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NSMA Awards Dinner Celebrates Legends, Current Greats In Sports Broadcasting

Demetri Ravanos

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Courtesy: Demetri Ravanos

Unless you work for the Hanes Corporation or you are a devoted fan of ACC sports, you may never have been to Winston-Salem, NC. If you work in our industry though, an invite to the city is coveted. Unless you are being sent to cover a Wake Forest Demon Deacons game, it means you are about to be honored at the annual NSMA Banquet.

Monday night, stars of radio, television and sportswriting gathered inside the Benton Convention Center to celebrate one another and our industry.

The National Sports Media Association had a very interesting start. Pete DiMizio and his wife, boxing promoters and restauranteurs in nearby Salisbury, NC started giving out free meals to media members that would come to cover their fights. The town kept the event going after DiMizio’s death. The annual NSMA Banquet isn’t just important for our industry. It is an important part of the state’s history.

“I’d hope that maybe the state legislature and folks in Raleigh can help us a little bit with some of the funding it takes, said Wes Durham, who serves as the President of the NSMA Board and was Monday night’s master of ceremonies. “It’s a very much a hidden gem event in this state, that a lot of people don’t realize it goes on. But hopefully in the next few years, and I think part of our mission with younger people counts there, too,. But the people that come here have an unbelievable time. It’s amazing the hospitality that this state extends, and I’m proud of my home state for that for sure.”

On Monday, two men – baseball writer Roger Angell and former St. Louis Blues play-by-play man Dan Kelly – were inducted into the NSMA Hall of Fame posthumously. They were joined in induction by two ESPN stars.

Lee Corso was happy to pose for pictures in the hallway with admirers, and there was no shortage of them. In his speech, the Sunshine Scooter thanked ESPN for standing by him after his stroke. He thanked his family and his College Gameday colleagues for making his career possible.

Every year, many students come to Winston-Salem to attend the event. Corso, who at 88 has had an iconic career, had a very stern piece of advice for them.

“Never prostitute your integrity to get a job or keep one,” he said loudly and clearly. The line drew loud applause from the room.

Bill Plaschke’s daughter MC was a surprise star of the evening. In introducing her father, she told humorous stories of him answering the phone to speak to her in the middle of an interview with Tommy Lasorda and of how he first discovered that he could buy a pride flag to hang on his poarch in June.

When it was Plaschke’s turn at the mic, he quipped, “I’m so fortunate to be standing here in front of some of the country’s best sportswriters and sportscasters. I’m so overwhelmed at the thought of the Marriott Points. There’s a lot in here. I’m just so honored by the Southwest Airlines A-listers. There’s a lot of you in here. There’s a lot of companion passes in here.”

He would go on to talk about the power of words, why they mattered to Kobe Bryant, and how he understands the struggle of kids that want to make a career in sports media but do not have the power of a Syracuse degree behind them.

The NSMA hands out its annual awards at the event as well. Sportswriters and sportscasters of the year from all 50 states and Washington, DC were recognized. There were also national awards. ESPN’s Pete Thamel and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal shared sportswriter of the year honors. Ian Eagle was recognized as the sportscaster of the year.

“I mean, it means the most coming from your peers, because ultimately, that’s who you’re here with. They’re with you every night in the press room till after midnight,” Thamel told me after an emotional acceptance speech. “This business is great because of the people in it. I think about the honor of working with Pat Forde and Dan Wetzel at Yahoo. Craig Bishop’s, one of my best friends. I’ve worked with him three different places over the years. Jeff Passan and I went to college together. Woj, you know, he and Peter King were the ones who really sort of drove home to me just what this award means. You know, God knows who actually voted for me, but for it to come from them probably means the most.”

The awards banquet is the conclusion of an extended weekend that the NSMA fills with panels and other networking opportunities. No news is broken. Play-by-players may chat up Howie Deneroff or one of the many Learfield executives in the audience, but rarely are deals made here. People come to Winston-Salem to pay tribute to the people that inspired them. They come to see old friends and share a drink with new ones.

“People love it,” NSMA Executive Director Dave Goren says of the event and of the city. “You know, a lot of places that you don’t go, you don’t know about until you go there. They go there, we try to treat them very well. I think we do a good job of that. And they go back to wherever they’re from and say what a great time they had in Winston-Salem. That’s invaluable, I think.”

