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Report: NFL players say Rob Gronkowski is held to double-standard 04.06.17 at 12:22 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski guzzled down Bud Lights at the Patriots' parade this year. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rob Gronkowski guzzled down Bud Lights at the Patriots’ parade this year. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

While Rob Gronkowski enjoys another shenanigans-filled offseason, some NFL players are reportedly wondering why he doesn’t face more heat.

Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman writes four anonymous players told him recently they think Gronkowski benefits from a double-standard. Each one of them reportedly brought up Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, saying they think he would face public backlash if he acted similarly to Gronkowski. Two years ago, a mother chastised Newton for his flamboyant on-field celebrations in a letter to the Charlotte Observer.

Earlier this year, a columnist in the Orlando Sentinel questioned whether Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was unjustly criticized for pulling down a woman’s bra at Dallas’ St. Patrick’s Day parade, citing Gronkoski’s ability to get away with promiscuous acts. The NFL is currently investigating Elliott for domestic violence, which may explain why his behavior is scrutinized more heavily.

Gronkowski’s recent appearances at WWE’s WrestleMania and Red Sox Opening Day have appeared to reignite this debate. He faced some criticism for throwing a shoulder block at the wrestling event, because he’s just four months removed from back surgery. The Patriots reportedly approved Gronkowski’s cameo beforehand.

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Washington Post publishes nauseating Jim Nantz profile 04.05.17 at 3:50 pm ET
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Jim Nantz called Monday's championship game between UNC and Gonzaga.  (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Jim Nantz called Monday’s championship game between UNC and Gonzaga. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Jim Nantz is a fine broadcaster who’s called lots of major sporting events. But according to the Washington Post, he’s a Christlike figure who walks on water –– or rather, an empty golf course at the Augusta National Golf Club on the Wednesday before the Masters. Nantz does this every year, because he’s a man of tradition. In an increasingly decadent world, this sports announcer is perhaps our last remaining bedrock of morality.

That’s the way WaPo writer Rick Maese portrays Nantz in a recent feature story, save for multiple references to the play-by-play man’s close friendship with former President George H.W. Bush. Nantz proposed to his second wife at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, if you didn’t know. The couple married at Pebble Beach, exchanging their vows at the seventh hole. No word on whether Nantz was satisfied with the resort’s catering: he’s such a finicky eater, he carries around a picture of burnt toast in his wallet so waiters can get his breakfast order right.

Throughout the piece, Maese props up Nantz as the only good guy left in professional sports:

“In the middle of a week that is the envy of every sportscaster and most sports fans — Final Four, followed immediately by the Masters — Nantz remains a relic of sorts as broadcasting has turned into a showcase of provocateurs who are rewarded for being loud, edgy and contrarian,” Maese writes. “Even as the world around him — in sports, in media, in politics, in general — is becoming increasingly cynical, one of its signature voices and storytellers is a hopeless romantic. He is a man coated in permanent varnish.

“A generation of sports fandom has been soiled by cheats, by Lance and by Bonds, by the billions of dollars fueling both amateur and professional sports, by the distance that’s grown between the kid in the stands and the one on the playing field. Nantz’s work doesn’t always hint at this, but he’s not naïve to it.” 

Nantz, 57, appears more than happy to play along:

“The sentimentality that people see and hear in my commentary and sometimes ridicule, parody or just don’t like — that’s okay,” he says. “We’re all wired differently. I think about that a lot. I can’t explain it. That’s just what runs through my blood. It’s just the way I look at the world. It’s not any kind of attempt to create synthetic drama. It’s just what’s really in my heart.”

At one point in the story, Nantz says he views the world through a “very positive prism.” But it only takes one Google search to show that isn’t the case. Last year, Nantz was caught on a hot mic deriding NFL players who protest during the national anthem.

“They’re gonna keep kneeling as long as they have cameras right in their face,” he said.

