Are Sportscasters Really Independent?

As we celebrate America’s Independence Day, here is a question to chew on with your burgers and dogs. Are Sportscasters are really independent? In other words, can they speak their mind as a journalist without repercussion? The no-fluff answer - yes and no.

Sportscasting gigs are as varied as can be. In some positions, the broadcaster is given free reign. In others, he is closely monitored and controlled. I’ve worked on both ends of the spectrum and students would often ask me about what they should expect.

I called games for one minor league team for six seasons, and not once did any member of the front office ever confront me for something I said on the air. (Players, employees and fans sure did, but never did a person of real power try to cramp my style.)

I also broadcast for a Yankees AA affiliate, and the General Manager pulled me aside and tried to curtail my on-air speech the very first week of the season. I had told the listeners it was 37 degrees and painted the word picture of the intrepid fans bundled up for warmth in the brutal conditions. The G.M. felt my honesty would keep fans away from the park in April. He told me to cut it out. I argued that my listeners were much smarter than that and weren’t going to stay home based on something I said about what they can feel out their front door. I wasn’t a cheerleader, I was a journalist.

When I did play by play for Army basketball and hockey at West Point, I heard all the talk about how controlling and tightly-wound the Army brass was toward its public relations and broadcasting. However, they never curtailed me a bit, and I always appreciated the freedom to do my job.

The point is, both situations exist. And to a degree it has to do with what medium or position you are working in. A talk-show host may have different constraints than a play-by-play man. I've know broadcasters that just let it fly every day and never hear a word of criticism, while others are nitpicked on every comment.

Ultimately, station management will be the key. You may have to work for some real pains in this industry, but eventually you can find the match that best suits your personality.

I wish you and our country a happy Fourth of July.  I also ask - Are YOU an independent sportscaster?
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