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Nobody Looks Good in 670 The Score vs John Schriffen Feud

Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

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A photo of the 670 The Score and John Schriffen

John Schriffen had the unenviable task of replacing Jason Bennetti as the TV voice of the Chicago White Sox. And the reaction from 670 The Score hosts — namely Danny Parkins, Matt Spiegel, and their producer Shane Riordan — hasn’t helped matters.

To call Schriffen’s first six or seven weeks on the job a rough stretch would be an understatement. Not a baseball play-by-play savant, Schriffen has struggled to get into the groove of working an everyday broadcast and has made mistakes that aren’t unexpected.

However, the 670 The Score afternoon show of Parkins & Spiegel was quick to jump on Schriffen’s miscues. In some instances, the criticism was warranted. For instance, Schriffen called former White Sox owner Bill Veeck (pronounced VECK), Bill “Veek.” In a rather innocuous comment, Schriffen showcased his inexperience and lack of knowledge.

But the reaction from 670 The Score hosts quickly went from “criticism” to being borderline ridiculous. They continually ridiculed the relatively green but promising play-by-player, taking any chance they could to take potshots.

While I’m certain the hosts and producer found the quips amusing, they quickly became meanspirited. This is surprising, because Matt Spiegel is a baseball play-by-play voice in his own right, filling in at times on Chicago Cubs broadcasts. There’s an almost unspoken agreement between play-by-play broadcasters that you really don’t critique someone else’s broadcast without that person asking for your input. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own style, but what 670 The Score did went past criticism and turned into questioning the resume and reasoning for why Schriffen was hired in the first place.

Which isn’t their place. I imagine if I were to question why Parkins, Spiegel, or Riordan were hired for the roles they currently hold, they’d have a conniption. And rightfully so, because who the hell am I to say who does and doesn’t deserve this job or that job. But that’s the point.

John Schriffen, however, isn’t innocent in this ordeal. After analyst Gordon Beckham flubbed an ad read during a broadcast last week, instead of just letting sleeping dogs lie, he commented “If any of those radio losers clip it and try to make fun of you, nobody cares about them anyway.”

Before that moment, Schriffen had the upper hand in the feud, because at that point it wasn’t a feud. It was a one-sided, often times mean-spirited approach from 670 The Score. But he needlessly added fuel to the fire.

When somebody wants to pick a fight — and make no bones about it, a fight only benefitted Parkins, Spiegel, and Riordan — you have to avoid the fight, hold in your anger, and walk away/ignore it. And ignoring criticism, even when high-profile people are questioning your credentials, is just something that has to come with being the TV play-by-play voice of a Major League franchise.

Schriffen, no matter how difficult it is, has to take the high road when it comes to media criticism. Nothing, absolutely nothing, good comes from engaging. And frankly, those tearing him down were hoping to do just that, bring them down to their level, where they’d beat him with experience. Part of being a great sports radio host — and despite criticizing them in this story, I think Parkins & Spiegel is the best local show in America — is defending your opinions, and coming out on top no matter what. It’s an avenue Schriffen was never going to win.

I’ve been hesitant to use the word “bully” or “bullying” in this case because I think the word is thrown out all too often in 2024. It’s as if there is no middle ground between “everybody love everybody” and “bullying.” But, after Schriffen’s comments, Shane Riordan went into textbook bully mode. His “If you mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns” response, couldn’t be more bully-esque. Nothing makes you look like an insecure bully quite like not being able to take it when you’ve already dished it out.

Riordan was suspended in 2023 after claiming he’d “bone” the mom of a conservative Chicago talk radio host after speaking poorly of the Windy City. Instead of being somewhat remorseful over the situation, Riordan wore it like a badge of honor in a tweetstorm after Schriffen’s comments, claiming that his response to the White Sox TV voice would lead to another suspension. He later said Schriffen “just opened the f—ing floodgates” and had “no f—ing clue what he has done” by criticizing the station and the afternoon show.

After weeks of criticism, going as far as to say Schriffen “didn’t know baseball”, he called the folks making fun of him “losers”, and that’s the response? After making attacks that could absolutely be viewed as personal, to take being called a “loser” by someone you’ve denigrated for weeks so personally is bizarre. The idea that you’d even care about someone you’ve already un-invited from the cool kids club is truly asinine. Again, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

I’m sure they would deny this, claiming a role as an “equal opportunity offender”, but I can’t help but think that if 670 The Score was the radio flagship of the White Sox, or if Schriffen was the Cubs TV voice, this would have never happened. Boog Sciambi is often lambasted by Cubs fans for his work (and I’ll never understand why), but I can’t remember a time when a Score host took time to criticize his performance.