Wow, that sounds awfully cynical. Suggesting players were just protesting for attention, and not to raise attention for social injustice, doesn’t sound like a very positive way to look at the world.

Maese even puts a flowery spin on Nantz’s divorce in 2009. Citing a story from the Connecticut Post, he recites how Nantz and his ex-wife stood together after the proceedings, sobbing with their arms wrapped around each other. There’s no mention of Nantz’s younger lover, whom he met while his wife was still attending marriage counseling.

That’s not meant to describe Nantz as some promiscuous miscreant. In the trial, he testified his wife stopped taking an interest in him 10 years before their breakup. It shows every person, no matter how smoothly they call a putt on the 18th green at the Masters, has shades of gray.

The WaPo doesn’t present Nantz in a complete fashion. As a result, the piece does him a grave disservice. Its righteous tone does nothing but invite the searing cynicism that he supposedly stands against.

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New ESPN guidelines appear to give talent more freedom to express political views 04.05.17 at 1:01 pm ET
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Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, who host "SC: 6," often talk about social issues in relation to sports. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, who host “SC: 6,” often talk about social issues in relation to sports. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

ESPN isn’t acquiescing to critics who think the network has become too political. In fact, the WorldWide Leader appears to be giving its on-air talent more freedom to express views on current events.

Public editor Jim Brady published new political guidelines Tuesday from the Disney-owned company. Previously, ESPN has only released these kinds of edicts before a presidential election. But due to today’s politically charged climate, the network is changing its approach.

“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines,” said Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content.

The policies make it clear that news reporters are barred from opining on political topics in any “public-facing forum,” such as Twitter and other social media networks.

“Writers, reporters, producers and editors directly involved in ‘hard’ news reporting, investigative or enterprise assignments and related coverage should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders,” the memo reads.

Commentators are granted more leeway to talk about polarizing social issues. During the election last year, ESPN’s guidelines said all employees should “refrain from political editorializing, personal attacks or ‘drive-by’ comments regarding the candidates and their campaigns.” But now, the instructions seem less stringent.

“Outside of ‘hard’ news reporting, commentary related to political or social issues, candidates or office holders is appropriate on ESPN platforms consistent with these guidelines,” the policy says. “The topic should be related to a current issue impacting sports. This condition may vary for content appearing on platforms with broader editorial missions — such as The Undefeated, FiveThirtyEight and espnW. Other exceptions must be approved in advance by senior editorial management.”

ESPN’s request to use sports as an entryway into discussing political issues is nothing new. Earlier this year, ESPN Radio host Dan Le Batard ripped the network for a memo that instructed on-air talent to only talk about President Donald Trump’s now-overturned travel ban in a sports context.

Given the newfound propensity of sports figures to speak out about current events, especially NBA players and coaches, ESPN commentators will likely be able to find some wiggle room if they want to address a contentious social issue. In recent months, several pundits, including Bomani Jones, Israel Gutierrez and Le Batard, have strongly implied they think Boston is a racist city.

Interestingly enough, ESPN recently reassigned one of its most politically outspoken anchors. Sage Steele, who came under fire in January for saying those protesting Trump’s travel ban were “disruptive,” is being removed from “NBA Countdown” to focus on other assignments, such as “SportsCenter on the Road.” Steele also sparked controversy in November, when she criticized Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans for kneeling during the national anthem.

Michelle Beadle, who’s replacing Steele as the full-time “Countdown” host, is no stranger to political commentary herself. During President’s Trump’s joint congressional address, she tweeted she was drinking after “each of his nasally inhales.”

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Tom Brady is reportedly demanding to live on the 12th floor of an apartment building in New York City 04.05.17 at 10:51 am ET
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Tom Brady reportedly has specific demands about where he wants to live.  (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady reportedly has specific demands about where he wants to live. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady doesn’t wish to live in a building’s penthouse. Instead, he wants to be on a floor number that’s familiar to him.

