Sunday, October 18, 2015

Professional athletes as broadcasters: Is it ethical?

Ethan Felderstein

As I sit and type, I'm watching NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast of the New England Patriots versus the Indianapolis Colts.

At halftime, they go back to the studios where the host Dan Patrick is joined by analysts Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison.

The two break down what they've seen so far. The Colts defensive line is playing well, Tom Brady is really seeing the field, etc.

Where do I see a problem in this?

Dungy is the former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and Harrison is a former Patriots player.

Source: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America
Of course, the Sunday Night Football crew isn't an isolated incident. Nearly every major sports network employees ex-athletes as broadcasters or analysts of some sort.

According to an article from The Hollywood Reporter, ex-athletes are highly sought after, with famous athletes sometimes commanding a salary of upwards to $2 million.

Therefore, practice of hiring ex-athletes is highly common, but is it ethical?

There are several ethical issues that come into play here. They're most relevant to the Society of Professional Journalist's 'Act Independently' clause in their code of ethics.

There two major codes their are:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

With these codes in mind, the use of broadcasters has many effects on the credibility of a broadcast.

Are the analysts holding off on criticism on a team because they don't want to offend their former teammates and/or coaches? Do they know pertinent information, but withholding it because it would allow their former team's opponents to have an advantage? And are they in someway holding a rooting interest in the outcome of the game?

Of course, this question of ex-athletes becoming broadcasters relates most closely to the reading Is media bias to blame for lock of Gosnell coverage? Or something far more Banal? 

In the reading, it's questioned whether media is withholding coverage of a Philadelphia doctor's abortion clinic because of the national media's supposed pro-abortion stance.

Though it doesn't directly correlate, is this story something that could happen in sports coverage?

It came into question during the recent "Deflategate" controversy, where former Patriots player Teddy Bruschi denied that New England could do no wrong.

There's no way that ex-athletes will never play presence in sports broadcasting, the real question will be to reduce objectivity and make sure that the real reporting goes to the real reporters.

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