For what it’s worth, Parkins & Spiegel aren’t the only Chicago media members talking about Schriffen. Jonathan Hood, morning co-host at ESPN 1000 (the flagship of the White Sox) said he didn’t “understand the chip on the shoulder” of Schriffen, adding that “no one is out to get” the new White Sox TV voice. I think it’s pretty clear, however, to see why Schriffen would feel differently.

Nobody wins here. Everyone looks like a loser. Each side is at fault. And instead of being able to take the high road, both sides look like petulant children. It’s a pissing match that no one can win, and no one included in the beef has taken the slightest moment to be introspective, nor retrospective, and think “Maybe I should just be an adult — and a professional — and grow up.”

And while it’s great for content, when it gets personal, it becomes — at least in my opinion– no fun. If there were a clear-cut winner, or someone that deserved to be defended, that would be a different story and a different column. But in this case, it doesn’t feel like either side deserves to be praised for their conduct.

As observers, we often forget the people we see on TV or hear on the radio are real people, with real thoughts, real feelings, and real ambitions. It’s just unfortunate that the people who are often subjected to it the most lost sight of that in this situation, too.

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Netflix Knows Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones Bring Eyeballs

The team still draws a crowd.

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A photo of Jerry Jones and a logo for Netflix
Photo: Sports Illustrated

A 10-part series on Jerry Jones here in 2024 feels like roughly eight parts too many. But that is not the Netflix calculation.

No, the math is far simpler: Dallas Cowboys = eyeballs.

It’s been true for as long as most of us can remember – and that particular part about the Cowboys franchise isn’t hype. The team still draws a crowd.

The news in the recent announcement of the 10-parter on Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general overlord, isn’t that it is being produced. That was known last year. But Netflix’s involvement answers the question about on which platform the project might land.

So get ready for plenty of Jerry Jones, but also Cowboys, Cowboys, Cowboys. And make note of the timeline, because this multi-parter is going to be almost exclusively rooted in a brief, glorious and now quite distant past.

You’ll need to put your 1990s goggles on to recognize the triumphs documented here. It was then that Jones, as a still-young owner by NFL standards, having bought the team in 1989, was the man of record as the Cowboys reeled off three Super Bowl victories in a four-season period.

That is a tremendous accomplishment in any era, and those Cowboys teams were a blast to watch: talented, cocky, demonstrative, controversial. They made news on and off the field, not all to the good. For those of us who wrote about the league in those years, they were a gold mine of source material. And, of course, winning in the NFL is the cologne that masks any little odor that might arise.

Those Dallas teams knew how to win games. How much of that actually had to do with Jerry Jones is a fair question, especially judging by what’s happened since, and I guess we’ll have to wait for Episode 5 or 7 or 9 to find out how this series answers that. But given the fact that the NFL itself insists that the series is “the definitive story of Jerry Jones and his unique journey in transforming the Dallas Cowboys franchise,” we’re already a good ways there.

“For several years, Forbes has ranked the Dallas Cowboys as not only the most valuable team in the NFL, but the most valuable sports team in the world,” the Netflix news release intones. “In 2023, the Cowboys were worth $9 billion and rising — the result of decades of exceptional athletic talent, coaching, and management that took shape during the ’90s, when the once-struggling team transformed into three-time Super Bowl champions.”

As Preston Jones put it in the Dallas Observer, “There are a lot of words doing a lot of heavy lifting in there.”

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were certainly the architects of the roster that Johnson coached, but in that time – during those precise years of the Cowboys winning and winning – I can tell you that most of the NFL cognoscente understood Johnson as the driving force and creative genius.

Jones was well aware of that; it was the source of much of the well-publicized friction between those two. They were high-level, high-ego competitors even as they were part of the same multi-championship run – so much so, in fact, that by the time those Cowboys won ring No. 3 in the 1995 season, Jimmy Johnson had already been replaced, with Jones bringing in longtime friend Barry Switzer after functionally running Johnson off the job.

The decision to part with Johnson was more than three decades ago. Coincidentally, the Cowboys’ drought of winning a Super Bowl – or appearing in a Super Bowl, or appearing in an NFC conference championship, for that matter – is now roughly three decades old.

It’s silly to pre-judge the entire series, which includes interviews with many of the leading lights of those ‘90s successes. The list includes Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, and it also includes Johnson. That alone sounds worth watching.

Of course, you could cover that in an episode or two. But the producers of the series, and now Netflix as distributor, understand the greater value lies in promoting a Cowboys-branded product. Jerry Jones might not like hearing it (or he might not care), but it is a brand whose popularity far, far predates his appearance on the scene.

