Most viewers don’t tune into the NFL Network for hard-hitting news. The league’s broadcasting platform generally provides information designed to promote football and gets more eyeballs to the games. It’s not quite propaganda and it’s not quite pure journalism either. Still, the NFL Network has brought in several people with reporting skills over the years. Many of whom do/did good work. One of those hires was Jim Trotter who joined NFL Media (the league division that includes NFL Network and NFL.com) in 2018. He previously was at Sports Illustrated and ESPN, so the league knew exactly who it was getting. You can’t hire a well-respected journalist and then be shocked when he does actual journalism.
Earlier this week, Trotter announced that his contract with NFL Media will not be renewed. It’s a move that, while not surprising, is dismaying. He is one of the few on-air voices who challenged the league, especially when it came to its lack of diversity both in coaching and in NFL Media leadership. Many have understandably connected his ouster to his verbal confrontations with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over the past two Super Bowls.
The @NFL says its commitment to diversity extends beyond the sideline and front office, but the numbers in the newsroom at the league-owned media group says otherwise. So I asked @nflcommish sbout it. ?? pic.twitter.com/nabWjo0SDm— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) February 8, 2023
Did Goodell want Trotter gone? Possibly. Although, it seems more likely that Trotter drew the ire of NFL ownership. Most of us aren’t going to stay employed for long if we publicly criticize those who sign our checks. NFL owners are powerful people and powerful people don’t like to be told what to do, especially by someone who works for them. At some point, the decision was made to let Trotter’s contract expire. If he was going to constantly criticize the league, it wasn’t going to be on the owners’ dime and the league’s platforms.
NFL Media can always hire someone cheaper who’s more inclined to parrot the league’s talking points and not make waves. But the ousting of Trotter prompts questions: Why did the NFL hire Trotter in the first place? He’s a determined and thorough journalist, so the league had to know that he would conduct himself in that fashion. Trotter was not going to sit back and ignore or downplay problems with the league. Also, what does the NFL Network aspire to be? If it simply wants to engage in entertainment by ranking quarterbacks, airing press conferences and powder puff interviews, and replaying old games, that seems shortsighted.
The NFL Network could be so much more. Trotter’s presence, at least originally, seemed to signal that it wanted to be more. When Trotter was brought aboard, the NFL’s own press release mentioned that he “reported extensively on player activism and social justice.” At the time, Awful Announcing’s Alex Putterman wrote that including this information suggested “that aspect of the reporter’s work was appealing to his new employer.”
Examining social justice should include reporting on the league’s issues. Having Trotter on air lent credibility to the network and at least gave the appearance that the league was taking the problem seriously. The NFL generates billions in revenue annually. America’s appetite is seemingly insatiable. There’s nothing Trotter can say that will change that so there is no tangible downside to keeping him at the network. Perhaps Trotter is being let go mainly due to a salary-cutting move but considering the NFL’s profits, that seems hard to believe.
The simplest explanation is likely the correct one. The NFL decided that having Trotter was no longer worth it. That’s a shame. He deserved better because he tried to elevate NFL Media with critical thinking. He may be gone, but the league’s problems remain.
Here’s hoping that Trotter will continue to report on those problems for an employer that values him.