ESPN personality and NBA Countdown personality Michael Wilbon was duly featured throughout the NBA Playoffs as one of the network’s preeminent basketball voices. Now, he is evidently the only person associated with Northwestern University speaking outside of carefully-written statements about the firing of football coach Pat Fitzgerald after allegations of malfeasance pertaining to hazing disseminated by The Daily Northwestern cost him his job. Wilbon, who serves on The Board of Trustees at Northwestern University, addressed the institution and setbacks he believes it will face in various public appearances, including on his show, Pardon the Interruption.
“We have to have a young, ambitious, energetic, charismatic coach who can rally this,” Wilbon said during an appearance on Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000. “I’ve gotten the phone calls. I will know; I will make it my business to know who the best candidates are for this in the next few days. That’s what I’m going to be obsessed with, and we’ll find that person.”
In an article written in the Chicago Sun-Times, author Jeff Agrest wonders why Wilbon is discussing the incident in the manner that university athletic director Derrick Gragg should be doing instead. Along with Wilbon, Christine Brennan, who was an award-winning journalist for The Washington Post and currently writes for USA Today, also serves on the Board of Trustees. She has yet to comment on the scandal and the potential enduring effects it could have on the school. Both Brennan and Wilbon declined to be interviewed for Agrest’s column, leading him to ponder how journalism graduates are neglecting to contribute to what has become a caustic narrative.
“But doesn’t all this seem strange?,” Agrest asked. “Michael Wilbon, award-winning journalist, essentially is playing the role of a flack for his alma mater. As genuine as he is, the man was trained to be a reporter and to hold authority accountable. He might not consider himself a journalist anymore, but he works for ESPN, parts of which still adhere to journalistic principles.”
Wilbon conveys his respect towards the program Fitzgerald helped build and is a proud alumnus of the school. Nonetheless, he wonders whether this situation will prove insurmountable. On Tuesday’s edition of Pardon the Interruption, he expressed how he wants to turn the page and focus on the future rather than looking back at the past.
The reality of the situation is that the university has lost an extensive amount of trust that could impact college decisions and the transfer portal for years to come. As a result, it will be up to the university to demonstrate that it is an institution that will act in the best interests of its students and ensure their safety while promoting an environment of inclusivity, research and academic vigor.
“I have received hundreds and hundreds of emails describing how [Fitzgerald] has transformed the lives of current and former student-athletes,” Northwestern University President Michael Schill said in a statement. “However, as much as Coach Fitzgerald has meant to our institution and to our student-athletes, we have an obligation – in fact a responsibility – to live by our values, even when it means making difficult and painful decision such as this one. We must move forward.”
Sports Media Reacts to Passing of Jim Caple
“We all love Jim Caple so much and he loved you.”
Longtime ESPN baseball writer Jim Caple passed away on Sunday, his wife announced in a statement on social media. The 17-year ESPN veteran covered 20 World Series for the network, in addition to other sports media endeavors with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
He most recently wrote for The Athletic on topics including baseball, tennis, and the WNBA. Caple had been fighting both ALS and dementia and passed away at the age of 61, surprising and devastating those across the sports media world.
“My person, best friend, and husband died on Sunday afternoon,” his wife wrote on Facebook. “We all love Jim Caple so much and he loved you. Many great times, laughs, and adventures with all of us with Jim. Go in peace, my love.”
Kevin Jackson, a former vice president at ESPN and Caple’s editor, issued a statement on the passing of his venerated colleague. The duo worked closely on many stories for ESPN platforms, including on Page 2 where he was able to transform a story into a book deriding the New York Yankees titled, “The Devil Wears Pinstripes.”
“Jim was an amazing and prolific writer who always found the joy in sports,” Jackson said. “Whether he was writing about baseball, the Olympics, the NCAA Tournament or his beloved Tour de France, Jim cared deeply about the games we play, but he never took them too seriously.”
Those within the sports media industry reacted to the unfortunate news, sharing their memories of Caple and expressing their condolences.
