Does the NFL Media Really Suck? No…No It Does Not
That’s what Spencer Hall of SB Nation told NFL media at large as he channeled his inner Charles Barkley. Hall, the Editorial Director of SBN, sees a lot of content on a daily basis and probably knows a thing or two about what is good and what isn’t. However, as he is also editor of “Every Day Should Be Saturday,” I (and others) have questioned just what he means by NFL media. The rest of the column seemed to bemoan a few issues Hall has with the NFL itself (labor structure, access, how beholden it is to major sponsors etc), but moved on to his biggest bullet point—the lack of a “Dr. Z-type” and the state of NFL on TV.
For those not familiar, Paul Zimmerman was one of the best football minds to ever put pen to paper (or finger to typewriter key). I’m confident he understood the game better than many players and coaches. He lived it. He breathed it. His “Thinking Man’s Guide to Professional Football” is a seminal work of the NFL space. Every blogger who spends 20 minutes looking at one blocking assignment to get it right is, in some way or another, a descendant of the legacy Dr. Z created.
The problem is: Hall spends almost the entire piece comparing apples to oranges.
Is NFL TV sub par? Well, yes, lots of it is. Only problem is: there’s a ridiculous amount of it. Spend 24 hours watching nothing but NBA TV and it’ll quickly become apparent that “NBA on TNT” is really good at what they do. At the same time, many people complain about the NBA coverage on ESPN and for good reason.
I rarely watch NFL pre-game shows and I spend even less time watching some of the wall-to-wall coverage that ESPN and NFL Network put together. One of my favorite shows, “NFL Matchup” is hidden at 3am and 7:30am on gamedays, but it hits the DVR just the same. That highlights the dilemma Hall is apparently having. Even the “good” NFL TV coverage is hidden. It exists, but in places no one can find it. Dr. Z was never a TV start and if he were still able to write and potentially be on TV today, his show (if he had one) would probably be at 3:30am, right after matchup.
Later, Hall uses another apples to oranges comparison:
Start with the NBA alone, and see just how deep the gulf between the NFL and every other major sport truly is. On one hand: Bill Simmons, Zach Lowe, Adrian Wojnarowski, the entire crew of The NBA on TNT, Henry Abbott, The Basketball Jones, Andrew Sharp, and a crew of competent, engaged, and enthusiastic beat writers. And on the other hand, in the NFL’s corner: Bill Barnwell, Chris Brown, Drew Magary, and anything at Kissing Suzy Kolber.
I enjoy much of the work from both Drew Magary and Kissing Suzy Kolber, but that’s out of left field in this discussion. We’re talking about people who really care about serious football. KSK is a hilarious site (at times), but their top three articles as of 5pm on Monday are simply making fun of media members. The fourth is by a writer named @PFTCommenter who misused “whose” “your” and “to,”—all in one paragraph—as he talks about RGIII’s wedding registry.
Magary doesn’t belong in a list of “NFL Media.” Does he know a ton about football? Absolutely, But his work at Deadspin usually has as much to do with the NFL as it does with the complexities of macroeconomics. Recently, he’s written about Scrabble, boring jobs, sad Bill Simmons, public toilets, etc. He did write about Titus Young on 5/8, but only to show him asleep in an AT&T store.
I don’t want to disparage the work of either Magary or most of the people at KSK who all do good work. But, if you’re consuming NFL media in some way that sets those up as paradigms of good coverage of the league itself? That just doesn’t make sense. To compare them to the Zach Lowes and Henry Abbots of the world just doesn’t seem fair. Even Chris Brown (author of The Essential Smart Football, one of the best books on football on the planet) is barely “NFL media,” as he writes about CFB just as much. It’s not even about my subjective opinion if they’re “better” or “worse.” They’re simply objectively different.
So, for Hall (and others) who want to consume more meat and less fluff with their NFL media, here’s a good place to start:
- Peter King (SI) is kind of the “don” of NFL media right now. I don’t know if Hall purposefully left him out of the column for a reason. Magary and KSK have made making fun of King into a cottage industry. All in all, it’s ridiculous, because he does really good work.
- News gathering? NFL has a trifecta of the best in Adam Schefter (ESPN), Jay Glazer (FOX) and Chris Mortensen (ESPN). Not to mention the tons of guys and gals at NFL Network.
- Jim Trotter (SI), Mike Silver (Y!), Mike Tanier (SOE), Greg Bedard (SI) and Mike Freeman (CBS) all do a great job covering the important parts of the game—both on the field and off, comfortable covering race, labor issues, human interest, etc just as much as Xs and Os.
- Speaking of Xs and Os, Matt Bowen (Chicago Tribune), Lance Zierlein (Sideline View), Adam Caplan (Sideline View), Doug Farrar (Y!), Aaron Schatz (Football Outsiders/ESPN), Eric Stoner (Rotoworld), Greg Cosell (NFL Films) as well as sites like Pro Football Focus, Advanced NFL Stats, Cold Hard Football Facts, NFL Reference, National Football Post and the aforementioned Football Outsiders all do great work breaking down the game.
- This leaves out all the fantastic NFL media who specialize in Fantasy Football and NFL Draft. I could take another 20 bullet points on those two growing industries.
- This also leaves out all of the people that cover one specific team—guys and gals like Bob McGinn (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), Sean Jensen (Chicago Sun-Times), Mike Garafolo (Star-Ledger).
- I’ve also purposefully left out Bleacher Report to this point (Hall left out SB Nation because he didn’t want it to sound like a sales pitch), however Ty Schalter, Matt Miller, Alen Dumonjic, Alex Miglio, B.J. Kissel, Ryan Riddle and MANY others all do fantastic work covering the NFL from a league-wide angle.
Frankly, if one heads to all those authors and sites above and comes away with the impression that NFL media is (in any way) suffering, I would be surprised. Also, take a handful of those guys and compare them to Hall’s NBA list and they stack up much more favorably.
The state of NFL media has never been stronger. Is there plenty of wasted print? Absolutely, because the NFL commands a ton of coverage—both good and bad. However, there are more people doing similar work to that of Dr. Z than ever before—breaking down the game from every possible angle.
So, with all due respect to Hall and in light of all of the many good points that he did make, his overall impression of NFL media falls short of the reality of it.