And now a few words about ESPN’s Colin Cowherd:
If you follow this feed or have read my work, you know how I feel about Cowherd’s radio program when the host ventures into socioeconomic pronouncements. His misguided and spectacularly irresponsible character assassination of John Wall (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/richard_deitsch/12/27/2010media.awards/index.html#ixzz1l0PfmBhg) bothers me (and should bother all) to this day, as did his let-them-eat-cake dissertation on those from rural Ohio and Indiana (http://www.awfulannouncing.com/2011-articles/june/colin-cowherd-on-unemployment-and-lebron-james.html)
What is troubling for me personally and what has always been tough to reconcile is that there are number of people I trust at ESPN – I mean, really trust –who have long said the same thing:
Cowherd is a good guy.
It confounds me. I’ve only spoken with him twice, two pleasant-enough phone conversations long ago and back when I found him less toxic. I honestly can’t offer any assessment on the person. Professionally, I’ve long said I admire how he allowed Michelle Beadle to find her voice on SportsNation, and it remains the best thing he’s done in my eyes.
I will say this: I do believe that as Cowherd’s fame has grown in Bristol, he’s become more brazen and more irresponsible at times on the air. Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs, with some furious writing, put the hammer down on he and his bosses in this piece (http://deadspin.com/5748972/the-worst-men-in-sports), and the staff of Awful Announcing and Dan Steinberg, a standup Washington Post writer, have also chronicled his nonsense. Like the malodorous Skip Bayless, Cowherd is polarizing and valuable in Bristol circles. He provokes an emotional response, and he can run a national radio show, a pair of assets for a national radio network.
So that’s the background for me as I read Jason McIntrye’s long profile (“The Colin Cowherd You Don’t Know) of the host (http://thebiglead.com/index.php/2012/01/25/the-colin-cowherd-you-dont-know/) that was published last week.
First, the good: The conceit of staring down the person who took down your fledgling web site is an interesting dynamic to explore, and I admired the effort. There’s some nice turns of phrases in the profile, and I believed Cowherd emitted honesty when he examined his childhood and the ambition that fueled him. I give the host credit for answering a question on the Erin Andrews-Beadle relationship, a topic that Bristol wants its talent to stay far away from in public forums. I also liked that The Big Lead is attempting longform work. The site has improved the quality of its writing with some sound hires and for any of us who write for a living, whether short or long, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone.
I do have my issues with the piece. First, I’m not a fan of single source profiles, which this basically was, and the fact that an ESPN PR rep shadowed the writer during the entire interview experience would have been a non-starter for me. (I’ll use this moment to note that of all the sports television networks I deal with, ESPN is the only one that consistency insists on its PR staff sitting in on interviews (phone or otherwise) with talent and executives. You can judge for yourself whether that’s sound handling, paranoia, or both. Sometimes I’ve played ball with them and other times I’ve contacted subjects independent of the Ministry of Magic. I will say that ESPN PR staffers have never interfered during an interview I’ve conducted, and that their conduct when they have sat in has been professional. But a third party, and a PR person at that, shadowing an interviewer shapes the dynamic of a profile, and makes you question things as the reader.)
I don’t know how the editorial process went down here but I wish McIntyre, if he had not, ran a draft by an experienced editor or a trusted profile writer who would have prompted a discussion about what’s not in here, from an attempt to speak with Cowherd’s ex-wife to the reaction of those he’s insulted on the radio to a firm discussion with his bosses. But that’s Monday Morning quarterbacking and you can also do that with any piece I’ve ever written.
In the end, I’m glad the piece was done, as I’m sure ESPN is. It adds to the conversation, as the commentators on The Big Lead site clearly showed in response. Does the piece humanize Cowherd? Depends how you felt about him (and, for many, the writer) before you read it. I had many sports media people email me to say they thought McIntrye delivered a starry-eyed air kiss. Other media colleagues said they liked hearing from Cowherd away from mic and bought his contention that he was troubled by bullying a then-fledgling blogger.
For me, the piece reinforced the host’s ego, ambition and untouchable status in Bristol Land. It also made me think about Cowherd beyond a caricature. We’ll see how that plays out in the future for all.