The Jockacracy

Most of yesterday’s rant dealt with NFL Franchise QBs and it came from a lunchtime discussion with an old friend who was back in town.  Well, we discussed other topics too and I will deal with another of them today.

My friend said that he basically agreed with my position from a couple of weeks ago that great players do not make great coaches or GMs.  He said that he thought I should have extended that concept to broadcasters.  He remembers when Howard Cosell would rail against what he called “The Jockocracy” – meaning that top flight athletes were given broadcasting jobs after they retired even though those athletes were not journalists nor were they particularly polished behind the mic.  It is easy to point to Cosell’s remarks as self-serving/self-interested since he was a journalist/broadcaster but had never played any of the games he covered.  If you were a “Cosell-hater” – and there were plenty of them back in the day – one could pass all of that off as unabashed protectionism for his job territory.

However, Cosell had a point.  Forgetting his idealistic stance that would assure that every broadcaster was previously proven to be a serious journalist, the fact is that some athletes-turned-broadcasters are not nearly as good at talking about their sport as they were at playing their sport.  I spent the last several days making a list of the current/recent athletes-turned-broadcasters and trying to come up with categorizations for them.  My list is obviously incomplete since I did not go Internet-hunting to gather up lists of all the broadcasters doing sports on TV recently.  Moreover, after I looked at the list I had compiled, I noted that there are gaps in the sports covered here.  Some reasons for this are:

  • When I watch golf on TV – not all that often – I really don’t pay attention to the announcers because they rarely have much to say that I find interesting.
  • When I watch soccer on TV, most of the games are international games and I have no idea what the background of any of the announcers might be.’
  • When I watch track and field on TV – not all that often – I often do it without any sound at all.
  • I do not watch lots of other sports on TV – NASCAR, beach volleyball, gymnastics, ice skating etc. – so I have no idea who the broadcasters may be.

So, with all of those limitations, here are former athletes who are now doing – or who recently did –  TV coverage of sports.  They are the recent/current members of Howard Cosell’s jockocracy if you will.  I have put them into three categories:  The Good  The Bad and The Ugly.  [Hat tip to Sergio Leone]


  • Troy Aikman:  He and Joe Buck are very good together on NFL telecasts.  He may not be hyper-critical in his analysis, but he lets you know which players and which coaching decisions are better than others.  And no; he does not hate your team or any other team except the Cowboys!  Get over it.
  • Charles Barkley:  Once you realize that Barkley is going to take his commentary over-the-top at least 90% of the time, you can sit back and listen to him and enjoy his comedic antics.  [See Kenny Smith below …]
  • Jay Bilas:  He is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  He is a much better broadcaster than he was a basketball player.  I suspect that even Howard Cosell would approve of Jay Bilas on TV.
  • Nate Burleson:  I like his enthusiasm – – and I hope that he does not take that style so far that it becomes a schtick because that would be annoying as Hell.
  • Mary Carillo:  I think she is outstanding.  I cannot think of another tennis announcer I would prefer to listen to.
  • Cris Colinsworth:  He is obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable about football.  Moreover, he does not shrink from criticizing things he sees on the field.  And no; he does not hate your favorite team.  Get over it.
  • Kirk Herbstreit:  Like Jay Bilas, he is excellent in the studio and as a color analyst for games.  When it comes to college football, “Herbie” reminds me of the old E.F. Hutton ads.  When Herbstreit talks, people listen…
  • Tom Jackson:  He and Chris Berman were a perfect pair together…
  • “Moose” Johnson:  Sometimes, he can be long-winded but more often than not he has something add when he speaks.
  • Joel Klatt:  The closest thing to Kirk Herbstreit as a college football maven.  I like him in studio settings and during games.
  • Howie Long:  He is logical and rational.  I have called him the Mr. Spock of NFL pre-game television.
  • Tony Romo:  With exactly no previous broadcasting experience, CBS paired him with Jim Nantz as the #1 NFL broadcasting team.  Romo could have flamed out badly but he did just the opposite.  What I like is that he is unafraid to say what a team is going to do/ought to do before the fact.
  • Phil Simms:  He is much better in the studio than he was as a color analyst.
  • Kenny Smith:  He plays “Abbot” to Charles Barkley’s “Costello” beautifully.
  • John Smoltz:  He has a soothing voice and an excellent ability to explain pitching strategy.  I recall hearing him paired with Bob Costas on play-by-play and it was about as good as it gets.  Yes, I know it is heresy to some folks but those two were more enjoyable to listen to than Vin Scully.


