Thursday, July 17, 2014

CBS, McManus fail on-air talent with Redskins approach

So much for help from the boss. Or, in NFL terms any protection from the front line.

CBS Sports president Sean McManus effectively tossed the network's on-air NFL talent into the crazy, politically correct wilderness all by themselves this week when he told The Hollywood Reporter for its sports issue that the network does not have a policy, nor would it provide a top-down directive for use of the Washington Redskins nickname on broadcasts this season.

Here's the exchange from the Q-and-A piece:

There is a lot of pressure on the Washington Redskins to change their name. How will CBS analysts address that controversy this fall?
We haven't talked to them yet. Generally speaking, we do not tell our announcers what to say or not say. Up to this point, it has not been a big issue for us. Last year, it was simmering; now it's reaching a hotter level. But we probably will not end up dictating to our announcers whether they say Redskins or don't say Redskins. We leave that up to them and our production team. There are times when something becomes important enough that we talk to them, and between now and the start of football season we'll decide what is the right thing to do.  LINK TO COMPLETE INTERVIEW
That sounds like it's providing leeway for the professionals that work the games, in the broadcast booth as well as the production truck, to adapt and do their jobs. So it sounds good, even empowering. But it really just shifts responsibility form CBS Sports, the network's leadership and McManus to others lower in the pecking order if someone wants to complain.

McManus' answer was a practical PR perspective, the right thing to keep him from getting involved in any form of controversy. But, if critics are to complain about Washington team leadership and NFL leadership for being what they consider tone deaf in this situation, then the network partners have to be responsible as well. They have to face criticism and pressure for using the nickname, too.

While it's my perspective that Redskins is the team's nickname and it should be used until it gets changed (if it ever does), the broadcast partners should not be able to sidestep the issue. The lack of outcry about McManus's approach was surprising. Anyone and everyone who has touched the topic has been vilified if they believe Redskins should remain and, to a lesser degree, they have at least faced hefty indication for not chiming in on the topic.

Passing the buck by not having a policy (and the logic of the business agreement would seem to hint that CBS Sports would use the nickname of a team in a league from whom it receives money) just puts on-air talent in a vulnerable position. They're effectively standing in front of the politically correct bus, waiting to get run over if some vocal interest group complains about them using Redskins too much during a broadcast.

However, there could be another reason for not having a policy or top-down directive. Maybe the use of Redskins really is not a big deal to CBS Sports.

After all, the network most assuredly has a policy against profanity -- against saying things it knows the public does not accept or would be offensive. In the case of the Redskins, CBS Sports simply might be displaying its agreement with (or at least appreciation of) public opinion polls that skew heavily in favor of keeping the nickname, or at least not seeing it as a slur. 

Of course, directly stating that would not have been a good PR move for McManus. So we're left waiting for a decision to happen -- and it will, based on pressure from vocal groups before the season begins or sometime after the discussion happens in the middle of the season and an unprotected and unsuspecting on-air talent utters "Redskins" once too often for someone.

It's too bad the boss (like a quality left tackle for a top-notch quarterback) did not have their back before the hit.