I was stunned by what happened over the Columbus Day weekend when attending two professional sporting events in Buffalo that featured some embarrassing moments.
I wasn’t stunned by the Bills’ 13-12 win over Tennessee in New Era Field last Sunday. After all, it is the National Football League and parity is evidenced by the fact 12 of the 16 teams in the AFC are 2-2-1, 2-3 or 3-2 after five weeks.
But I was stunned during a break in the action when the Bills showed highlights of a performance by O.J. Simpson on the scoreboard.
Isn’t it about time Bills management stopped celebrating the team’s and the NFL’s most famous criminal? Do they really think Bills fans in the stands get a charge out of seeing Simpson highlights after all the legal issues he has gotten into? It would be the equivalent of NBC deciding to celebrate “The Cosby Show” in an anniversary special.
Please just stop with the Simpson highlights. He is such an embarrassment to the organization that many fans think his name should be taken off the Bills Wall of Fame and he should be removed from the NFL Hall of Fame.
It isn’t as if the Bills couldn’t replace Simpson highlights with Thurman Thomas highlights, as suggested by more than one friend I know.
I hadn’t gotten over the Simpson issue Monday afternoon as I sat in my seat in KeyBank Center and was stunned again.
I wasn’t stunned by the Sabres’ 4-2 win over a Las Vegas team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. After all, it is the National Hockey League and the Sabres couldn’t possibly be as bad as they looked in the season-opening shutout loss to the Boston Bruins.
But I was stunned by an advertisement for Spectrum News that appeared on the arena scoreboard during the game.
Some Spectrum staffers fairly think I don’t pay enough attention to the local cable news channel. Well, this promo certainly got my attention.
It featured many of its news anchors and reporters wearing Sabres gear and openly cheering for the team.
I felt embarrassed for them all.
I suppose I could live with news anchors and reporters doing that, even if I question whether it is appropriate. But I was stunned to see Spectrum’s quality sports anchor Kevin Carroll – who is part of Sabres coverage as an anchor -- joining in the arena advertisement.
After all, there is a reason no cheering is allowed in the press box.
The need for and the appearance for objectivity in sports coverage is even greater now that the Bills and the Sabres produce so much programming on WGR, which has the radio rights to both teams’ games.
The station has a few time slots reserved for objectivity – notably the morning and afternoon drive times – but the station’s partnership with the Bills makes fans question whether the hosts have total freedom to speak their minds.
During the Bills' Super Bowl years and when the Sabres made the Stanley Cup Final, many local reporters seemed to go out of their way to act as cheerleaders because it was supposed to illustrate civic pride.
But I can’t imagine any of the three local sports directors – Channel 2’s Adam Benigni, Channel 4’s Josh Reed and Channel 7’s Joe Buscaglia – or any sports anchor or reporter on the local network affiliates appearing in an arena promo behaving like a Sabres cheerleader.
Sports anchors and reporters should know better than to openly cheer for a team they are supposed to objectively cover, and their stations should know better then to ask them to do it.
I know many viewers don’t understand the need of sports personnel on TV to appear objective. But it really is insulting to sports journalists that some people in the business and outside of it think they should be held to a different standard.
Business reporters undoubtedly want local businesses to succeed, but they don’t do stories while promoting local business products or wearing their clothing.
I’ll acknowledge the role of sports journalists becomes confusing when a sports anchor also is a play-by-play man or analyst for a local team. For instance, the late Van Miller, John Murphy, Rick Azar and Ed Kilgore worked in local sports departments at the same time they were part of the broadcasts of the local teams.
It wasn’t an ideal arrangement, especially since the teams had the right to tell the stations carrying the games who they wanted to work the broadcasts.
However, they all tried to appear as objective sports reporters when they reported on the teams for their stations. But it was a tough sell.
It is a better situation now that Murphy has left local television and works for the company that owns the Bills. There is no confusion anymore. He is a homer rooting for the Bills, though he still tries to be objective when calls go for or against the Bills.
But even when he worked for Channel 4 and Channel 7 and was involved in the radio broadcasts, Murphy knew better than to shout “Go Bills” or openly root for them.
Of course, he sounded more excited when the Bills did something to celebrate as any good play-by-play man for a home team would likely do. But he didn’t call the Bills “we” or lose all sense of fairness or credibility when a call deservedly went against them.
Years ago, a young sports reporter who showed promise did a sports report wearing the colors of the reporter’s alma mater. I messaged the reporter on Twitter it was an inappropriate, bad look.
After a short debate, the reporter thanked me and changed clothes for the next sportscast.
It is time for Carroll to change his clothes – or for Spectrum to drop or change its embarrassing ad before the next Sabres home game.