  • Terry Bradshaw:  If he were half as funny as he thinks he is, he might be tolerable.
  • Gary Danielson:  I find his voice annoying and that is a difficult hurdle to overcome.
  • Boomer Esiason:  I find his entire persona annoying and that is impossible to overcome.
  • Chris Evert:  She is as bland as oatmeal.
  • Alexi Lalas:  He comes across as a smug know-it-all.  That is not a good look…
  • Ray Lewis:  He brings the same sort of “intensity” to the microphone that he brought to the field as a middle linebacker.  That is unnecessary.
  • Dan Marino:  His “analysis” was about as deep as a parking lot puddle.
  • John McEnroe:  The only reason to listen to him is to see if he is going to go ape over some incident and how much trouble that might get him into.
  • Jessica Mendoza:  If she would just let a pitch go by without feeling the need to chime in with something to add, it would be a plus.  More than a couple of times I have hit the mute button in the third or fourth inning of an ESPN game she is doing.
  • Joe Morgan:  His commentary became repetitious which is bad enough.  It was also incessant.  That is a bad exacta.
  • Shaquille O’Neal:  Someday, he will say something insightful.  Until then he is the class clown in a studio show setting.
  • Deion Sanders:  He was entertaining for a while but now his schtick has become annoying.


  • Michael Irvin:  Boy, can he learn a thing or three from former teammates like Troy Aikman or “Moose” Johnson.
  • Alex Rodriguez:  He is hyper-critical; he never shuts up; he is a smug know-it all.  The bottom line is that he is an annoying presence on TV.
  • Joe Theismann:  He began more than half of his replay comments with, “Let me tell you what happened here…”  The problem is that I already saw what happened there; it was a damned replay!
  • Bill Walton:  If he is doing the color analysis, I instantly hit the mute button.  He is turrrible…
  • Chris Webber:  He is candid in his criticism of players, coaches and refs; he thinks they should be “accountable”.  And yet, he has never been candid or accountable about his own foibles and actions back in college.  I have trouble dealing with the hypocrisy here.

Howard Cosell was not happy with the rise of the jockocracy; but ironically, he was part of the best three-man announcing team ever on ABC’s Monday Night Football.  His two partners were both esteemed members of the jockocracy:

  • Frank Gifford – Hall of Fame running back for the NY Giants
  • “Dandy” Don Meredith – Hall of Fame announcer/commentator and NFL All-Pro QB.

Finally, sports broadcasters too often rely on catch phrases and clichés as they try to make their points.  Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this comment where he strung together a bunch of the highly overused phrases:

“Inspired by veteran scribes Bruce Jenkins and Jack McCallum, I devised an all-purpose statement anyone can use for any speech, debate or barroom discussion. Simply insert appropriate nouns and adverbs: ‘So, worst-case scenario, it’s all part of the narrative, although this is a small sample size. Look, I mean, to be perfectly frank, I want to double down at this time, check all the boxes. Trust me, I have zero tolerance, and they know who they are, but at the end of the day I’m taking a wait-and-see approach. It is what it is, going forward’.”


But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………




5 thoughts on “The Jockacracy”

  1. Jack,
    As an “old” tennis player I absolutely love Mary Carillo and most of the tennis announcers, even Johnny Mac mostly because they don’t talk during play. Chris Colinsworth, PLEASE just tell him to SHUT UP.
    Thanks, T.C.

  2. Tom Verducci is a veteran sportswriter who is also an excellent baseball analyst. As far as I know, he is not a former jock.

    1. Gil:

      I like Tom Verducci a lot. I did not put him on this list because I did not think of him as a baseball player prior to his broadcasting endeavors.

  3. Jack,

    I am becoming a big fan of Tony Romo. As you say, he diagrams a play even before it is called and he is pretty good at getting it right…keeps you thinking and engages you. Last week, saw him do just that with in the Texans-Patriots game. He also isn’t afraid to voice criticism. When the Texans wouldn’t call a time out at key time (Bill O’Brien’s response later was weak) for a possible review on GRONK’S “catch,” Romo had us all wondering what the heck was going on the Texan’s sideline.

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