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James Brown Talks NFL, Sports Broadcasting

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James Brown
Host of "The NFL Today" on CBS and "Inside the NFL" on
Thursday, October 9, 2008; 11:00 AM

Longtime NFL studio show host James Brown was online Thursday, Oct. 9 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about his life, career, pro football and the state of sports broadcasting.

The transcript follows.

Brown, a Washington resident, was born in Bethesda, Md., and went to high school at DeMatha. He currently hosts "Inside the NFL" for Showtime and "NFL Today" for CBS.

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James Brown: I'm humbled and thankful to be able to talk a little football with you. Hopefully I'll say something of worth and/or substance!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: How did you make the leap from the business world to broadcasting basketball and then football? How did you get hired for your initial broadcasting jobs? I am glad they found you and all the best on your future work.

James Brown: Wow! How thankful I am. You can't see me, but I'm blushing. Believe it or not there's a lot of similarities between the business world and sports broadcasting -- especially as relates to interviewing. On sales calls, in essence I was "interviewing" a potential customer to get to know more about them and their needs; clearly it's the same process for interviewing athletes and coaches. My first broadcasting efforts were as a freelancer for the then-Washington Bullets. Then I did black college sports for BET, local television, and then ultimately came to the attention of CBS while doing some syndicated college basketball games. I was asked to do football play-by-play for them, and survived my first broadcast and major fumble when I said a player was tackled at the 60 yard line and looked at the (incorrect) stadium clock and said "we'll be right back after this commercial break with 8 minutes and 99 seconds to play." I'm very glad not to have been fired then.

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Fairfax, Va.: Mr Brown, please settle this once and for all: Do the game day shows preferentially cover "big market" teams more often? Meaning, do the Giants get more mention and coverage because they are a New York team?

James Brown: As someone who has been in the business for quite a while, I can honestly say they don't get preferential treatment. We do focus on the teams that are winning and have good storylines, but it's fair to assume that if a big-market team is doing well (Giants, Chicago, Dallas, Washington) they're going to get a lot of coverage because of the number of media outlets there. A big-market team doing well with marquee players will do well. I really subscribe to John Madden's philosophy -- "the defending champions are the defending champions until they're dethroned." The Giants certainly deserve the coverage in that regard. They're 4-0, and I certainly remember when the St. Louis Rams or the Packers were doing well, and though they're not big markets, they were getting a lot of coverage because of their marquee players. What's you're favorite team -- maybe I can tell you if I think they're being overlooked.

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Calverton, Md.: Mr. Brown, I'm a fellow DeMatha graduate and have spoken with you in the past. What advice would you give an aspiring sports broadcaster beginning his college career? Also what is your outlook for the Washington Redskins this season after two very impressive wins?

James Brown: First of all, hello to a fellow Stag. The best advice probably is very general -- be well-read on a range of topics, including the sport or sports that you're interested in, to make sure you're very conversant with as much as there is to know about that sport or those sports, and don't by any stretch of the imagination underestimate the value of internships with media companies and doing all that you can -- display a level of excellence, be a self-starter and help-oriented, always seek to assist -- to come the attention of those doing the decision-making. It pays dividends.

As for the Redskins, I'm pleasantly surprised, especially after a Week 1 performance that was less than encouraging. But looking at how well they've played since then, is impressive to me, because it shows mental tenacity and physical toughness as a whole. It actually started in that loss to the Giants, where they made second-half adjustments and did very well. Now that they have played their division opponents on the road the schedule favors them, because now they get them at home.

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Washington: James, hope all is well. Going way back, I was wondering if you remember a high school game you played at Cole Field House before a Harlem Globetrotters game? I was at that game. If you remember, who was the high school opponent that game? Thanks.

James Brown: You're really testing me to dust off some cobwebs in my memory banks! The only high school game I can remember playing at Cole Field House would have been against Phelps Vocational High School, and an outstanding basketball player on that team named James Garvin.

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Philadelphia: Is there, or should there be, anything the NFL can do to better prepare NFL athletes for life outside of pro football, such as money management, behavioral difficulties, and counseling on coping with life after one's playing days are over?

James Brown: An excellent question. Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association, for at least the past several years, has been doing just that. For instance, the league sponsors a broadcast bootcamp that I have been blessed to host for the past two years at NFL Films Studios in Mount Laurel, N.J., where select players are exposed to the full range of career opportunities in the media -- television, radio, Internet and print. It also sponsors an entrepreneur's program where select players go through intensive entrepreneurial training at prestigious business schools like Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, University of Chicago, etc. I'm happy to say that a number of players are taking advantage of that program, and I'm very impressed with how forward-thinking and diligent these players are.

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Manassas, Va.: James, thanks for taking the time to be here and chat.

Given you're from the area, do you ever find it hard not to be a little less than objective concerning the Redskins during your pre-game show (both now and FOX in the past)? I'd think there would be times when it would be hard not to instinctively step in and defend the 'Skins if they were being ripped mercilessly -- which has happened plenty enough in the past.

James Brown: I'd like to think I've been fairly objective as a broadcaster when it comes to the Redskins, but I must admit my disposition is a little sunnier when the Redskins win as opposed to when they lose, because I am a native Washingtonian. If the Redskins are being criticized accurately and properly, then I would not step in to say anything -- as long as it is, to borrow the expression from Fox, fair and balanced.

