Former Washington Redskins defensive end Charles Mann has left Channel 9 after four years as a sports reporter in order to "pursue other opportunities."
Essentially, Mann said he got sick of covering his old team, asking the "same old, same old questions." When the station -- which yesterday fired lead anchor Ken Broo -- told Mann that would again be his primary responsibility, and also informed him he could not do any commercials, he decided to go out on his own because, he said, "I feel like I still want to be a celebrity."
"I wanted to be able to do stuff I used to do when I was a player -- commercials, more public appearances and speaking engagements," Mann said. "I had to cut that down when I went to Channel 9. I'm working more now that I'm out of a full-time job than I ever did at the station."
There was another factor as well, something of a "face-time issue." Mann said he felt that after four years, he should have been able to fill in on weekdays or weekends as a sports anchor.
"I did feel like I was stagnant in not developing the way I should have," Mann said. "But I still didn't feel comfortable and they didn't feel comfortable. After four years, I felt I should have gotten to that level."
There will be no tears shed here over Mann's departure. He was hired primarily because of his football background ahead of more qualified candidates. To call him a journalist also would be a great misnomer, as he readily admitted in an interview this week.
"I got to the point where I wanted to tell the truth instead of glossing it over," Mann said. "I could have been brutally honest and told the truth. Because I was a former player, I knew how I felt as a player when I saw former players rip current players. I didn't want to be that guy. I'd rather say those things in close quarters with friends than say it on the news."
It's a problem many former players going into the media have always grappled with. Most will tell you that after a year or so, they get over it and have no qualms about asking tough questions or offering pointed opinions or criticism directed at their former colleagues.
Mann hardly ever broke a story, rarely put Norv Turner on the hot seat or criticized players for poor play. Instead, he would get former teammates for feel-good, happy-talk interviews, though he occasionally got stiffed, just like the rest of us.
That Mann thought he should be allowed to do commercials tells you in part how he viewed his role as a broadcast journalist. Then again, ESPN sports anchors such as Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne blatantly shill products all over the air.
To digress, Patrick is pushing a major national beer company and a national restaurant chain while at the same time still working as an anchor on "SportsCenter" -- a sports news show -- and starting up a daily three-hour ESPN Radio show that includes frequent interviews with athletes and coaches.
Doing beer commercials, not to mention promoting a restaurant chain that survives on a booming bar business, seems quite inappropriate for a man employed by a network that offers more college football and basketball games than any other broadcast entity in the country. Last time we looked, binge drinking on campus remains a major issue, and never mind all the athletes who have careened into trouble over the years for drunk driving or alcohol-fueled crimes and misdemeanors.
The general defense from the pitchmen, including ESPN's Chris Berman, is that doing commercials is a lot of fun, helps pay the bills and would never interfere with their duties or cloud their news judgment.
Perhaps they might recall the outcry from most of his media colleagues when David Brinkley, retired from network news, decided to become the commercial spokesman for Archer Daniels Midland. Does Dan Rather pitch products? Tom Brokaw? Peter Jennings? Is sports news different from any other news?
The men in charge of the news shows at ESPN -- most of whom began their careers on newspapers -- generally agree that their people probably shouldn't be involved. But because so many have become such major stars, they say they're more inclined to allow it or else face the possibility of losing their top talents to other networks. They shouldn't, and ought to just say no.
Over at Channel 9, station president and general manager Dick Reingold has held firm in his belief that none of his news people be allowed to free-lance doing commercials. Also to his credit (and unlike channels 4 and 7) he also refuses to pay Redskins to appear on his station's news shows.
"I can't think of any circumstances where we'd allow them to do commercials," he said. "This is a full-time job, and we want their full energies devoted to it. And there's also the conflict-of-interest issue. We do not pay players to appear on the news. The reason is, you don't pay news makers."