CBS Sports Network debuted a new show tonight. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps not. If you’re a regular follower of this blog, I wrote about it back in August saying it was about time. The “it” I’m referring to is the debut of the all-female sports talk show, “We Need to Talk”. Twelve ladies with sports backgrounds on one show to talk about sports. Unprecedented. As I and many other ladies in this business have long believed, it was overdue.
In its debut, all but one of the ladies was present (Summer Sanders made a video appearance from Africa where she is working with the Right to Play organization). Veteran broadcasters, Lesley Visser and Andrea Kremer, highlighted what appears to be a stellar cast that included: Katrina Adams, Laila Ali, Swin Cash, Dana Jacobson, Allie LaForce, Lisa Leslie, Dara Torres, Amy Trask and Tracy Wolfson. In today’s age, every sports tv event is analyzed (or overanalyzed) on Twitter. Although I had high hopes for the show going in, I wanted to be free of any outside opinions of the show. As such, I did not access any social media while it was on the air.
OPENING AND FIRST SEGMENT: Dramatic music set to a video montage of the hottest sports stories of recent times (i.e. Roger Goodell, Ray Rice, etc..). Scene opens with the ladies at three different areas of the studio. At the main table, Visser, Wolfson, Trask, Ali and Kremer were seated. Wolfson welcomes everyone to the show and immediately tosses to Visser and away we go. Really liked the opening montage. Keep that, please!
The opening story, as one would expect, was the NFL, Goodell, Rice and domestic violence. Right away with Visser and this story, her Hall of Fame credentials (as mentioned by Wolfson, I think) shine through. She knows the game. She knows the players in this saga. She has command of the topic. Drawing the others’ into the conversation was key to get things moving from the get-go. Laila Ali spoke first – strong presence – stating the NFL should be more proactive. Kremer asking what I’ve read so often these last few weeks, What did they think domestic violence looked like?.
One great question that got my attention early on was when Amy Trask asked Ali about a violent sport like hers (boxing) transferring over to real life. Solid take from Ali in that in the end it’s about character and morals. BINGO!
Overall, this first segment flowed well. Thoughtful responses. Knowledgeable. Not always agreeable, which is going to be key.
SECOND SEGMENT: After returning from commercial, Allie LaForce and Katrina Adams discussed Hope Solo’s recent trouble with domestic violence. Raising the question about letting the process run its course, Adams was agreeable with the innocent until proven guilty stance that U.S. Soccer has taken. Rice and Adrian Peterson’s incidents were on a different level — Adams even referenced social media being a part of their troubles in the process. And that’s where the Solo discussion ended. Abruptly. Which makes me feel as if the thinking going into the show was Oh, Hope Solo’s been a hot topic recently so we need to address it. Yeah, a bit disappointed. Why not address the outcry among mostly female media over it? That’s partly why it was a hot topic.
LaForce would go on to mention that suspensions alone won’t do anything – need to take money away. I think the NFL Players Association might have something to say about that. NBA policy was added to this discussion, but that felt like the Solo issue above…forced.
THIRD SEGMENT: Standing ovation here from me.
Domestic violence is no respecter of persons. It can happen to any person, any age, any race, in any country and any financial status. Dana Jacobson brought us back from break sitting with Swin Cash, Lisa Leslie and Dara Torres on the couch on the set. The victim’s point of view, as Jacobson referred to it, often gets lost in the discussion. Cash, Leslie and Torres each spoke on their own instances of being victims of domestic violence. Cash gave voice to the African-American community perspective. Leslie’s was one of not wanting to be the victim any longer. Torres, who had not spoken publicly before on the subject, showed what many who have suffered from mental abuse deal with – the mental gymanstics of was it abuse, was I a victim, unworthiness. It was raw and the collection of the three made it powerful.
The conversation made its way to colleges, Texas football coach Charlie Strong, child discipline (Leslie discuss teaching her own kids. Society only gets a brief mention in the discussion) and of course, Roger Goodell. Cash said all levels of the NFL need to be held responsible. Nothing that hasn’t already been said.
FOURTH SEGMENT: Good for Tracy Wolfson for saying right off the top that she was a Michigan alum. Why? Because the next topic up was the discussion about Michigan’s handling of quarterback Shawn Morris and his continuing to play over the weekend.
Both Wolfson and Allie LaForce are sideline reporters for CBS. While the position often gets ridiculed, both Wolfson and LaForce can speak to what actually happens on the sideline, particularly with a player injury in a college game. LaForce offered up plausible explanations as to why Michigan’s Coach Brady Hoke may not have known about Morris’ concussion – it’s up to the medical and training staff. Wolfson, for her part, described the different ways the NFL and NCAA sidelines handle the concussion issue in detail – PERFECT! Not so perfect was Trask chiming in about the NCAA being dismantled. Not much substance to that statement, but she’s not alone in saying that.
