Shell-Hostetler close-up puts networks in spotlight


The effects from the Art Shell-Jeff Hostetler sideline blowout during the Miami-Los Angeles Raiders game on Oct. 16 continue to fall, but this time on the networks.

As you may recall, Shell, the Raiders' coach, and Hostetler, the Raiders' quarterback, argued near the end of the first half, reportedly about play-calling and the performance of the Los Angeles offensive line in full view of NBC cameras.

Shell yanked Hostetler for Vince Evans for the remainder of the half, but reinstated him in the second half. The two men met early last week to settle their differences, and Hostetler went the route in Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons.

The content of that flap has touched off a furor over the content of the NFL pre-game shows, especially "Fox NFL Sunday" and ESPN's "NFL GameDay."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported this week that during the on-field argument, Shell, who is black, uttered a racial slur at Hostetler, who is white.

Mortensen, however, did not lead the show with that story, but brought it up later during a general discussion of the relationship between the two. Yesterday, Mortensen made two appearances on New York's WFAN-AM to defend his reporting of the story.

Fox also aired a story on the Shell-Hostetler flap Sunday and had analyst Jimmy Johnson and Terry Bradshaw generally discuss the coach-quarterback relationship.

But the network did not mention the racial angle, even though analyst Howie Long, who played for the Raiders for 14 years, had spoken to Shell on Saturday night and had asked him about the alleged remarks.

Yesterday, Long, who also appeared on New York's WFAN-AM, said Shell vehemently denied having slurred Hostetler.

"For 15 years, the man has never lied to me, and I have no reason to believe that he would lie to me," said Long yesterday.

On the basis of Long's relationship with Shell, his questioning of Raiders players on the scene who all denied the report, and the fact that Fox reporters could not independently corroborate the rumors, the network did not air the racial angle.

"We felt we'd rather be beat than be wrong," said Lou D'Ermilio, a Fox spokesman.

Oddly enough, NBC, which originally aired the game and had a reporter, Hannah Storm, stationed on the Joe Robbie Stadium sidelines, reported Sunday that the two parties had met after the original argument, but did not have the racial angle, according to Ed Markey, an NBC spokesman.

The waters surrounding this story are further muddied by the fact that a number of Los Angeles print outlets were aware of Shell's alleged comments, but did not report on them until after Mortensen's report Sunday. The Los Angeles Times yesterday reported that three independent sources said Shell called Hostetler "another white quarterback, just like Schroeder," apparently referring to former Redskin and Raider Jay Schroeder. However, Hostetler yesterday denied that Shell made such a remark.

There are more than a few troubling questions and issues raised by this story.

The first is the implication that Shell, who vigorously has denied making the statements, has been allowed latitude that a white coach dealing with a black player would not be afforded.

If that's true, then all sides should be castigated. Statements such as the one Shell is accused of making are racist and deserved to be exposed and condemned, no matter who says them.

But did Long, and Fox by extension, act properly by not airing unsubstantiated rumors, or was the former defensive lineman too close to the story to perform as a responsible journalist?

"To suggest that I would cover something up is offensive to me and insulting," said Long. "We're not talking about offsides. . . . We're talking about a man's reputation."

And did Mortensen, who formerly worked at the Atlanta Constitution, the now-defunct National sports newspaper and the Sporting News, act responsibly by presenting a serious charge in a matter-of-fact manner?

And where is NBC, which presumably could settle the matter simply by reviewing tapes of the game and the argument at a slower speed to determine if it has definitive proof, one way or the other, of what Shell did or didn't say?

The larger question, of course, is should anyone take any of these pre-game shows seriously in the first place?

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