Former CNN Exec Jeff Zucker Purchases Stake in Front Office Sports
“The team at Front Office Sports has built an impressive platform for sports business journalism, and I’m excited to help it grow in the years ahead.”
Upon his departure from CNN one year ago, former network president Jeff Zucker launched RedBird IMI, a venture looking to invest in properties throughout the media and finance industries. The entity is composed of private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners and International Media Investments, and it has approximately $1 billion in capital backing from key figures within both entities. Zucker is now set to make his first acquisition and third investment with the reported purchase of a minority stake in Front Office Sports, a multiplatform media brand covering all aspects of sports business.
The company was launched by Chief Executive Officer Adam White and President Russell Wilde while they were in college, and the property rapidly flourished over the last several years. While most of the content from the publisher is free, it did begin selling paid subscriptions in 2021 and was able to raise $5 million from Crain Communications last year at an overall valuation of $25 million. According to Axios, which first reported news of negotiations and, ultimately, the closed deal, Front Office Sports will be part of EverWonder Studio – a new, non-fiction content outlet – being led by former Time, Inc. president Ian Orefice.
Orefice was recently involved in a deal between the studio and Meadowlark Media pertaining to a feature documentary about a feature documentary between tennis stars Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. With Zucker’s purchase, the company now has a valuation of $40 million, and it also installs him as co-chairman of the board alongside Jason Stein, an investor within SC Holdings.
“The team at Front Office Sports has built an impressive platform for sports business journalism, and I’m excited to help it grow in the years ahead,” Zucker said in a statement. “Audiences are more interested than ever in the business of sports, and this investment will allow Front Office Sports to create even more compelling news content that draws people in.”
The minority investment encompasses the 20% previously owned by Crain Communications, and also includes additional shares from SC Holdings. Both RedBird IMI and SC Holdings will have equal minority stakes, while the rest are owned by employees.
“The business of sports has become ubiquitous in recent years, permeating across all corners of culture. It now commands mainstream attention and is part of even the most casual fan’s daily content consumption,” White said in a statement. “The foundation of our company was built on a deep understanding and connection to this shift, and has long informed our editorial strategy and product development. As we enter this next stage of expansion, we are incredibly excited to partner with Jeff Zucker, one of the media industry’s greatest minds.”
“Front Office Sports has become a clear leader and important voice in the growing sports media landscape,” Stein added in a statement. “We were an early believer in their approach to covering sports in a way that would influence business leaders and inform fans. This credibility with highly coveted audiences will continue to separate them as they expand the business.”
Front Office Sports has a twice-daily newsletter with more than 800,000 subscribers and reports on news targeted towards both mainstream consumers and industry professionals. In recent news, the outlet was one of the first to report on Taylor Swift being in attendance for the Sunday Night Football matchup between the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. The company currently employs more than 40 reporters to contribute to its content, ensuring that it remains a timely and credible source of information.
Sports Media Reacts to NFL Toy Story Broadcast
Sports media was ablaze with reaction to the unique broadcast.
The NFL held the first London game of the season on Sunday as the Jacksonville Jaguars took on the Atlanta Falcons. In addition to being the first ESPN+ exclusive game of the season, the game also featured a kid-focused, Toy Story-themed simulcast.
Similarly to how the NFL did their SpongeBob SquarePants simulcasts, trackers on all the players allowed for the game to be transformed into the world of the beloved Pixar film series.
ESPN had a similar simulcast earlier this year in its NHL coverage, having a game transformed into the Disney show Big City Greens.
Several across sports media had positive reactions to Sunday’s Toy Story Football.
While the majority of the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, there were some who didn’t care for the simulcast and how it was presented. Barstool’s Kevin Clancy was in that group.
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He’s a multimedia journalist and communicator who works at the Virginia State Corporation Commission in Richmond. Jordan also contributes occasional coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, WRIC-TV 8News and Audacy Richmond. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.