An ode to unadulterated sports talk

The Sports Reporters, the long-running ESPN weekly series, will leave the air in May after nearly 30 years, reports Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch.

It premiered in 1988, but the show seemingly took off once the late Dick Schaap became host in 1989. The late John Saunders replaced Schaap in 2001 after the host’s death and served as moderator until his unexpected death last year. The half-hour Sunday program was similar to its forerunner, the Chicago-based The Sports Writers on TV (1985-2000).

But as Sports Writers was four White sports reporters seriously talking sports, The Sports Reporters was far more colorful, so to speak. It probably was the first show of its kind that regularly featured Black reporters.

When asked how many times he appeared on the show, Roy S. Johnson admitted in an email to the MSR, “Too many times to remember.” Now the director of sports for Alabama Media Group, Johnson, the late Ralph Wiley, the late Brian Burwell and William C. Rhoden were regulars among other notables.

“It paved the way for people like Michael Wilbon, Stephen A. Smith, David Aldridge and others to transition from print to television,” continued Johnson.  “[The] Sports Reporters was ground-breaking. It acknowledged the value of the perspectives of people who covered teams and beats every day, which people on television did not do back then. It was a great platform for deeper discussions on the people, events and topics that matter in sports.”

I enjoyed The Sports Reporters each Sunday morning. As Deitsch wrote, both Schaap and Saunders “gave the show gravitas.” However, in later years the half-hour show conflicted with my church schedule.

Whether or not Saunders’ sudden death last August eventually took the life and spirit out of the show is debatable, but The Sports Reporters nonetheless might be the last of its kind — a non-shtick, serious sports talk show not found today on television or radio.

“There may not be a specific show just like it,” noted Johnson.

NPR’s Only A Game for now stands alongside The Sports Reporters as serious programs for those of us who love our sports talk unadulterated. The one-hour sports magazine radio show (9 pm Saturdays on KNOW-FM 91.1) since 1993, hosted by Bill Littlefield and produced by Boston’s WBUR, “is radio for the serious sports fan… [It] puts sports in perspective with intelligent analysis, insightful interviews, and a keen sense of humor.” Among its regular features is “Three Stories You Should Know” with the host and two guest sports reporters.

Only A Game, which also regularly features women’s sports, returned to the Twin Cities airwaves last fall after a long absence. My radio welcomed it back with open ears. No shtick, just good sports talk that even non-sports folk can enjoy.

Soon Only A Game will be alone as The Sports Reporters will leave us come this May. It will be missed.

“It had a good run,” concluded Johnson.


Diversity downgrade

New U of M Football Coach P.J. Fleck has announced that he hired nine assistant coaches and four staff members to his staff. However, only two of the new hires are Black. Fleck’s predecessor had seven Blacks on his staff.

Is this what the school means by a “culture change” in Gopher football?


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to