Gray interview backlash stirs reporter concerns

Media Watch

October 29, 1999|By Milton Kent

It certainly hasn't been a good week to be a sideline reporter.

Between Jim Gray's little tete-a-tete Sunday night with Pete Rose and Chad Curtis' snub of Gray two nights later after World Series Game 3, one could wonder if the job of sideline reporter, thought to be among the cushiest in the business, will be worth the time and trouble.

But some industry officials say this week's events are but a blip on the control room screen, and expect business to go on as usual, with reporters interviewing athletes and coaches and asking occasionally tough questions.

"We've been through situations where a reporter asks a tough question and there's some friction," said Mike Pearl, executive producer of Turner Sports, which employs sideline reporters on all its NBA telecasts. "You go through a short period of conversation, but I don't think there will be any long-term fallout from this. Once this settles down and the World Series is over, things will get smoothed out."

But that's not to say that some on the front lines aren't seriously thinking about the effect of the backlash that washed over Gray, in the wake of his tough, but in this view, necessary, questioning of Rose before Game 2.

"Anyone who's a reporter has put himself or herself in that same position and wondered what's next," said CBS' Michele Tafoya, who patrols the sidelines for the network's main college football game each week. "Anytime you get a reaction like this, no matter what your opinion on what happened, it will make any reporter sit and think twice about what you're doing."

Tafoya, who has also done sideline reporting on NFL games, said, without being critical of Gray, that every reporter has to consider where they are, to whom they're talking and who's watching, when conducting interviews on the sidelines.

"It's a question of venue," said Tafoya. "If you're told you have 90 seconds, you have to gauge what you're going to go after and what you can reasonably get. If you have half an hour, then you go for it. Part of the job is knowing situation and circumstance. It's a challenge, but that's part of the job."

More Gray matter

It would have been nice to have seen more of Gray's colleagues, print and broadcast, stand behind him. Their compulsion to cut and run on him does not speak well for a profession in which singular behavior is more the norm than the exception.

Next, here's hoping Curtis' career lasts long enough for some reporter to show him up the next time he accomplishes something significant or wants to send a shout out to his grandma.

Finally, ESPN certainly covered itself in ignominy by running a poll over whether Curtis and the Yankees should have boycotted Gray. We'll certainly remember that the next time an employee of the worldwide leader runs afoul of the law, like, for instance, urinating out of a night-club window.

Tipping off

A new, non-locked-out NBA season commences Tuesday night and Turner begins its coverage with a new face, former Georgetown coach John Thompson, who teams with Kevin Harlan on TBS telecasts on Wednesdays and Mondays.

Thompson, who left the college ranks last winter, says no one need worry that he'll be shy about dropping the hammer on players and coaches.

"I've been around a lot of players and I've been pretty critical of them," said Thompson. "I think every athlete understands that if he doesn't pass the ball and he should have, somebody is going to say something about it. I'll approach it as what I see. It may not be what's right, but it will be what I see."

The Turner slate begins Tuesday on TNT with a one-hour season preview at 7 p.m., followed by an opening night doubleheader, with Dick Stockton and Hubie Brown calling the Philadelphia-San Antonio game, followed by Marv Albert and his former NBC partner, Mike Fratello, in Utah for the Jazz-Lakers contest.

Around the dial

ESPN remembers the life and times of Payne Stewart tomorrow at 3 p.m. with a special featuring highlights from his career and clips from a memorial service in Orlando, Fla. ABC (Channel 2) will cover the Tour Championship from Houston tomorrow at 1 p.m. with ESPN2 airing the conclusion of tomorrow's play at 10 p.m. Final-round coverage airs Sunday at 3 p.m.

HBO unveils a largely terrific documentary on the life of Howard Cosell, probably the most famous sportscaster of all time, on the night he made famous, Monday, at 8 p.m. The special does not sugarcoat the reputation for mean-spiritedness that Cosell gained in his later years, but the presence of his daughters, Hilary and Jill, helps to round out the polarizing figure.

ESPN's Sunday night football game, between Tampa Bay and Detroit, will mark the debut of a new telestrator. Dubbed "SuperStrator," and made by the same firm that originated the first-down line, the new system will allow analyst Joe Theismann to designate players and draw route diagrams that appear to mark a path on the field. The new one is more sophisticated than the current systems, whose chalk lines tend to obscure the players.

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