FIFTH SEGMENT: The previous two segments were highlights. Touching on the Dennis Allen firing by the Oakland Raiders…not so much. As part of the Raiders organization for over two decades, Trask knows the team well. When asked where the Raiders go from here/what do they need to do, Trask offered very little. Saying ‘he needs to be aware of the advice he gets’ was fine. But, saying that’s what happened in 2012? My curiosity is piqued…but NO ONE ASKED A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION!!! Fans don’t know the inner-workings of what happened – why no follow-up?
This wasn’t a fast-moving segment, per se, but it did touch on several different subjects: Dara Torres, a swimmer herself, spoke on the Michael Phelps DUI from Tuesday (LaForce called it a “selfish decision” and expected better from a 29 year-old. But, the discussion ended quickly with just a weird (non-existent) segue into the MLB playoffs. Again, this felt forced. It’s a current topic so “let’s talk about it”. Meh.
SIXTH SEGMENT: De-rek Je-ter. Getting back on track with Turnback Tuesday – at least, I think that’s what this was supposed to be called – Lesley Visser and three retired athletes brought a fresh perspective on Jeter and retiring athletes. It wasn’t so much a discussion of Jeter, but rather it was their retiremet stories. I didn’t know that Adams’ last singles match was against Serena Williams – yeah, she lost. I like those kinds of tidbits. Ali describing her last bout in South Africa with Nelson Mandela watching – okay, I admit it…coolness factor with Ali is off the charts.
SEVENTH SEGMENT: Meaningful or Meaningless — it’s only the first show so I’ll wait until I see this a few more times to decide if I like it or not. Torres, Adams, Ali and Leslie were gathered around the table with Kremer. Different topics were discussed and a member of the panel would describe if it was meaningful or meaningless. Topics included the Buffalo Bills’ change at quarterback, status of the New England Patriots, Carmelo Anthony’s I’m underrated comment, America’s Ryder Cup loss and bulletin board material. Decent topics. But, the star for me was Laila Ali weighing in on the bulletin board material topic. The competitor in her came through as she described how she would look for every little edge. Any amount of disrespect, she’d take it and use it as motivation. Fresh perspective.
EIGHTH SEGMENT: Social media hottest topics. Having worked on a show that incorporated social media hot topics or latest buzz, I know how difficult it is to do these types of segments. Even when we did it on Unite, it was a challenge to stay current. And, that’s the challenge here. Overall, it felt forced. Gotta have a social media segment thinking. Most of what was shared was old news to me. Perhaps for others who don’t work in social media or sports, it was new. As a Seattle Mariners fan, I enjoyed the Tom Wilhelmsen dancing video. The Mariners broadcast of it live shared with the audience that this was normal for Wilhelmsen to do in the bullpen – he just simply brought it out for the world to see on the last game of the season. That tidbit wasn’t shared by either Allie LaForce or Swin Cash because they didn’t know. Instead, they joked about Wilhelmsen’s dancing skills and tried to do their own. Yeah…umm…no.
CLOSING SEGMENT: We Need to Listen.
Pink or purple – that is the question. With the change of the calendar to October, the color pink will be plastered across our screens. Breast Cancer Awareness month. It also happens to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As Kremer eloquently pointed out, perhaps the NFL shouldn’t just trot out the pink, but instead, allow players the choice to incorporate purple into their uniforms this month too. Or, better yet, combine the two colors and make it relevant.
Well said, Andrea. Great idea, We Need to Talk.
FINAL THOUGHTS: In a word, yes!
Yes, this was a successful show. Yes, the show proved women can talk about sports because they know about sports. Not women’s sports – just sports! As with any show debut, yes, there were some rough spots: weird camera angles, camera shots of someone who wasn’t speaking, segments that I didn’t quite get. But, overall, I was pleased with what I saw.
I’ve said this before in my blog, but I need to say this again. I’m a sports fan. I don’t want to be called a female sports fan. I love sports. I have all of my life. Long before many on social media were even born, I was a sports fan. Men would always be surprised at how knowledgeable I was when it came to sports. We’d argue, trash talk, ask questions – and there was mutual respect once they saw I knew my stuff. Some even said I needed to have my own show (Yeah, well, you can’t have everything). That reaffirmed my belief that women could talk sports. Not women’s sports. Just sports.
You don’t have to be a beautiful blonde. You don’t have to be a size 2. You don’t have to be in your 20’s. You don’t have to fit the stereotype of what many in sports media still believe today about women (just look at their commercials, popular stories and website ads and you’ll know what I mean). You just need to know your stuff.
There are women like me out there. Not putting myself in their category whatsoever, but Visser and Kremer prove it every single day. They know their stuff. They back it up with what they say and bring to the discussion table. THAT’s what I want to see from this show. I want sports talk. Not the blowhard kind seen or heard in many sports shows today (tv and radio). I want reasoned, well-thought-out, sports talk. Even sports talk that will make me think.
Challenge my thinking.
Give me fresh perspective.
Don’t dumb it down for me.
Give me substance so I can say YES!
And here’s hoping CBS Sports says YES to many, many more We Need to Talk shows.
WHAT OTHERS HAD TO SAY
Congratulations to everyone involved in the show.
Did you watch the debut episode? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.