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Journalists Should Retire the Team Attire

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By Leonard Shapiro
Wednesday, September 9, 2009; 12:00 AM

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of the NFL's regular season this week, not the least of which involves Channel 4 sports anchor Lindsay Czarniak and Comcast SportsNet reporter Kelli Johnson exchanging their Washington Redskins polo shirts for whatever outfits they are now free to choose to wear on the air.

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Czarniak and Johnson both served as sideline reporters during Redskins preseason game telecasts simulcast on the "official" station (WRC) and cable network (Comcast SportsNet) of the team. As such, they apparently were required to wear official Redskins shirts as they performed their on-air work during the games.

That would be fine if they were actually full-time employees of the football team. But last time we checked, Czarniak and Johnson each held prominent day (and night) jobs with their respective stations, practicing what is supposed to be legitimate journalism (with the possible exception of that sappy "Lunch With Lindsay" fluff).

But here's the problem: Legitimate sports journalists, on the air, on the Web or on the printed page, generally don't wear team apparel when they're on the job, for all the obvious reasons. They're supposed to be neutral and objective, the better to ask the players, coaches and team executives the hard questions that frequently come up during the course of a season.

You want to put on a Channel 4 polo shirt or a Comcast SportsNet blazer, be my guest. That's whom you really work for. But in order to maintain journalistic integrity and any semblance of credibility, team-logoed apparel should be buried in mothballs and never displayed again. For that matter, any reporter who shows up in any press box wearing team-logoed clothing should not be admitted.

Quite frankly, I don't blame Czarniak or Johnson one bit. Both are gainfully employed by their respective entities, and I'm assuming they were ordered by higher-ups to wear the team shirts during game broadcasts. I use the word "assuming" because I placed a call last week to the news directors of both operations, but never received a return telephone call from either one.

One executive at Comcast SportsNet who did not want to be identified did tell me it was a Redskins decision, which is hardly surprising. But it's an odious choice that should have been challenged at the highest levels of both organizations, official station/cable network or not.

On a similar note, there was an interesting discussion on WTEM (980 AM), a Daniel Snyder-owned radio station, a few weeks ago between sports-talkers Andy Pollin and Kevin Sheehan. The subject was Sheehan's insistence on constantly referring to the Redskins as "we," as in, for example, "we look strong at linebacker" or "we have a decent shot at a playoff berth."

Pollin took exception to Sheehan's on-air use of "we," essentially telling him that it made him sound like a shilling fanboy of the team instead of a professional talk-show host, even if his paycheck is issued by a Snyder-owned company. Sheehan stood his ground, insisting that as a native Washingtonian and lifelong follower of the team, he has always called the Redskins "we" and he was not about to change now.

Sorry Kevin, but the only guys on WTEM allowed to refer to the Redskins as "we" are Rick "Doc" Walker, Joe Theismann, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, all of whom actually played for the team.

Sheehan's misguided stance probably was applauded around the halls of Redskins Park (the major exception being the media workroom). But Sheehan would have been wiser to heed Pollin's advice and take the neutral role, particularly now that he's going to be handling the day-after-game radio interview with Jim Zorn. The Redskins head coach was a regular last year with Pollin and Czaban, who hardly ever pulled any punches and never hesitated to ask tough questions, perhaps one reason the coach requested a different, less "negative" inquisitor.

Will Sheehan, the lifelong we-first fan, continue that tradition? Or will he think fan first and ruthlessly objective interviewer second? Stay tuned, for sure.


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