The New York Post reports Brady and Gisele Bündchen recently toured their new $20 million luxury apartment in Manhattan. Though the couple’s unit is on the 11th-floor of the building, a source tells the Post Brady wants to be on floor 12 instead. It makes sense, considering all of the success Brady has enjoyed with No. 12 in his life.

Brady and Bündchen currently own a lofty apartment in the Flatiron District, but are expected to move once their new unit is complete in 2018. The 12th-floor residence they’re coveting features five bedrooms, 5½-baths and a 1,900-square foot terrace. It’s listed at a cool $32 million.

In addition to their New York City residence, the power couple also owns a 14,000-square foot estate in Chestnut Hill.

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Tony Romo will fail as an analyst if he considers NFL return 04.04.17 at 1:54 pm ET
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Tony Romo could return to the NFL after arriving at CBS. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)

Tony Romo could return to the NFL after arriving at CBS. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports)

If Tony Romo is serious about broadcasting, he must be serious about retiring. Good analysts are honest and critical. It will be impossible for Romo to be candid if he intends to continue his playing career.

Hours after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday Romo was pursuing a career in sports television, the Sports Business Journal published a bombshell: the ex-Cowboys QB is expected to replace Phil Simms on CBS, taking over the network’s No. 1 analyst chair alongside play-by-play man Jim Nantz. That means Romo will call some of the most high-profile games on the NFL calendar, and will be responsible for critiquing players and coaches in front of tens of millions of people.

Few NFL reporters appear convinced that Romo, 36, is done playing. Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman says almost everyone he’s spoken with around the league thinks the four-time Pro Bowler will return to the field. Schefter also tweeted out a text message from an NFL executive, who says Romo is now every team’s “emergency backup quarterback.”

There’s also the possibility of a wink-wink agreement with the Cowboys. According to NFL Network’s Jane Slater, Romo would consider coming back if his former team ever needed him. CBS carries the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game this year, meaning Romo could be put in a compromising position during one of the most-watched telecasts of the season. It would probably be difficult for him to second-guess head coach Jason Garrett if he thinks he could play for him again one day –– perhaps in the event of a Dak Prescott injury.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reports Romo’s contract with CBS may allow him to return to football during the season. If that’s the case, Romo could be flirting with teams while he’s calling their games. That potential conflict of interest would affect him in all facets of the job. In addition to neutering him on the air, head coaches may be unwilling to divulge any information to him, out of fear he’ll be playing for the competition in a couple of months.

As Alex Rodriguez has demonstrated on Fox over the last two years, it can be refreshing when recently retired players step into analyst roles. They possess an intimate knowledge of the current game and most of the players in it. But A-Rod is committed to broadcasting. He habitually sends his producers lengthy late-night emails about segments and other areas of the show. Romo may not dedicate himself to the job if he views it as a temporary endeavor.

In 2014, the last time Romo played a full NFL season, he led the league in completion percentage, yards per attempt and was named to the Pro Bowl. Though injuries have derailed his last two seasons –– broken collarbone in 2015, back fracture in 2016 –– it’s probably hard for him to walk away as a competitor. Despite posting monstrous passing numbers for nearly 10 years, Romo never made it to a conference championship game. There’s still a lot for him to accomplish on the field.

On the surface, Romo possesses all of the traits to be a successful analyst. He’s telegenic, well-spoken and embraces his celebrity. But all of that potential can be squandered with one call from a general manager with a QB opening. Right now, it seems like Romo would be tempted to pick up the phone. That’s a bad sign.

 

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Report: Tony Romo expected to replace Phil Simms on CBS next season 04.04.17 at 11:19 am ET
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Tony Romo is expected to replace Phil Simms on CBS next season. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

Tony Romo is expected to replace Phil Simms on CBS next season. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

It appears as if Tony Romo has already found a broadcasting home.

Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand reports Romo will be an NFL analyst at CBS next season, where he’s expected to be replace Phil Simms on the network’s No. 1 team. The television novice would be paired with play-by-play veteran Jim Nantz.

