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Barry Jackson

The fallout on one ESPN announcer’s eyebrow-raising comments and a colleague’s criticism

ESPN has spoken with prominent commentators Dan Orlovsky and Kirk Herbstreit, according to a source, in the wake of Orlovsky’s eyebrow-raising comments about criticism he has heard about Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, and Herbstreit’s decision to publicly admonish Orlovsky for those remarks.

Neither announcer will be suspended, according to a source. But management has addressed the issue with both men. ESPN declined to comment.

Orlovsky — a ubiquitous ESPN presence who works in the booth for college games and on the set of the weekday “NFL Live” studio show — created something of a firestorm earlier this week when he appeared on the Pat McAfee radio show and conveyed explanations he has heard for why Fields might be falling slightly in the NFL Draft:

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“One, I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback,” Orlovsky said. “Like, not the maniacal work ethic. I’ve even heard it compared to Justin Herbert, where it was like, dude, when Justin Herbert showed up, he was like a psychopath when it came to working and get ready for the draft. Or even at school, like, ‘Give me more, I want to work nonstop.’ And I’ve heard that there are issues with Justin Fields’ work ethic.

“The second thing is … Where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? I think that there’s a desire to be a big-time athlete, from what is expressed to me, but where is his desire to be a great quarterback? And to be great, you gotta be willing to find the things that you are not good at and just freaking grind on them.”

In Orlovsky’s defense, he repeatedly said that those were not his opinions, but views shared with him by others. Orlovsky, in fact, downplayed that criticism, noting his biggest concern about Fields is his “unnatural” throwing motion.

“If Justin Fields falls past fourth in the draft, we as an NFL community have failed,” Orlovsky said. “If you hear someone say that Justin Fields can’t get through No. 1 in his progression, stop listening to that person and walk away.”

But Orlovsky nonetheless received some backlash, because — as NFL Network analyst and former NFL scouts Bucky Brooks stated accurately on Twitter — “It always appears that certain QBs are labeled as lazy or lacking a great work ethic while others are lauded for their IQ & mental capacities. It would be nice if we wouldn’t routinely affix stereotypes to ONLY Black QBs. Non-Black QBs NEVER get these labels on TV. Weird, right?

“These media narratives created from anonymous sources impact the perception of Black QBs. Fair or not, these labels stick & impact how fan bases view QB prospects beyond the pre-draft process. It’s all good to offer critiques but it would be nice to see non-stereotypical analysis.”

Orlovsky then explained and elaborated on his remarks in a video on Twitter on Thursday. He offered this clarification in that video:

“Pat, on yesterday’s show, said it sounds like Justin Fields is dropping and [asked me] why is that the case. I said I don’t know, but I had done some digging and teams had told me there were concerns with his work ethic, how great he wants to be. It created a... firestorm. And that forced me to do even more digging over the past 24 hours.

“I’ve had two conversations that I want to put out there and clarify the situation,” Orlovsky added. “One conversation I had is with an offensive coach at Ohio State, and he said ‘Tell them that is absolutely not true, that Justin Fields’ work ethic is spectacular. That he is a guy that has a great football IQ and is always studying tape.’

 

“The second conversation that I had is with [former Dolphins quarterback] John Beck, who has trained Justin as he headed into his Pro Day, and John’s had a really positive experience, saying ‘This guy’s always working incredibly hard on the field, and even after we’re done with our field drills, he’s the guy that wants to stay after and work on different footwork and different throws.’

“So... the reality is that I have heard those things from teams, and they might feel that way. And this is also a season where teams are trying to say things to try and potentially get a guy to drop to them.

“And so, I’ve just wanted to clarify and put it out here that in the last 24 hours in more digging, it seems or sounds like Justin Fields’ work ethic is fantastic, and that comes from two people who have worked directly close to him.”

Despite Orlovsky’s explanation in that Thursday morning video, Herbstreit — an Ohio State alum and ESPN/ABC’s lead college football analyst — criticized Orlovsky on Twitter a couple of hours later on Thursday while subtweeting Orlovsky’s video explanation.

“Absolutely RIDICULOUS,” Herbstreit tweeted. “Even if YOU aren’t saying it... to pass that along from “people in the know” is reckless and absurd!! Embarrassing!!”

The view here: I do not believe Orlovsky meant any harm, but he must be careful not to feed into racial stereotypes with anonymous quotes and be mindful of the dangers of doing so, something I’m sure he’s now aware of. Orlovsky and ESPN management have spoken in the aftermath, and while I’m not certain if that was the precise message delivered to Orlovsky, it would be a sensible one.

Herbstreit — who I’ve always found to be thoughtful and reasonable — should not have criticized a colleague with incendiary words such as “reckless” and “embarrassing.” He could have just as easily retweeted the Orlovsky video clarification and added something along the lines of: “Dan shouldn’t have repeated those comments initially, but I appreciate his clarification.”

AROUND THE DIAL

The biggest viewer adjustment to Bally purchasing the naming rights to 19 former Fox sports regional networks, including the two in Florida?

The superimposed score of the game you’re watching is smaller, a sacrifice made to create room for scores from other games.

Perhaps viewers will grow accustomed to that and appreciate the continuous “out of market” score update over time. But for now, it’s an adjustment on the eyes.

If you missed this, here’s how Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand succinctly described the subtle change in the new CBS/Fox NFL contracts:

“Starting in ‘23, Fox and CBS will identify a specific number of teams that it wants to carry for a specific minimum of games. It is not known how many teams or games are part of this process, which will occur at some point before the official schedule release. Because it has the NFC package, Fox will only pick NFC teams, which will mean that Fox is likely to carry more Cowboys and Packers games than other networks. CBS will pick AFC teams, which, at least in the near term, means a heavy dose of the Chiefs and Steelers.

“Those games will come from anywhere on the schedule. There will be no such thing as a traditional Fox-NFC or CBS-AFC game as in years past. For decades, Fox would carry any game with two NFC teams or any interleague game where the NFC team was on the road.”

So from a local perspective, expect a few more Dolphins games on Fox each season beginning in 2023.

Here’s my Friday Heat piece on Victor Oladipo’s debut, and Oladipo, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo weighing in on what’s head.

Please check back later for a Dolphins post.

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