Last night, Shaquille O’Neal appeared on Conan O’Brien’s late night show and made a statement that has generated a lot of buzz around the sports world.
O’Neal said he felt analysts who haven’t played professional sports at a high level or accumulated top-notch statistics and accolades should refrain from making statements in the media.
He seemingly doesn’t respect their opinions.
He directed his remark specifically to ESPN’s Skip Bayless, the often outspoken correspondent on the network’s First Take morning program.
On one level, I have to agree with O’Neal.
Analysts often criticize and lay into pro athletes too harshly for their performances on the field or on the court.
Athletes are scrutinized daily on dozens of radio and television programs by broadcasters, some of whom weren’t ever good enough to become a pro athlete, and some who played less than extraordinarily on the professional level.
Many broadcasters seem to have free reign to knock players and coaches without consequence. Being a “Monday morning quarterback” is almost a requirement to becoming a broadcaster these days.
—This coach made the wrong call, that player made a dumb play.—
Players hear these critiques and build up a dislike for broadcasters who couldn’t come close to the skill level that half of pro athletes achieve.
Skip Bayless is proud of his outspoken nature. He doesn’t go a day without insulting and bashing a handful of players.
Bayless does give credit often to players when they succeed and/or prove him wrong.
But no one really tunes in to hear Bayless massage a player’s ego.
Bayless wrote on his Twitter:
“At least I started for a high school basketball team that lost in state finals. Made all-region in baseball. Have SOME feel for what it takes.”
High school? Really?
That’s the equivalent of a bully calling you ugly, and you responding with, “I’m not that ugly.”
Bayless also responded to O’Neal’s statement on Wednesday’s broadcast of First Take by pointing out O’Neal’s lack of education in broadcasting.
This leads to another argument. ESPN is overflowing with former athletes who have become “analysts” as a second career following their days on the court or the field.
The problem here is, most of these former athletes have meager or no formal journalism or broadcast training. Some of them struggle with the English language as it is.
Yes, they do have extensive knowledge of their respective sports. Their experience is invaluable if used correctly.
But the quality of production in many of ESPN’s segments has gone way down in recent years, bordering more along the comedy line than professional sports journalism.
The reason a broadcaster is a broadcaster is because they chose that career over becoming a professional athlete.
They have put in the man-hours to make that happen. And the same is true the other way around.
As more and more athletes realize their options are severely limited after retiring, they have gravitated to news outlets, looking for a Sunday afternoon gig behind a desk.
Some turn out well. Troy Aikman is an outstanding analyst. Tiki Barber—well, he’s trying to find a job as a backup in the NFL.
The argument isn’t whether Shaquille O’Neal or Skip Bayless is right. It’s whether news outlets have taken the correct steps to ensure that the athletes they hire as analysts are qualified.
Qualified doesn’t mean five or twenty years in a professional league. It means adequate training in journalistic techniques, media ethics and reporting.
That goes for O’Neal as well.
He should realize that 18 years in the NBA and a great sense of humor might make him a good entertainer, but it won’t make him a good analyst.
Just like being 7’1” and 300 pounds didn’t make him a good police officer.