According to Ourand, Fox Sports coveted Romo to replace John Lynch, who left the booth this offseason to take over as 49ers general manager. But considering Fox’s No. 1 analyst, Troy Aikman, is only 50 years old, Romo would be likely be blocked at the network for the foreseeable future.

A source told SBJ Romo doesn’t want to call “Thursday Night Football” games, because of his lack of experience in broadcasting. But that could be problematic for the NFL. The league initially balked last year when NBC wanted Mike Tirico to replace Al Michaels on Thursday night telecasts. (Tirico wound up spelling Michaels in the booth for four games.)

ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report Tuesday that Romo was retiring to pursue a career in TV.

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ESPN appeared to cut Dan Le Batard’s mic when he made a joke about Rob Gronkowski and ’69’ 04.04.17 at 9:52 am ET
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When ESPN’s Dan Le Batard made a joke on his radio show Monday about Rob Gronkowski’s obsession with the number “69,” listeners were met with dead air.

According to Le Batard’s staff, producers monitoring the Miami-based program in Bristol made the decision to dump the quip. This propelled Le Batard to rant against ESPN management.

“Really? Gronk’s making those kind of jokes all the time! I got dumped in Bristol for that?,” Le Batard asked. “Wait a minute! Does Gronk have more journalistic freedom than I do? It’s okay for Gronk to reference the number between 68 and 70, but not me?”

Le Batard’s brief diatribe was a rare “breaking down the fourth wall” moment on ESPN programming. Even though ESPN is a Disney-owned company, it’s surprising that mild innuendo apparently isn’t allowed on the network’s airwaves.

But in defense of management, few jokes are lamer than quips about Gronkowski and “69.” Maybe Le Batard’s bosses were doing him a favor when they scrubbed his line from the record.

(Video is from The Big Lead)

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CSN’s Kayce Smith wants to show opinionated women belong in sports TV –– and that outsiders can succeed in Boston 04.03.17 at 4:35 pm ET
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Comcast SportsNet's Kayce Smith used to work for ESPN and the SEC Network before coming to Boston. (Photo provided by CSN)

Comcast SportsNet’s Kayce Smith used to work for ESPN and the SEC Network before coming to Boston. (Photo provided by CSN)

When Max Kellerman starts blathering on about Tom Brady’s non-existent decline on ESPN’s “First Take,” host Molly Qerim sits beside him silently. A similar scene unfolds on FS1’s “Undisputed” whenever Skip Bayless starts calling three-time NBA champion LeBron James a “choke artist.” Moderator Joy Taylor, seated to Bayless’ left, keeps her mouth shut while he bloviates.

While there’s no shortage of women in sports television, many of them serve as neutral arbitrators. They’re trusted to host shows and serve up topics for their male counterparts to spar over, but then must get out of the way. Comcast SportsNet New England’s Kayce Smith wants to change that.

Smith is a host on CSN’s “Boston Sports Tonight,” a nightly debate program that debuts Monday. The show, which will air from 9:00-12:00 a.m., is also shepherded by CSN’s Tom E. Curran, Tom Giles and WEEI’s Michael Holley.

At first glance, Smith’s resume doesn’t reflect somebody who’s been preparing for a career in sports punditry. After graduating from Texas A&M in 2012, she worked as a sideline reporter for the Hawks before moving to ESPN and the SEC Network. There, she manned the sidelines for the network’s college football and basketball coverage.

But Smith, who hosted her own talk show on SB Nation Radio last year, says she’s always been drawn to the opinion side of the business. She just wasn’t always encouraged to pursue it.

“Not only did [my professors] think I shouldn’t do sports, they thought I should focus more on print,” she says. “I had to fight that a lot. By no means were they putting down my dream of wanting to be on television, but they said, ‘You know, it’s really difficult for somebody who wants to have an opinion and commentary and do the editorial stuff on television when you’re a female and you’re really young, so maybe you should focus more on this and see what happens.'”

Once Smith started her radio show, her agent began sending out tapes to stations across the country. In preparation of shifting the focus of its programming more towards debate, CSN contacted her in August, and hired her at the end of the year. Smith says she thinks her role with the network fills a void in the sports media landscape.

“If you name the commentary and opinion guys who are really hard-hitting, you could name 10 or 15 men before you can get to women,” she says. “There are some like Michelle Beadle and Katie Nolan who are doing more of the entertainment side of things, but there is a need for women in the really hard-hitting opinion debate. There’s a lot of women out there who have them, they just need a platform.”

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ESPN’s Mike Greenberg says he regrets how possible ‘Mike & Mike’ breakup has been handled 04.03.17 at 1:23 pm ET
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Mike Greenberg is now one of the highest-paid personalities at ESPN. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Mike Greenberg is now one of the highest-paid personalities at ESPN. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

It’s no secret big changes are coming to ESPN’s weekday lineup. One of the casualties will likely be the breakup of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, who have hosted “Mike & Mike,” the flagship program on ESPN Radio for the last 18 years.

Greenberg, who reportedly signed a new contract that pays him more than $6.5 million annually, is expected to host his own morning variety show on ESPN. In an appearance last week on Sports Illustrated’s media podcast with Richard Deitsch, James Andrew Miller, who authored “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” said he thinks Greenberg’s new program will air from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

During a recent conversation with The Sporting News, Greenberg, 49, acknowledged his impending breakup with Golic. He said he wishes the news wasn’t public.

“My one regret in all this is if we do break up, and that’s certainly a very real possibility, I’m not denying that all, I would have really liked the first place our audience heard about that is to have been from us. On our show. Because it’s been a really special thing,” he said.

On Deitsch’s podcast, Miller speculated Golic could be paired with ESPN veteran Trey Wingo. He said he doesn’t think the two, unlike Greenberg and Golic, would receive a simulcast on ESPN2

Disney, ESPN’s parent company, has reportedly ordered the network to trim payroll by tens of millions of dollars. An estimated 40-50 employees, many of whom appear on the air, are expected to be laid off.

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Nothing wrong with Rob Gronkowski’s WrestleMania cameo 04.02.17 at 8:25 pm ET
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Four months after undergoing back surgery, Rob Gronkowski ran roughly 20 feet and delivered a shoulder block. When phrased like that, his appearance at WWE’s WrestleMania Sunday doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Gronkowski, who was seated ringside for the event at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, interfered during a match on behalf of his real-life friend, WWE wrestler Mojo Rawley.

Given Gronkowski’s injury history –– nine surgeries and three back operations since 2009 –– it’s tempting to chastise him for stepping into the squared circle. His rehab from a forearm injury was stalled in 2013 after he body-slammed a friend on the stage of a Las Vegas nightclub. Gronkowski didn’t return until Week 7, and then missed the postseason with a torn ACL.

But these two situations are different. The night club incident took place in February, less than one month after he reinjured his forearm during a Divisional Round bout with the Texans. This time around, Gronkowski underwent back surgery in early December, meaning he’s had several months to recover.

Most importantly, though, Gronkowski didn’t appear to exert all that much energy Sunday. He ran across the ring, threw out his shoulder and then performed a couple of stomps. Running two miles would likely be more physically strenuous.

Of course, there’s a chance Gronkowski could’ve gotten hurt. But according to that logic, players shouldn’t be allowed to partake in any non-football related athletic activities over the offseason. The line between what’s acceptable and unacceptable appears to be arbitrary. For example, it’s unlikely anybody would be in a tizzy if Gronkowski was spotted playing pickup basketball, even though former Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone suffered a season-ending knee injury on the hardwood 14 years ago.

The video of Tom Brady wiping out on a ski jump earlier this year is far more alarming than Gronkowski’s WrestleMania cameo. If anything, it’s encouraging to see him move so well.

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