Star SportscasterMakes Plays in New Arena

Brown takes interests beyond the playing field in additional role as CBS News special correspondent
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If things had gone the way James Brown originally intended, viewers would never have heard the longfamiliar phrase “sportscaster James Brown.”

The host of CBS’ The NFL Today and Showtime’s Inside the NFL, and now a special correspondent for CBS News, was also a standout college basketball player at Harvard. He was prized enough to be drafted in the fourth round (the 62nd overall pick) by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks in 1973. While the draft day thrill was as far as he would ever really get in the NBA (he eventually was cut from the team), it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I looked at myself in the mirror, knowing that I should be playing professional basketball for the 10-12 years that I had planned, but I knew the reason I didn’t make it was because I didn’t work as hard to stay on top as I did to get to the top,” Brown admits.

Brown says he “vowed” that in his next endeavor, he would be “passionate about the pursuit of that.”

That passion has made Brown one of the most respected sportscasters in the country, in a career that has now spanned close to 30 years. But even as he is firmly entrenched in the sports arena, Brown is happily expanding his horizons. In March, he was named special correspondent for CBS News. “My interests have always been broader than just sports,” he says.

Brown had been inching his way into the network’s news department for several years. In 2009, he scored, for 60 Minutes, the first interview with disgraced NFL quarterback Michael Vick following his two-year prison term for running an illegal dogfighting ring. Brown received high marks all around for the report. As Jeff Fager, CBS News chairman and executive producer of 60 Minutes, puts it: “James Brown is among the very best in our business.”

“Audiences know J.B. as the face of The NFL Today and other sports broadcasts. What they may not know is his curiosity about the news,” adds CBS News president David Rhodes.

The opportunity to work in the news division is part of what led Brown back to CBS in 2006 after a 12-year stint hosting Fox NFL Sunday, the network’s NFL pregame show. Upon Brown’s return, one of the first things CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus—who also was running the news division as well at the time—asked Brown was if he had any interest in hosting The Early Show to go along with his sports duties.

“I wanted to focus on doing an excellent job first as the host of [The NFL Today],” says Brown. “I said [to Sean], ‘Let me deliver in this arena for you first.’”

Brown has been around sports his entire life. He got his first gig as a sportscaster in 1984, doing analyst work for the then-Washington Bullets (now Wizards). He is also a minority owner of the Washington Nationals baseball team.

Brown joined CBS Sports in 1984 as part of the broadcast team for the NFL, NBA and college basketball. He remained at CBS until 1994, when the network lost its NFL rights to Fox. Brown followed suit and helmed Fox NFL Sunday until 2006, when he returned to CBS after what he calls “a tough decision-making process.”

But the move created the additional news lane for Brown, and he has run with it—though he can’t completely get away from sports. He has spent a lot of time reporting on the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal and serving as a host for CBS This Morning Saturday. He also admits getting a charge out of on-the-spot reporting. “If [I’m ever] thrown into a situation where I have to do a live report without an awful lot of preparation, that’s fun to me,” says Brown, though he is quick to point out that covering sports provides some of the same challenges.

“There are probably more similarities than differences, with what I’ve seen thus far,” explains Brown. The main difference, he says, is that in hard news, the importance of getting your facts right is magnified.

Brown is enjoying his new role in news, but not enough to give up sports just yet. “We’ll just see where it carries [me],” he says.

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays

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