By Tim Richardson
In today’s 24-hour news cycle and vast social media universe, athletes, entertainers and anyone with a public persona operates in a fishbowl. Living in the public eye is not easy and you must be conscience of how your words or actions can be construed, or misconstrued, by those watching/listening/reading you.
The world of sports reporting is not exempt from this notion as fans tend to hang on every word from writers, broadcasters, etc. This scrutiny is even greater for former players who trade in their cleats for a microphone or recorder. Forget the seven-second delay or dump button, the filter between their brain and mouth needs to work harder than the Energizer Bunny to avoid the backlash that can be sparked by their words.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit is the latest example of how fans can go too far with their criticism. Love him or hate him, Herbstreit is one of the best in the business today. That said, he’s also not shy about his love for his alma mater, Ohio State University, where he played football from 1989 to 1993 and was the starting quarterback as a senior. He’s been caught on camera on the sidelines celebrating when the Buckeye’s make an interception or cheering after a great play by the team, and some say his actions make him a “homer” for Ohio State.
But it’s his efforts to be objective when discussing his former school that have caused Herbstreit to make a life-changing move... literally. Earlier this week, after walking the tight-rope for more than a dozen years between national sports broadcaster and hometown kid, Herbstreit had enough and moved his family from Ohio to Tennessee.
The relentless criticism he received from what he referred to as “the vocal minority” of Ohio State fans finally got to the proud Buckeye as he was tired of defending himself to those fanatics (see, remember when I said FAN was short for FANatic) who couldn’t grasp that his job at the largest sports network in the world requires him to be objective and fair... or he will be an ex-college football analyst.
In an article in The Columbus Dispatch, Herbstreit, said “Nobody loves Ohio State more than me. I still have a picture of Woody Hayes and my dad (Jim, a former OSU player) in my office, and nobody will do more than I do for the university behind the scenes. But I've got a job to do, and I'm going to continue to be fair and objective. To continue to have to defend myself and my family in regards to my love and devotion to Ohio State is unfair."
Those in sports know that cheering is forbidden in the press box. Here’s the thing, those pictures of Herbstreit were of him as a fan or a father with his kids, not on the set of ESPN’s College GameDay in his professional role. Herbstreit shouldn’t be criticized for rooting for his alma mater on his “own time,” and he certainly does not warrant being run out of his boyhood home because a small group of fanatics are clueless to how the job is done.
Frankly, people need to get a grip on reality verses a game... which is all college football is when you strip away all of the pomp and circumstance. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE college football and my Saturdays in the fall surround Notre Dame games. But being a fan doesn’t give you the right to be a “fanatic” whose actions cause a man to uproot his family, leave the town he loves and alter the lives of his children when all he was trying to do was his job.
Ironically, Herbstreit announced his move via Twitter... but the criticism found him there too.
Tim Richardson is Executive Vice President at Maroon PR. Contact him at Tim@MaroonPR.com