Brands equal viewers. You watch network baseball, you’re going to get a lot of Yankees and Dodgers. The NBA? Prepare for Celtics, Knicks, Lakers. These are the ratings anchors of large-scale broadcast deals, and in the NFL, the Cowboys are firmly part of the mix.

They may be 5-13 in the playoffs since their last Super Bowl victory back in the ‘90s, but the Dallas Cowboys draw. A 10-part series about Jerry Jones is really just another way of saying, ‘Here’s some more Cowboys material.’ It’ll be consumed.

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Allie LaForce Honored to Have the Best Seat in the House for TNT Sports

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports.”

Derek Futterman

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Allie LaForce
Courtesy: Warner Bros. Discovery

During an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game on TBS, the broadcast read a promo for upcoming coverage of The Masters on CBS Sports and Paramount+. Rather than keeping the camera on the court though, they panned to sideline reporter Allie LaForce, who was sitting courtside unaware of what was going on and suddenly saw herself on the broadcast monitor. Once she realized that her green jacket tied into the promo, she stood up and portrayed a golf swing for the camera, adding to the overall programmatic value of the promotional read.

For LaForce, it served as an example of reacting to spontaneity and showcasing personality without it coming across as forced or contrived. As a multifaceted reporter in a variety of different roles throughout her sports media career, she has adapted to changing times and handled the dynamic game atmosphere with ingenuity and confidence.

While LaForce is the lead sideline reporter for the NBA on TNT and set to cover the Western Conference Finals, she recently completed another run within March Madness. Assimilating into the grind of this role since joining then-named Turner Sports in 2018, she needed to pace herself and ensure she was aptly prepared. Eight practices in one day followed by a four-game First Four slate in Dayton, Ohio and subsequent drive to the first region is a taxing assignment but one she has mastered through her professionalism and college basketball experience at Ohio University. Although her team fell just short of a tournament berth, the exhilaration and adrenaline therein continues to endure, nonetheless.

“I could sit and watch those college kids get one last shot at the tournament all day long, so it gave me energy more than me having to find the energy,” LaForce said. “It gave me so much natural energy.”

Once her stretch of March Madness games ended, LaForce immediately went back on the road to cover the NBA, commuting to various cities every week and contributing within the broadcasts through live reports, interviews and observation. In her reporting role, LaForce scrupulously watches the action and takes in the environment in an effort to identify and convey key storylines to the viewing audience. Executing the job requires synergy and stamina, perseverance and poise while respecting the game and understanding the inherent commitment to fair and accurate reporting disseminated to viewers.

“I think portraying to the audience the closest reality of being in a moment live and recognizing that it’s an honor and a privilege to be sitting courtside,” LaForce said. “How can we portray that same energy, newsworthiness and accuracy to the viewers through television that I get to witness in person?”

The NBA Playoffs have been accompanied by the backdrop of ongoing media rights negotiations as the league looks to solidify its partners for the 2025-26 season and beyond. The Walt Disney Company and Amazon Prime Video have both reportedly reached the framework of a deal with the league, presumably leaving one remaining rights package being pursued by both Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery. Within the latter, TNT Sports, formerly known as Turner Sports, has been broadcasting NBA games since the 1984-85 season and hopes to extend its multiplatform relationship through a deal that makes sense for all parties involved.

“I think there is a direct correlation and association with TNT and our personalities,” LaForce explained, “and how much fun we have while also calling the moment and the game in a newsworthy fashion that the viewers are comfortable with and look forward to that gets to take their mind off of their everyday grind and just live in a moment of freedom and fun and excitement.”

As a national reporter, LaForce is assigned to a variety of games throughout the season containing different teams, thus requiring a broad knowledge of the league. With the strenuous schedule plus trying to raise a family and run a growing charitable endeavor, it can be difficult to balance everything effectively.

When LaForce was growing up, she watched her mother run a modeling agency in Atlanta, Ga. and fly back home to Ohio every week to spend time with family. Her mother happened to be a previous winner of the Miss Ohio pageant, something she had not told her daughter until she received a letter to participate in the Miss Ohio Teen USA pageant. LaForce initially did not want to compete, but her two victories ended up paying dividends through broadening her worldview and gaining creative inspiration.

“I am on a plane every two days, and I’m trying to be a great wife and a great mom and work full time and present myself in a confident way that people that are viewing me believe in me, and storytell in a way that’s honest and compassionate,” LaForce said. “I think when I was 15 years old, I was trying to take high school classes, play three high school sports, travel the country and present myself and make other young men and women believe in me in a genuine manner.”

