If you’re new to these parts, you might not remember some of the quotes produced by Brian Mitchell’s initial forays into the world of sports media. They weren’t subtle.
“We have some guys just happy to be getting a paycheck," Mitchell said on his Monday night WTEM show, late in the disappointing 1996 season. “We have as much talent as the Super Bowl team of '91. We have guys who don't unleash all their talent. They don't want to give extra effort.”
The Redskins were 8-6 then, still in the playoff picture, but Mitchell wasn’t about to mince words. His rant eventually elicited a comment from then-head coach Norv Turner.
“From my standpoint, if a guy has something he wants to talk about, I'd rather he do it with me,” Turner said a few days later. “But Brian has a radio show. And when you’ve got two hours on the radio, you've got to say something.”
This is how a certain segment of D.C. sports fans has viewed Mitchell in recent years: a firebrand, willing to spout off just to attract attention, the guy who says the Redskins were outcoached and Kyle Shanahan looks “like a nerd” when he tries to rally his troops. And this, Mitchell would have you know, is the furthest thing from the truth.
“The problem is, I say things that people are afraid to say,” Mitchell told me, during a recent phone conversation. “People on the team or around town say all kind of things, and then when the camera gets on them, they want to be politically correct. I think that’s the problem with this damn country now. I was raised to say what I believe, to say what I mean. And it may hurt your feelings, but over time, you’re going to respect me. You won’t respect me if I don’t say what I feel. I’d much rather be respected than liked.”
This will be Mitchell’s guiding philosophy when he debuts his new Comcast SportsNet show, SportsTalk Live, Monday at 10:30. The show – which replaces the dearly departed Washington Post Live – will be co-hosted by Mitchell and Ivan Carter, and it will cover a mix of local and national topics.
Mitchell, who has done radio shows on ESPN 980 and 106.7 The Fan and TV work for CSN and WUSA-9, said he brings the same attitude toward every local team. But he knows that fans will focus on his comments about the Redskins.
“Because for some reason, people believe since I played for the Redskins, I’m not supposed to criticize them,” he said. “I was criticized by former players when I played, I was criticized by the media when I played, but it didn’t make a difference. I already knew, you can’t beat the media. You can’t beat a pen, you can’t beat a camera, and you damn sure can’t beat a microphone.
“Instead of saying something to me, how about you go work on your trade and try to improve what you’re doing? And then I will give you the love that you want. But if you’re not taking care of your job, you’re not doing what you supposed to be doing, why should I praise you? I made the career I did because I worked my ass off. I’m not gonna sit up here and praise guys with more talent than I ever had just for being in the NFL; I’m not gonna do it.”
If you’re curious, Mitchell never set out to have a media career. He studied business and chemical engineering in college — “I guess [people] think I’m the guy that majored in underwater basket-weaving,” he joked, when I expressed surprise — and figured he’d go into business after he was done with football.
“I love talking to people and educating people about sports, but coaching is not about the art of what you’re supposed to be doing; coaching is the art of making people think you’re bigger than what you are,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t like meetings when I played; you think I’m gonna like them now?”)
He said his media career began when he saw a John Clayton report he disagreed with, and wanted an outlet to respond. And even as a player, he would be harshly critical, both inside the locker room and on the airwaves.
“If we played terrible and people talked about how good we played, I hated those people,”he said. “If you’re constantly telling me I’m doing good when I’m doing bad, how the hell am I gonna improve? If people praise you and you’re losing all the time, why the hell should you get better?
Still, Mitchell insisted he’s not as angry as he sometimes seems. Come see him eat dinner with his wife and four children, or interact with fans, or make fun of Ivan Carter in the green room.
“I’m always smiling,” he said, “but if I’m talking about something I don’t like, I’m not gonna joke about it.”
As for the people who think Mitchell gets in trouble for not having a filter, well, that makes him smile, too.
“I think they’re crazy,” he said. “If I said everything I want to say, I wouldn’t be doing radio or TV.”