But I must tease with this and say that my personal assistant, Elizabeth Malia, ripped me when I read a lead-in on the NFL Today show recently, the weekend the Redskins played the Cowboys and referenced the Cowboys as "America's Team," which they are known as. It took me four or five e-mails to explain to her that I had to be objective and was in no way being disloyal to the hometown team. Oh, and if you watch "Inside the NFL" on Showtime this week, you'll see at the end of the show me being anything but objective with my colleagues, discussion the best team in the NFL, the Redskins, knowing we were going off the air and giving them no time to respond.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I really enjoyed your Bullets broadcasts back in the '70s -- Mel Proctor? Do you think that this year's Wiz team will be able to survive the injury plague?

James Brown: Antawn Jamison is a huge loss for the Wizards. Boy, what a shame. A huge loss not only in terms of his talent, but in terms of his veteran leadership. Every team needs a veteran with character, integrity and the ability to lead by example. I'm concerned that the Wizards aren't deep enough to be able to withstand a significant loss like that and go deep into the playoffs or be a serious title contender.

[Producer's note: I gave Mr. Brown outdated information; Jamison's knee appears to be fine, while the questioner above most likely was referring to Brendan Haywood's wrist injury.]

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Arlington, Va.: Hello James...I remember you have a brother who once played for the Eagles and the Jets ... can you tell me where he is today? Thanks!

James Brown: Wow. His name is Terence Brown, and he had a quick cup of coffee with the Eagles and the Cowboys. He is, after working a number of years in corporate America in sales management, now the president and chief operating officer of the Brown Technology Group, an information technology company based in Chantilly, Va.

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Washington: I personally miss you on Fox Sports. It seems like when you were there at least someone would balance out the Anti-Redskins nature of Jimmy and the rest of that network. Does a company like Fox or CBS look to try and keep a balance of broadcasters from different teams? I look at Fox and it seems like half the booth guys were Cowboys, I am sure most fans don't care, but three-fourth's of NFC East fans do when we see that.

James Brown: That's a good question. It is typically done in jest, truly knowing that Jimmy Johnson is an ex-Cowboys and Dolphins coach, Howie Long an ex-Raider and Michael Strahan an ex-Giant and Terry Bradshaw an ex-Steeler, that they would feel in their innermost core some feelings about those teams and have in a humorous fashion have it come out. But I can say having worked with those guys for 12 years that they are truly objective and would not hesitate to be constructively critical of those teams. And yes, in a humorous fashion, when I was there, I made sure the Washington Redskins were representedm, and enjoyed every minute of it.

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Oakton, Va.: It seems these days that just about all the NFL game day programs really have ramped up their "production values" and have become in-your-face, loud, quick-paced product. Despite this overall trend, CBS has struck me as being more restrained, perhaps aiming to be the thinking man's game day program.

Did you notice such a difference when you left FOX and joined CBS?

James Brown: Yes, I noticed that CBS, to use your words, was more restrained, and I hear that concern loud and clear in terms of broadcast maybe being "in your face." Hopefully we can as broadcasters temper that with an upbeat, energetic presentation that's not so "in your face," because the viewers are very mature, knowledgeable, savvy football fans who don't need to be yelled at. In all honesty, one of the complaints about the CBS show is that some find us by comparison to be boring, and too conservative. That was the concern and reputation I heard when I left fox for CBS. Hopefully we have stepped up the excitement without engaging in buffoonery, presenting solid football information in a humorous or interesting fashion. We aren't talking financial crisis, world wars, etc. -- we want to make it fun.

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Claverack, N.Y.: When you're in the studio, what's it like when the cameras are off and day's games begin to be played? Are you watching many different games simultaneously? Are you talking with your co-hosts about what's going on?

James Brown: Excellent question. My colleagues leave the set and go to a room full of televisions to watch games that they are assigned or are of interest to them -- they split up the responsibilities. I have to sit in the studio the balance of the day, watching monitors of all the games on CBS and Fox, prepared throughout the day to deliver updates on any scoring or other significant information to any games in any of the 10 markets we're covering. So if anything happens in another game or on Fox, I prepare a 10-15 second update for all the other audiences. It's a long, exhilarating, exhausting day, and when I wrap up at 7:30 p.m., I'm mush. But it's a good exhausted.

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Naperville, Ill.: J.B. what ultimately led you to leave the Fox pregame show for CBS? Was it the fact that the CBS show is done in New York?

James Brown: It was an exceedingly difficult decision leaving the No. 1 pregame show, and people who were more than just colleagues, they were friends. But on balance, the opportunity presented at CBS was too good to pass up. The opportunity to do a range of things is why I pursued the opportunity at CBS.

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Falls Church, Va.: Mr. Brown, I seen your car up at Bubba's East Coast Rods & Customs. Very nice -- they do great work. My question is, how do you think the rest of the league is going to prepare to play the Redskins after such fantastic road victories over the Cowboys and Eagles, and do you think the Giants are wishing they didn't have to play us again, especially at FedEx?

James Brown: I don't think that the Giants are fearful of playing the Redskins at FedEx -- they're a very good football team. I think what the Redskins have done is raise eyebrows around the league, shown they are for real. Having played as well as they did in the second half against New York -- and what they did in Dallas and in Philadelphia -- means they won't catch anyone by surprise. It's important for Washington not to get complacent, and to continue to improve, because it's theirs for the taking. I think Joe Bugle really has instilled a sense of tenacity and nastiness in this squad. They don't get down on themselves if they get behind -- they keep punching away.

I look forward to doing this again. I'm very thankful for the questions that came in and humbled that so many of you remember me from my early days in Washington. I hope to do this again soon.

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