While LaForce was in college playing on the basketball team as a walk-on member, she remembers realizing that she would need to eventually give up the sport. Her mother had previously commented on her resonant baritone voice and recommended that she be a broadcaster. LaForce was granted an opportunity to work as an analyst on the radio for her team and took part in a variety of other ventures at the school with WOUB Public Media and volunteering for the Mid-American Conference.

LaForce perceived herself as being restricted because of her role as a sideline reporter, something that changed upon her joining CBS Sports as lead sideline reporter for its broadcasts of SEC football. The endeavor marked the first time she recognized the strategy behind when and how to deliver a live game report, something taught to her by producer Craig Silver.

“There’s a sense of urgency to this game that the audience needs to feel because we’re feeling it here on the field, right?,” LaForce said. “The roar and the clock and the band and the pageantry of the game. It has to be short because there’s a pace and a momentum and a newsworthiness to this game that’s warranted, and your reporting needs to match that.”

Through a cognizance and acceptance of her role as an element of a larger component, LaForce began to find her niche in reporting. On top of that, her background as an athlete allowed her to easily decipher plays, mannerisms and proclivities. The challenge exists in delivering observations and updates precisely and at the correct time. In covering NBA games at the national level since 2018, LaForce has worked to hone her craft and embrace the setting without being buried in patterns of overthinking and inflexibility.

“I used to over plan and take a trillion notes throughout the course of the game, and now I just let myself live in the game,” LaForce said. “And when we get down to the last minute or two, I start jotting down notes about, ‘This guy whispered something to this guy here,’ or, ‘During this free throw, I noticed this,’ or, ‘During a timeout, I felt tension.’”

Although LaForce has refined her in-game process, she still tries to prepare before each contest. Part of that comes in re-reading conversation transcripts with the top eight players on every team and grasping the necessary context. Moreover, she reviews lineups, rotations and other facets of the game she would want to know as a basketball fan.

“I like to take my job seriously but not too seriously,” LaForce said. “I want the viewer to think that I’m hanging out with them watching sports, but also I want to be professional enough to be able to distinguish between just having fun and actually being a reporter.”

Over the course of a typical game, LaForce is doing more than appearing on camera and conveying the latest information. In part because of her vantage point and expertise, she is consistently communicating with those in the broadcast truck and helping to guide the composition of the broadcast. LaForce takes part in production meetings every morning and ultimately has an implicit yet tangible presence on the end product throughout the show.

When LaForce conducts interviews, she tries to begin with a sense of levity to foster a sense of comfort and amicability. Commencing a casual dialogue before these conversations also helps break down a barrier that can sometimes exist because of the nature of the schedule. This is not always possible though, as was evidenced when LaForce was forsaken by the Oklahoma City Thunder after a playoff win to speak with Bally Sports Oklahoma.

“You have to realize that as the national broadcaster, you come in out of nowhere and get the first interview and are asking questions that they perhaps have been being asked for the last week to 10 days from their local broadcast crews,” LaForce said. “They’re there daily and really know them, so you have to remember that the people interviewing them daily understand their career and their team in the moment.”

Working as a reporter requires LaForce to have relationships around the league that are built on trust and respect. No matter the circumstance, she adheres to rules of attribution and does not divulge details that have been classified as being off the record. At the same time, if she develops friendships with team or league entities, she expects them to understand that she needs to do her job professionally and may not always be able to portray them in an auspicious light.

“I’m not in the business to break news or to become famous or gain followers – I’m here to cover live sports,” LaForce said. “And then if there’s something that they don’t say is off the record, but I feel should be, I will figure out a way to tell that story without using that piece of information but use that information to shape the way in which I tell the story.”

LaForce cherishes the balance of professional and personal ventures in her life and aspires to continue covering marquee events, such as the National Championship, Super Bowl and Olympics. Having the chance to experience a wide array of moments in sports is something she knows would be a dream come true, but she is focused on the present moment in closing out the season strong for the NBA on TNT. After all, an essential value proposition of the broadcast is predicated on disseminating insights and developments in real time, part of which is actualized by the work of LaForce and her unrelenting commitment to the grind.

“Be prepared in the beginning to work for free, and always surround yourself [with] people that are helping you become a better version of yourself as a professional and as an individual, even if they tell you things you don’t want to hear,” LaForce said. “But avoid the people that are trying to have influence on you because it makes them feel important or powerful.”

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