Journalists Should Retire the Team Attire

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.

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.

A few more leftovers from yet another dismal Redskins preseason that makes me think 6-10 is very possible, and 10-6 wildly wishful thinking.

-- He's baaaack. Yes, the still-insufferable "Vinny Cerrato Show" will be aired for a second season of non-information, hackneyed footballspeak radio on (where else?) WTEM. Here's a suggestion for the team's executive vice president for football operations: schedule a weekly 15-minute segment featuring Daniel "Decline to Comment" Snyder answering questions from listeners. Now that would be must-listen radio.

-- I do like the idea of WTEM giving Theismann his own show in a medium that's made for his all-talk, all-the-time style. But first, a disclaimer: I'm totally in the tank for Joe T, going back to the first day he showed up at Redskins Park in 1974 as an NFL rookie. I opened my notebook, asked a simple question and six hours later had enough material for 14 stories. (I exaggerate, of course, but not much.)

By the way, this is the truth: The man has never failed to return a phone call in 35 years I've known him, nor have I ever heard him utter the words "no comment." Not once, not ever. You may not like what he says, or the on-and-on torrent of words he occasionally needs to say it, but I'm not about to knock a man who never hesitates to offer an opinion, even when my pen started running out of ink.

Theismann will be on only once a week for now, but I suspect that may be a prelude to a regular presence on the station, and one of these years, a spot in the booth as a game analyst on the Redskins radio network.

-- I've tried to keep an open mind on the Sports Junkies, I really have. But every time I hear on them on WJFK (106.7 FM) describing someone as a "retard," I wonder why they're allowed on the air, or more germane, why I've even bothered to listen. And their totally inappropriate, mocking denigration of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy the day after he died may have been the final straw for me.

-- Oh yes, welcome back, Mr. Tony. More on the dueling divas at 10 a.m. -- my old Post colleagues Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wise -- in a future column.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.

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