ESPN's Cossack prefers content, not conjecture

ON MEDIA

April 21, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

If you happen to see Roger Cossack at an Orioles game, you could ask him - between innings might be best - whether the prosecution is likely to convict anyone in the Duke lacrosse team rape case.

He really couldn't tell you.

The ESPN legal analyst - who lives in Georgetown and does attend the occasional Orioles game - isn't one to jump to a lot of conclusions.

"I think you see a lot of pouting divas who take the prosecution's position," Cossack said Wednesday. "I've been asked if the prosecution has a good case in the Duke case. I don't know."

(Cossack didn't mention any diva by name, but anyone who has ever seen CNN's Nancy Grace knows at least one of the folks he's referring to.)

Cossack is a rare television talking head who doesn't go off half-cocked, taking positions backed mostly by his own bluster.

"What I have to do is help people understand why it is the way it is," he said, "and let them make up their mind."

Cossack made his first appearance on ESPN in summer 2003, in the wake of the sausage race incident at a Milwaukee Brewers game, during which the Pittsburgh Pirates' Randall Simon hit the Italian sausage character with a bat.

"We treated it as a joke, and I thought that was the beginning, middle and end," Cossack said.

But shortly thereafter, Kobe Bryant was arrested on charges of sexual assault in Colorado.

Cossack said: "They [ESPN] came back and said, `We're going to need a legal analyst, and it's you.'"

Cossack, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer, spent seven years on CNN, where he was co-host of Burden of Proof with Greta Van Susteren. "It's my third reinvention," he said.

When he was on CNN, Cossack said, he felt he was reaching mostly female viewers. But with ESPN, the demographic has changed.

"I walk down the street and get high-fives from 14-year-old boys," he said.

Cossack hasn't practiced law since joining CNN in 1994. He said his time away from TV is spent giving speeches, writing, teaching (he'll be giving a class in communications law at Pepperdine University's law school next year) and playing golf.

But he sounds like a guy who enjoys being an expert witness.

"ESPN doesn't ask me to make a fool of myself," Cossack said. "I consider myself to have the best job on television."

Circle the date

With the start of the NBA playoffs this weekend, ESPN is drawing its "Full Circle" around tomorrow's Miami Heat-Chicago Bulls game at 8 p.m. That means "providing content across many ESPN platforms," according to the network. Translation: The game is available all over the place.

The traditional telecast airs on ESPN. On ESPN2, the game can be seen from an "Above the Rim" viewpoint. The ESPN coverage will be streamed to ESPN360 broadband customers. ESPN.com will have live chats with network commentators during the game. ESPN Deportes and ESPN International will carry the game in other languages. ESPNews and ESPN Radio will do their regular updates.

And that's not to mention the high-definition TV versions. Which we don't mention because - here's an update - the Frager household still doesn't have HDTV. ...

The Washington Wizards' playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers will be televised by both ABC (WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7) and Comcast SportsNet. ABC has tomorrow's Game 1 at 3 p.m., and Comcast SportsNet carries games 2 through 4.

Pioneer woman

HBO profiles Billie Jean King in Portrait of a Pioneer, which debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. The program includes the story of how King won a stare-down with ABC Sports boss Roone Arledge over the planned use of Jack Kramer as an announcer for King's "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match with Bobby Riggs in 1973. Because she felt Kramer was anti-women's tennis, King said she would pull out of the event if Kramer joined Howard Cosell in calling the match. "This is one time ... I had some leverage. ... It was kind of exhilarating and like empowering," King said in the program.

ray.frager@baltsun.com

Read Ray Frager's blog at baltimoresun.com/mediumwell

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