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Chris Berman Answers His Critics

On Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio, ESPN’s Chris Berman will be awarded the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, given in recognition of “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football,” according to the announcement.

But “Boomer” may also win the award for the sports personality who gets trashed in the media and the blogs more than anyone. For instance, last week prominent (and often tough on ESPN) sports blog Deadspin ran this headline, referring to Berman’s call of the MLB Home Run Derby on ESPN: “Last Night’s Winner: People With Functioning Mute Buttons.”

Berman-bashing is nothing new. As Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch wrote on the night of the Home Run Derby of the polarizing effect of the sportscaster: “There are very few things in life you can see a mile away. Typing ‘Chris Berman’ into Twitter Search tonight is one of them.”

In full disclosure, just last week in this space, I noted that Berman’s work on the U.S. Open Golf tournament every year is “maddening” to many. But in this day and age of the increasingly malicious media eating its young (or elders), I wondered if anyone ever had the gumption to ask the 55-year-old Berman about all this to his face. So, when I saw the ubiquitous sportscaster on the field last week before the MLB All-Star Game—from which he will head to the ESPYs, followed by a vacation and then hip-replacement surgery—I decided to do just that.

As we stood there on the blazing-hot field, seemingly engaged in a contest to see who could sweat the most as National League sluggers took batting practice, Berman came across as equally stoic and bothered when talking about his detractors.

Rather than editorialize about his comments, here is an edited transcript of the conversation for you to interpret as you will.

Do you read your press clippings?

I’m aware of them. I don’t really understand them, because I don’t think they’re from the people.

Do they piss you off?

I’d say “disappointed.” But I mean, what do they say, that I don’t try hard? No. So then, it’s OK. I know what the people think, so it’s OK. I’m broadcasting for the people and I’m broadcasting for my place. I couldn’t tell you if jealousy sneaks in or not. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve been around a long time, they’re going to shoot at high targets. I probably did it, too, when I was younger. But not quite the same way.

You’re probably one of the most polarizing people in sports.

I’m not sure why. Because if you ask the players and the people in the game, I’m not.

So, is it just the media’s opinion?

I don’t know. I do the best I can; I enjoy what I do.

Do you ever call your execs or PR people and ask what the deal is?

In the past, yeah. But they can’t control what’s written. I’ve heard the term “polarizing,” but I’m not sure why. I just do it the way I do it.

A lot of people think that your personality and golf don’t go together.

Except that the USGA, ESPN and the golfers love it. So, who am I broadcasting for? The viewers, the people in golf, at my place and the USGA. I ask every year what can I do to change it, and they say, “Just do it.” The USGA put me on golf; it was their idea to make it more regular, to make it not just golf. But I’m not trying to be funny. I follow the golf tour pretty closely. I’ve done this since 1986, so now I’m no good at it? So, I don’t know anything about golf?

“He’s not trying”—that isn’t written. “He doesn’t know anything or do his homework”—no, that doesn’t get written. If that’s written, I get upset. Otherwise, opinions are great. We all have an opinion. If they think I’m good or bad, it’s fine.

For example, they said, “How could he say Dustin ‘The Wind’ Johnson?” [Citing a Berman- esque nickname for a pro golfer.] I was on for 10 hours, not 10 seconds. I said it once. It’s OK, relax a little, would you please? It’s sports. Just relax. It is 10 hours.

I wasn’t sure anyone had ever asked you about the criticism.

[The criticism] is disappointing, but I’m not sure where it comes from. Did I get bad all of a sudden? My heart is still in the same place. I quote music from my day, and when the music today is better than in my day, I’ll quote it. And maybe a lot of the people commenting today haven’t seen me earn it. They’re young. It’s true.

Do you see a more rabid media today?

I guess. People are angrier now than we were. It’s OK.

Thanks for talking about this.

Now this [interview], of course, will be seen and people will go, “Whatever.” I’m not flippant about it. Sure, you get upset with criticism, but if it’s fair, it’s great. I know: How could he say that?

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