Chris Berman Answers His Critics

On Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio, ESPN’s Chris Berman will
be awarded the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle
Radio-Television Award, given in recognition of “longtime exceptional contributions to
radio and television in professional
football,” according to the

But “Boomer” may also win the
award for the sports personality
who gets trashed in the media
and the blogs more than anyone.
For instance, last week prominent
(and often tough on ESPN) sports
blog Deadspin ran this headline,
referring to Berman’s call of the
MLB Home Run Derby on ESPN:
“Last Night’s Winner: People With
Functioning Mute Buttons.”

Berman-bashing is nothing new. As Sports Illustrated’s
Richard Deitsch wrote on the night of
the Home Run Derby of the polarizing effect of
the sportscaster: “There are very few things in life
you can see a mile away. Typing ‘Chris Berman’
into Twitter Search tonight is one of them.”

In full disclosure, just last week in this space,
I noted that Berman’s work on the U.S. Open
Golf tournament every year is “maddening” to
many. But in this day and age of the increasingly
malicious media eating its young (or elders),
I wondered if anyone ever had the gumption to
ask the 55-year-old Berman about all this to his
face. So, when I saw the ubiquitous sportscaster
on the field last week before the MLB All-Star
Game—from which he will head to the ESPYs,
followed by a vacation and then hip-replacement
surgery—I decided to do just that.

As we stood there on the blazing-hot field,
seemingly engaged in a contest to see who
could sweat the most as National League sluggers
took batting practice, Berman came across
as equally stoic and bothered when talking
about his detractors.

Rather than editorialize about his comments,
here is an edited transcript of the conversation
for you to interpret as you will.

Do you read your press clippings?

I’m aware of them. I don’t really understand
them, because I don’t think they’re from the

Do they piss you off?

I’d say “disappointed.” But I mean, what do
they say, that I don’t try hard? No. So then,
it’s OK. I know what the people think, so it’s
OK. I’m broadcasting for the people and I’m
broadcasting for my place. I couldn’t tell you
if jealousy sneaks in or not. It doesn’t matter.
If you’ve been around a long time, they’re going
to shoot at high targets. I probably did it,
too, when I was younger. But not quite the
same way.

You’re probably one of the most polarizing
people in sports.

I’m not sure why. Because if you ask the players
and the people in the game, I’m not.

So, is it just the media’s opinion?

I don’t know. I do the best I can; I enjoy what
I do.

Do you ever call your execs or PR people
and ask what the deal is?

In the past, yeah. But they can’t control what’s
written. I’ve heard the term “polarizing,” but
I’m not sure why. I just do it the way I do it.

A lot of people think that your personality
and golf don’t go together.

Except that the USGA, ESPN and the golfers
love it. So, who am I broadcasting for?
The viewers, the people in golf,
at my place and the USGA. I
ask every year what can I do to
change it, and they say, “Just do
it.” The USGA put me on golf; it
was their idea to make it more
regular, to make it not just golf.
But I’m not trying to be funny. I
follow the golf tour pretty closely.
I’ve done this since 1986, so
now I’m no good at it? So, I don’t
know anything about golf?

“He’s not trying”—that isn’t
written. “He doesn’t know anything
or do his homework”—no, that doesn’t
get written. If that’s written, I get upset. Otherwise,
opinions are great. We all have an opinion.
If they think I’m good or bad, it’s fine.

For example, they said, “How could he say
Dustin ‘The Wind’ Johnson?” [Citing a Berman-
esque nickname for a pro golfer.] I was on
for 10 hours, not 10 seconds. I said it once. It’s
OK, relax a little, would you please? It’s sports.
Just relax. It is 10 hours.

I wasn’t sure anyone had ever asked you
about the criticism.

[The criticism] is disappointing, but I’m not
sure where it comes from. Did I get bad all of
a sudden? My heart is still in the same place. I
quote music from my day, and when the music
today is better than in my day, I’ll quote it.
And maybe a lot of the people commenting
today haven’t seen me earn it. They’re young.
It’s true.

Do you see a more rabid media today?

I guess. People are angrier now than we were.
It’s OK.

Thanks for talking about this.

Now this [interview], of course, will be seen
and people will go, “Whatever.” I’m not flippant
about it. Sure, you get upset with criticism,
but if it’s fair, it’s great. I know: How
could he say that?

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and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman