ENGLAND, Calif. – Sebastian Joseph Day, a former defensive liner for the Los Angeles Rams, frowned when he admitted his mistake.
Minutes earlier, before Joseph Day’s practice as an analyst during an NFL training camp last week, the instructor reminded him to stay biased and not say “we” or “us” as he described the action in the recorded Rams game.
But remaining neutral may have been difficult for Joseph Day, who spent three seasons with the team. In the middle of training, “we” slipped, but Joseph Day, now a charger from Los Angeles, recovered and finished the exercise clean.
The NFL set up the workshop 15 years ago, in part because players have repeatedly asked for opportunities to develop as broadcasters, communicate and make mistakes in a controlled environment.
This year’s camp, headquartered at the league’s West Coast headquarters, took place at a ripe time in the media landscape, shortly after several commentators from NFL’s major broadcast partners changed jobs, most of them signing multimillion-dollar contracts. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck left Fox after two decades for ESPN, and Al Michaels left NBC 15 years later to call a game Thursday night on Amazon. It is reported that everyone will earn eight figures each year.
High salaries are the product of the NFL’s growing popularity: league games accounted for 48 of the 50 most popular broadcasts of the 2021 regular season, and the February Super Cup recorded the game’s best ratings in five years. Players are noticing this trend and its benefits, said Larry Fitzgerald, a former Arizona Cardinals receiver who attended the program.
“Fans are watching NFL games as fast as ever, and I think that’s been noticed by the organizations that pay the most money for the best talent,” he said.
Richard Sherman, a freelance advocate and camp visitor, added: “It definitely motivates a lot of guys, and it’s one of those places that I think will start to be crowded.”
But none of the network’s major duos include blacks, and only one black speaker, Greg Gumbel for CBS in 2001 and 2004, convened the Super Cup on television. Mike Tirik, who will replace Michaels in NBC, calls it a mixed race.
The lack of diversity among the talents working in the NFL in prime time is not ideal, said JA Adande, director of sports journalism at Northwestern University.
“It’s big money, and it makes you wonder who gets it and what broadcasters have those opportunities and ways,” Adande said.
Tracy Pearlman, the NFL’s senior vice president of football operations, said she was optimistic that the camp could expand the pipeline. Media companies have long been recruiting former players as analysts because of their knowledge of the game and their reputation, but the list of former professionals who have failed to successfully switch to broadcasting is long and star-studded.
Halls of fame, including defender Joe Montana and back-back Emmit Smith, stumbled with microphones in their hands, a fate that the camp must prevent.
“Most people can’t just get off the field and be in front of the camera,” Pearlman said. “So we thought about what we could do, especially with our partnerships, to build a program that would give them those skills.”
With high demand and the goal of keeping classes small, the NFL was more selective to participants than in previous years. The league sent out personal invitations and accepted recommendations from teams to communicate with their players. Of the approximately 40 contenders, the NFL selected 24 players who were predominantly black, based on their past experience appearing on camera and in podcasts, as well as their expressions of interest. Among the faculty members were producers and managers from NBC, CBS, Fox Sports and the NFL Network.
Nate Berleson, who played 11 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2014, is perhaps the camp’s most famous alumnus. Berleson is almost ubiquitous on television as the host of “CBS Mornings,” the network’s flagship morning news show, and the host of the weekly prelude to “The NFL Today.”
But back when he visited the camp in 2011, Berleson said he had a hard time exercising from game to game. Although he said the executives praised him throughout the week, his performance in that workout constantly annoyed him.
“Although the camp helped me improve what I am as a media personality, it was also, frankly, a slap in the face,” Berleson said.
The camp, he said, broadened his interests and sparked a desire to become more universal.
“It was like knowing what you want to do but not having a full battery,” said Berleson, who won an Emmy last year and was nominated for another one last week. “Once you left, you were fully charged and you had a direction.”
This year’s class of players spent an entire day last week in classroom, learning the daily work of broadcasters and interview techniques. The next day they exchanged through exercises that included debates against each other on camera. Sandy Nunez, vice president of talent management on the NFL Network, said she contacted the player’s agent about a potential vacancy, and smiled in the control room until the player completed an interview on camera.
“I can get a lot of important information here,” Nunez said, “so it’s definitely a great asset.”
Drew Culiski, CBS producer-coordinator, said he likes to hear smart questions from players, and he said the shuffle this offseason has provided good conversations for networks to be more inclusive.
“We definitely need to diversify our announcement teams everywhere,” Kaliski said. “I think having a few people to work with will make everyone better, stronger, smarter, and eventually the show will get better.”
Due to the low turnover in online positions, teachers advised players to keep practicing on their own to stay prepared, inviting them to try to perform on air in their local markets or on podcasts because they have a lower barrier to entry compared to national shows. .
Brendan Marshall, an NFL receiver for 13 seasons, echoed their advice. Marshall never visited the camp, but contracted with Fox Sports and Showtime and created the podcast “I AM ATHLETE,” where he and other former players discuss current topics with guests including Dan Sanders and Antonio Brown.
Many of the episodes, which are also being filmed for broadcast, have garnered millions of views on YouTube. Marshall said he believes podcasting is an unconventional way that his colleagues can take advantage of, regardless of whether they have undergone formal training as camp visitors.
“ESPN only has so many seats, but the strangest thing about this space is that there are no rules here,” Marshall said. “People are winning here because they go beyond.”
Sherman, for example, has taken a similar path – trying to attract journalists beyond the scope of national broadcasting – even if he runs his own free agency. In March, he announced that his former teammate in Seattle, lineback Bobby Wagner, would join Reims as a free agent through his Twitter account and used his eponymous podcast as a platform to review everything from prospects on call to his mental health after his 2021 arrest. Sherman, who introduces himself instead of an agent, is still training, but he is also preparing for options after his playing career.
For him, talking about football is a natural continuation of the players ’comprehensive work,“ how to walk, talk and breathe ”.
He added: “It’s one of those things if you just enjoy being in the game and keep being a part of it in some form or fashion.”