Bomani Jones Credit: The Right Time with Bomani Jones at SXSW

It’s no secret by now that current and former athletes are the dominant voices in sports media. Yes, there are still heavyweights like Stephen A. Smith or Colin Cowherd at the top of the industry, but most of the fastest-growing and most lucrative content is centered on athlete hosts. But this week at a live recording at SXSW, longtime ESPN and HBO host Bomani Jones warned athletes not to overlook the level of work and dedication it takes to make it in media.

In other words, just because Pat McAfee and Shannon Sharpe did it, doesn’t mean you can. Being successful in media requires time, effort and diligence that Jones is not sure is coming from athletes, producers or suits right now.

“This is not an easy job,” Jones said a live episode of The Right Time with Bomani Jones released Monday. “But a lot of people who think that are also the people who write the checks for this.”

Jones emphasized that athletes should try to surround themselves with people who can develop their talent and give legitimate feedback. Otherwise, they will likely have a short runway in the business once the initial excitement wears off.

“Do not underestimate the value of a professional,” Jones said. “It is not that athletes can’t make good content. It’s that most of them, up until this point, are not professionals.”

Jones pointed to people like Sharpe, Ryan Clark and Marcus Spears who put real time into learning the industry and broadening their appeal to become important voices in media. However, any new athlete trying to break in now is behind. Those pioneers aren’t going away, and there is more sports content now than ever before.

“What seems to happen and a lot of [athletes] are realizing this is you can get somebody to write you a check,” Jones explained. “But there’s only 24 hours in a day … the athlete lane is going to be people competing against each other.”

Just like any other sports personality in the past, even an athlete will need a lane and a skill set. It’s not enough to just be an athlete voice when there are hundreds of those spread across the content ecosystem now. Athletes can work hard and still be drowned out.

Athletes still have to separate themselves with film breakdowns, familiarity with data and analytics, great interviewing, or anything else that makes them unique. A good example might be Games with Names from Julian Edelman and iHeartMedia, which broke out last year centered on covering huge sports games from the recent past as the centerpoint of a broader interview with a guest.

Edelman is hardly the most famous athlete in media, but piled up an audience with a strong perspective and format.

“I hope a lot of them can break through by being good, but my fear is that nobody is going to tell them to be good,” Jones said. “And I know this because I worked a lot of jobs where nobody was telling us to be good.”

Executives are just going to chase what’s new and go where the money is. It’s up to athletes to improve and innovate in order to create longevity in a crowded space.

[The Right Time with Bomani Jones on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.