Last night, in a rather drab Monday Night Football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, you may have raised an eyebrow upon hearing the sideline reporting of John Sutcliffe. If you missed it, below is clip of Sutcliffe giving an injury update in the third quarter.
There is no way to say it nicely, but that’s not exactly the smoothest of updates which raised a lot of questions and comments on Twitter.
The best part of #MNF tonight has been John Sutcliffe. I'm in tears every time. It's like he's giving a presentation in 4th grade.
— Josh Mauldin (@akabeardman) September 20, 2016
John Sutcliffe just murdered that injury report. #factsonly
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) September 20, 2016
I was going to tweet a joke about John Sutcliffe on #MNF but instead decided to just read the jokes. Twitter never fails.
— Scott Ottersen (@scottersen) September 20, 2016
These were some of the more tame tweets, as many we found were terribly mean-spirited or, to put it bluntly, blatantly racist. Not long after the injury update, ESPN aired this planned segment which to some degree helped give some context to Sutcliffe and his usage on MNF.
And the ESPN producers are giving us the justification for John Sutcliffe. Must be a response to all the Twitter noise #johnsutcliffe
— Edward J. Casey (@achs_fred) September 20, 2016
At a high level, Sutcliffe, a key cog at Spanish-language ESPN Deportes, was pulling double duty in an effort to showcase some brand synergy for Hispanic Heritage Month. Unfortunately, he clearly struggled or at least drew the type of attention you think ESPN would want to avoid. With that in mind, I have to question ESPN’s decision-making using Sutcliffe, given a previous assignment on Monday Night Football drew scrutiny as well.
Back in December 2011, ESPN opted to use Sutcliffe as a sideline analyst for a game between the Steelers and the 49ers (you may remember this game as it had a lengthy delay, due to electrical issues). His performance back then drew a lot of attention, similar as it did last night. From Deadspin’s article:
“Sutcliffe searched for, stumbled over, and struggled to find words to the point that the network eventually stopped seeking his insights entirely. Be it nerves, a language barrier, or lack of preparation, he failed to communicate much of anything of value to viewers—even relative to Jon Gruden’s inane commentary.”
While the 2011 usage of Sutcliffe was not for Hispanic Heritage Month, it falls into the same bucket of cross-promoting ESPN Deportes. From SportsGrid’s writeup of the 2011 game:
“According to ESPN spokesman Bill Hofheimer, “[Sutcliffe’s] sideline role on MNF this week was planned.” Hofheimer added that it was “the most recent example of ESPN utilizing ESPN Deportes and International commentators on U.S. domestic outlets.”
To some degree, I wonder if either ESPN and or Sutcliffe felt this was a matter of redemption, given how bad the 2011 game went. If that’s the case, I can certainly understand both parties wanting to attempt this again and wish for all parties that things had gone a lot better the second time around.
That said, this doesn’t seem to be a good look for either ESPN or Sutcliffe, who as far as I can tell is quite revered for his work on Deportes. I 1000% get the impulse to promote Deportes, as well as do something different for Hispanic Heritage month. There is no issue in doing either of those things (although a segment of viewers I’m sure don’t share that POV).
But I have to think there is a way to accomplish that without drawing unwanted attention and even worse, negatively affecting one of the most-viewed events on the network. Whether it’s different personnel options or different usages/integrations of Sutcliffe within the MNF broadcast, there has to be better ways for ESPN to promote Deportes and celebrate Hispanic heritage, and it’s frustrating to see them draw criticism to their efforts, considering they’d gone down this exact road before.