Suit represents word to wise on sports talk: Be responsible

Media Watch

March 20, 1997|By Milton Kent

Sports talk show hosts with brains (and that could narrow the field considerably) are casting an interested eye on a matter in Philadelphia that has potentially serious ramifications for anyone behind a microphone.

The Flyers have filed a libel suit against WIP-AM, the team's radio carrier and an all-sports station, to boot, for broadcasting a story that star center Eric Lindros missed a recent game because he was hung over. Lindros and the team vigorously deny the story, and say the station acted irresponsibly in airing it.

It's not the first time the station and the team have crossed swords over allegedly erroneous reports. Last year, WIP broadcast a story that Lindros had Mafia ties, an allegation that the player vociferously denied.

As a result, the Flyers, and the 76ers, both owned by Comcast, are seeking to get out of their contracts with WIP, but the long-term effects for the station could be far more devastating than losing some programming.

The fact is that many of these all-sports stations, particularly in the bigger cities like New York and Chicago, wildly report all manner of rumor and, in some case, innuendo, with little substantiation. Some of the reports pan out, but just as many don't, and the stations figure that the listeners won't remember the stuff that doesn't happen.

As Steve Lopez, a former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, suggests in the new Sports Illustrated, Lindros and the Flyers may be doing to the sports-talk business what Carol Burnett's successful libel suit against the National Enquirer did to the tabloids, which is open the door to other suits from other aggrieved athletes. These suits may not only cost these stations credibility, which many don't understand, but money, a language every station manager speaks.

No reasonable person wants to see legitimate reporting or commentary squelched, but the stations and their hosts have the obligation to act responsibly, as well. Let's hope the hosts at WIP and every other host gets that message.

Tournament leftovers

Tonight's CBS NCAA tournament doubleheader (Channel 13, 7: 30 p.m.) opens with coverage of the Clemson-Minnesota game, followed by the St. Joseph's-Kentucky clash.

By the way, a special shout-out to Channel 45 and Steve Davis for being the only local station to send a crew to Pittsburgh on Sunday for local reaction at the Coppin State-Texas game. That's good hustle.

What wasn't so good was that it took Greg Sher nearly 25 minutes to address Coppin's win over South Carolina on his Friday night WBAL (1090 AM) talk show. The Eagles pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, but Sher, who had a Maryland postmortem in the works, addressed Coppin only after a caller chided him.

Of course, as a reader suggested, it would have been nice if the Eagles' tournament appearances had been available on radio in town. Coppin, perhaps the most successful Baltimore-area program in recent years, was without a radio deal all season. Let's hope their tournament success prods some station and a few advertisers to get on the stick for next season.

The Hall call

ABC's Chris Schenkel, the voice of the network's Professional Bowlers Tour coverage since it went on the air in 1962, was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York on Tuesday.

The honor is certainly well-earned, as Schenkel, a four-time national Sportscaster of the Year and a 1992 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Radio-Television Award, has done about everything that can be done in the business.

He has called more than 600 professional and college football games, and was the lead voice of ABC's college coverage for 12 years. Schenkel was also the voice of the NBA on ABC and has done Triple Crown races and Summer and Winter Olympic assignments.

Pain's the same

You've heard the story of the big guy who tore a quadriceps tendon stumbling over a step in Florida in mid-March, correct?

Well, if you're thinking President Clinton, you're only half right. About a year earlier, ESPN's Chris Berman did the same thing to his left quadriceps, while in Key West, and he has sent along some advice to the president, who tore his right quad last weekend.

"I feel his pain. Beware the Ides of March in Florida," said Berman, who is still wearing a brace.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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