOX debut, either in the booth alongside Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen or as part of the network’s studio show.
Now, FOX has to make a decision about it’s number 2 NFL booth. According to Marchand, Drew Brees is a candidate to be the analyst. Adam Amin and Joe Davis have emerged as candidates for the play-by-play role.