By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
2:10 PM EST, January 19, 2012
CBS is defending its decision to bring Ndamukong Suh on as an analyst last Sunday in its pre-game show prior to the AFC divisional matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.
I wrote about it Sunday night in my review of CBS coverage, promising a longer discussion in days to come. I thought Suh's appearance was an intrusive and outrageous example of a network abusing its loyal sports fans by using the airwaves to try and rehabilitate the image of an athlete who had behaved deplorably on national TV. Read that here.
In a teleconference this week, I got a chance to ask CBS Sports President Seam McManus why Suh was on that telecast.
McManus initially deflected the question to Harold Bryant, executive producer and vice president for production, on CBS Sports.
"I was actually in Foxboro," McManus said in answer to my question. "Harold, do you have an answer for that?"
"Yeah, we typically reach out to players that were in the playoffs, and we bring them in to get their comments," Bryant said. "We reach out every week to see if we can have players come in, and Suh is a well known player, a dynamic type of player. And we wanted to bring him in and have him work with us."
"Why an NFC player for an AFC divisional game?" I asked. "And does it have anything to do with the Subway sponsorship of the pre-game show, and his role a spokesman for Subway?"
"NFC player? You know, we cover the entire NFL, so we look at all the players across the league ... " Bryant said "There are a ton of players that have sponsors. And we don't look at sponsorship when we bring players in.
"So, you're saying no, there was no connection?" I asked.
"Ahm, Subway, there was no connection, but he is sponsored by Subway, so there's a connection in that sense," Bryant said.
"I just want to be clear ... " I began to say.
"We didn't bring him in just because he was Subway," Bryant said. "We brought him in because he was a top NFL player."
"Just to follow up on what Harold said," McManus added, "he went over a list with me prior to this of three or four different players we were talking about getting in there. I don't know exactly what the Subway connection is, but I can tell you that if it wasn't somebody who we thought wouldn't be able to add a perspective, someone who wasn't a high profile player, and someone who we thought wouldn't be articulate and be a good spokesman and analyst, there's no way we would have had him in the studio ... "
"Mr. McManus, last follow-up. ... Were you pleased that so much of a pre-game show [I stopped counting at eight minutes of Suh talk] was spent talking about something else [how sorry Suh said he was for the stomp on Thanksgiving Day and how that wasn't who he really is as a person] when fans were tuning in to see two teams [that Suh had nothing really to say about]?"
"Well, I think in the hour fully covered the matchup that was on CBS ... " McManus said. "I think that topic [the infamous Suh stomp] was very, very controversial. The producer of the show decided that it was lively enough and interesting enough [discussion last Sunday about the good things Suh does off the field and how he's matured] that it warranted that amount of time ... "
"Do you know if the questions from the panelists were scripted?" I asked.
"They were free to ask any questions," McManus said. "We don't script questions for either our studio guys or our top play-by-play guys."
What do you think? Do you think the Subway sponsorship played a role? Did you enjoy a conversation about how "honorable," to use Shannon Sharpe's word, it was for Suh to come on the show? Was it all PR, image-consultant-coached talk from Suh, as I alleged? Did you find it intrusive coming less than 30 minutes before kickoff on an eagerly awaited game between two teams Suh had nothing special to say about?
Here's a tweet from Subway's PR department from last Friday promoting Suh's appearance on the show:
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