The Sunday NFL pregame shows are hardly bastions of journalism. Their purpose is to preview the upcoming games, provide late breaking injury news and react to the news of the day. The shows have become filled with the analysts attempting to provide one-liners and laughing at lame jokes.
When serious news breaks like the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide that left his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins dead and their three month old daughter without parents and the Kansas City Chiefs wondering how to acknowledge both deaths, the shows struggle to find a balance between levity and humor. In some cases, the efforts work. In others, the networks fail to rise to the moment.
Both NFL Network and ESPN started their shows on the Belcher story. Sunday NFL Countdown even had this graphic that had both Belcher and Perkins. One could correctly argue that Belcher should not even be included as his actions led to the mess that their daughter’s relatives will have to clean up for many years to come.
In addition to this graphic, Tom Jackson urged viewers to remember Kasandra Perkins. In sensitivity to the murder/suicide, ESPN decided not to air a scheduled comedic segment featuring Frank Caliendo. In a newsletter to his fans, Caliendo said “The bit has nothing to do with the Chiefs or Kansas City, but they (ESPN) decided that a planned “comedy” segment just didn’t seem like a good thing to do.” ESPN had solid reporting from Ed Werder from Kansas City and handled the discussion among its analysts with the proper restraint.
On Fox NFL Sunday, the network eschewed its regular “WE ARE FOX SPORTS!” and “The Journey” open for a cold open that started with reports on the murder/suicide and video of Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel walking into Arrowhead Stadium. For the first five minutes of the pregame show, Fox had host Curt Menefee open the show before tossing to game announcers Ron Pitts and Mike Martz talking about the situation as the network was airing the Chiefs game against the Carolina Panthers. After Pitts and Martz discussed the surreal situation, Menefee went to insider Jay Glazer who then revealed that the Cleveland Browns had to deal with a employee suicide of its own this weekend. After a short discussion on how the story will impact the Chiefs and the NFL, Menefee closed the segment by saying, “After a short break, back to football,” and the show faded to black before going to commercials. After the opening six minute segment, Fox went back to its show as usual which included its regular comedic segment with Rob Riggle.
But on CBS, The NFL Today opened with product placement for Garmin GPS and spent the first five minutes not even acknowledging what happened in Kansas City. Instead, it was a “Garmin Drive for the Playoffs” that did not even reference Belcher and Perkins. At 12:05 p.m., host James Brown finally mentioned the murder/suicide before tossing to Lesley Visser reporting live from Kansas City. She briefly talked with a Chiefs executive on the decision to play today and then threw it back to JB who then had Jason La Canfora, Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher talk about the story. That led to a rather awkward transition to a remembrance of college basketball coach Rick Majerus who passed away on Saturday. CBS had a graphic for Majerus, but none for Perkins.
CBS then went on with its show which included a segment with Jim Rome and Victoria’s Secret model Lily Aldridge. The segment with Aldridge lasted longer than the one on Belcher/Perkins. It was a strange show for CBS. It was as if producers shoehorned the Belcher story and then when it was referenced, shuffled it out of their thoughts. With a product placement segment at the beginning and another plug for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that airs on CBS later in the week, could not the story have been handled differently? In addition, SportsRantz points out that if CBS were carrying the game and not Fox, would The NFL Today place a higher priority on the story?
Overall, I give ESPN and Fox kudos for their handling of the story. CBS is another matter. It was a very strange NFL Today show. While I don’t hold any of the pregame shows to a higher standard, I do expect some levity when real life steps into sports. CBS failed to step up and made its show more of a shill for product placement and upcoming programs rather than handling the story with more care.