The lines of journalistic impartiality have grown more blurry over the years. Just recently, we had Michael Wilbon offering analysis in a Cubs jersey. Scott Van Pelt’s loyalty to the Maryland Terrapins is a charming facet of his personality. Sage Steele appeared in an Indiana University commercial. And this is fine! They’re human beings, after all, and as long as it doesn’t slant any coverage to a harmful degree, there’s nothing really wrong with it. In fact, the transparency involved is a good thing.
That said, those are examples of broadcasters pulling for the success of childhood teams, or their alma mater. It’s a slightly different story when a host of a college football program goes on an extended rant about how he now pulls against a team, solely due to fan behavior online. But Jason Fitz, host of CFB Daily, gave us that on Monday:
Here’s a transcript, via TigerNet:
“When we came into this show to start the year I didn’t have a favorite team,” Fitz said. “I don’t have any team I root for or any team I root against. I just love college football as a whole. I have gone through this season trying to be as unbiased and impartial as humanly possible. If there is any one thing that has come from my first season hosting a college football television show it is you have given me a reason to have a rooting interest. But it’s not a rooting interest for it’s a rooting interest against. I am here to tell you all that I now actively root against Clemson. Not just now and not just until the end of the year but until you guys turn it around. When I say you guys, I don’t mean anything on the field. I mean all of you jerks on social media. You sit there, and you watch TV, and you say that you want players to act like they represent the school. You say you want your coaches to act like they represent the school. And then you represent the school like jerks on social media. I’m tired of it. You guys are now the reason I am anti-Clemson.”
That’s certainly one way to do it, Jason. This has predictably gone over quite poorly. Even Peter Gammons weighed in:
what an embarrassment to a profession and nwtwork so much a part of my life. Opinion without intelligence is road kill https://t.co/rzce6pOgrf
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 7, 2016
Fitz is in his first year as an ESPN host of any kind, having previously hosted a podcast, while also playing fiddle in The Band Perry. He was apparently hired for his fresh perspectives, according to the August release announcing his hire:
In addition to being a Grammy-nominated musician, Fitz is a regular host on SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio and quarterback of “The Jason Fitz Show,” a football podcast that has featured guests ranging from Rex Ryan and Jay Gruden to Fall Out Boy and Charlie Daniels.
“When you hear ‘Grammy-nominated internationally touring musician’, you normally don’t think ‘This guy should host a college football show’,” said ESPN coordinating producer Baron Miller.
“After hearing his podcasts, I learned that Jason is not only opinionated but also a very educated college football fan. His strong views and high energy is something that I am excited for viewers to see. Add Elika Sadeghi and Mike Jr. to the mix, and this gives ESPNU a very different kind of college football show on Monday afternoons.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an outside-the-box hire, but Fitz’s open hostility towards a team and their fan base is a departure from broadcasting norms. Is it likely that most television hosts have a few specific teams they dislike because fans are especially hostile towards them? Sure. But being able to build a partition and not let that color your coverage is an important skill. If Fitz ever had a partition, he just blew it up with an excessive amount of explosive material.
Jason seems to be taking the “nothing to see here” approach in the aftermath:
Taking a break from responding to all of my new Clemson friends to let the world know donut wings exist. And they are delicious.
— jason fitz (@jasonfitz) December 7, 2016
A bit of unsolicited advice for Jason: you’re covering college football. There’s something to hate about every single group of fans. Regardless of the rationality of your criticism, every fan base thinks you hate their team when you say anything negative about them. And now, Clemson fans are right! Jason Fitz just said so! He essentially ruined his own credibility when it comes to discussing anything involving Clemson, which obviously includes the upcoming College Football Playoff.
There were more tactful ways to criticize poor social media behavior, but Jason Fitz decided to hit the nuclear button.