Testimony, plea left networks with no options in Albert's case

Media Watch

September 26, 1997|By Milton Kent

Is there a person in America who could claim to be honestly surprised that NBC would sever its ties to Marv Albert after his guilty plea yesterday in an Arlington, Va., courtroom to assault and battery charges?

How could television executives, who are as concerned with image and public perception as any people in society, have allowed Albert, one of NBC's most visible sports announcers, to go back on the air, particularly after Wednesday's proceedings -- during which a woman testified that Albert had bitten her, lending authenticity to the story of his original accuser, who claimed that Albert had bitten her and forced her to have sex?

That disclosure, as well as further testimony that Albert had dressed in women's clothing, had left the sportscaster a figure of scorn.

A morals clause -- which is standard in all NBC contracts -- gave the network the right to fire Albert, the same as for any employee who commits an act that brings the person "into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or which shocks, insults or offends the community, or which reflects unfavorably upon you or NBC or any sponsor "

NBC also used the contradiction of Albert's vehement denial of the charges in May and his guilty plea yesterday as grounds to cut him loose. Madison Square Garden Network, the New York-based cable channel for where Albert had called Knicks and Rangers games for 30 years, accepted his resignation late ** yesterday afternoon.

What is surprising is the swiftness with which the end came, especially given Albert's long service, his legendary workload and work ethic, his previously spotless record and a reservoir of goodwill that he had apparently built up with the public.

A nationwide New York Post poll taken earlier this summer and an ESPN phone poll conducted over the days leading up to yesterday's decision indicated that the public was equally divided over whether Albert should continue, which, given the lurid nature of the testimony against him, showed that there was some real support out there for Albert.

But that support did not exist among the people who mattered most -- his employers, advertisers and the sports leagues Albert covered, namely the NFL and NBA. Neither had an official comment yesterday, but you can bet NBC officials didn't make the move without talking to Paul Tagliabue or David Stern.

Oddly, Albert thanked NBC and MSG for "standing behind me through all of this." And while MSG president David Checketts at least showed up at Albert's May news conference to show his support, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol remained mum throughout the process.

And yet, Albert had to go. For example, how could he, in good conscience, ever talk about the off-field problems of an athlete, coach or front-office person with all the skeletons in his closet? The answer is, he couldn't, and because of that, he had lost the one thing a sports announcer can't go on the air without: credibility.

NBC is fortunate, in a sense, in that there are a group of qualified and talented announcers who can take up the slack for Albert, who was the network's lead NBA play-by-play announcer and the No. 2 man on the NFL. Greg Gumbel, for instance, could slide into Albert's NBA chair quite easily, and a variety of candidates may get some of Albert's NFL work.

But none of them will have Albert's bone-dry wit, his sense of drama and his signature "Yesss!" His departure was necessary, but his presence will still be missed.

Around the dial

The big event on the sports television calendar this weekend is the Ryder Cup golf matches from the Valderrama course in Sotogrande, Spain, pitting a team of European linksters against their counterparts from the United States, in a combination of competitions.

USA will lead off coverage with a 10-hour telecast starting at 8 a.m. today. NBC (Channel 11) will pick up at noon tomorrow and at 8 a.m. Sunday.

The Ravens' early-season success has attracted some notice on the Sunday pre-game show front. ESPN's "NFL Countdown" (11: 30 a.m.) will examine what's going right for the hometown team in an on-set discussion, and NN's "NFL Preview (11 a.m.) will have a feature on Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Need some baseball drama? ESPN has added tonight's Los Angeles-Colorado game at 9, and ESPN2 will carry the San Francisco-San Diego game at 10: 30 p.m. as the only remaining pennant race is decided.

Finally, ESPN2 will carry a 30-minute special recognizing the seven inductees to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday at 10: 30 p.m. It's a first, and it's about time.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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