Wilbon Cubs

ESPN personality Michael Wilbon is a noted Cubs’ fan, and he interviewed Cubs’ players on the field for a SportsCenter segment two weeks ago (after their NLCS-clinching win over the Dodgers) while wearing a Cubs’ hat and jersey. That took some criticism at the time, and it was brought up again Wednesday when Sports Illustrated media critic Richard Deitsch tweeted about the difference between pundits and reporters (in relation to some of the discussion of CNN and Donna Brazile):

In response to that, Phil Kaminski noted that Wilbon had said on The Tony Kornheiser Show that this wasn’t his choice:

The episode in question is from Oct. 24, and the part in question starts at 23:50. After Wilbon talks about how this was actually a 1969 Ernie Banks jersey, Kornheiser asks him “And where did you go afterwards?” Wilbon says “I went to the field, because producers and my dear friend Sage said to me ‘You have to come on after the game.’ I said ‘No! I don’t have a blazer here, I don’t have a jacket, I’m not in the press box. I’m wearing an Ernie Banks jersey.’ And they said ‘Good.’ That’s what they want. And I said ‘No.’ I said ‘No’ from an hour before the game until the ninth inning, and finally people are coming to get me, and I said, ‘Okay, fine. This is stupid, I’m going to explain it, you know, several times while we’re on the air,’ and for the next two hours I was on the field.”

Wilbon went on to say being on the field worked out okay, but his attire did make it unusual.

“Which was fine, because you really couldn’t get out of Wrigleyville. You either had to go and drink yourself blind at one of the many establishments in Wrigleyville, which is what most people wanted to do, but in my case, I don’t do that anyway, or in my case, I was right there. I was on the field, I was able to talk to Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and Anthony Rizzo in particular, and the owner, Tom Ricketts, and the funny part is, Theo comes over and he’s drenched in champagne, and he gives me a hug, so I’m drenched in champagne, and he says to me, ‘Congratulations.’ I thought that was hysterical.”

It’s interesting that ESPN is not just encouraging this kind of explicit on-air fandom from their personalities, but outright requesting it in Wilbon’s case. This case also is a little different than sports personalities showing their fandom on Twitter or on studio shows, as you particularly don’t usually see journalists in team colors conducting interviews (and that’s still expressly forbidden in many press boxes). That’s why this drew some backlash.

ESPN encouraging its personalities to show their fandom this way will have its supporters and detractors. Some will undoubtedly argue it makes their personalities more relatable and human, while some will be annoyed by the presumed bias and loss of impartiality. There’s also room for a nuanced debate about the differences between owning fandom on a show (such as Scott Van Pelt’s Maryland references) and wearing a jersey to interview players; it’s possible to be fine with one and not the other. In any case, the comments from Wilbon and Deitsch make it seem more explicit fandom, and more jerseys on camera, is likely on the way from ESPN. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your perspective. It is worth noting that ESPN let Wilbon wear a standard suit for his interviews after Wednesday’s Game Seven win gave the Cubs the World Series, but also had him give personal thoughts on what the win meant to him:

While that will still have its critics, it’s likely to raise many less hackles than doing interviews in a jersey, though. We’ll see if ESPN continues with one or both approaches going forward.

[The Tony Kornheiser Show]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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