Sports fans love to pick ESPN apart. It’s very easy to find fault with anyone at the network. They’re either shills for athletes (Mike Wilbon), annoying, look-at-me hosts (Chris Berman), in the tank for a certain team (Dick Vitale), company shills to the core (Andy Katz, Chris Broussard, Chris Fowler, Rece Davis), screaming carnival barkers (Skip Bayless, Woody Paige), hopelessly under-informed guys with huge platforms who read headlines and know the stars (Tony Kornheiser, Colin Cowherd, Mike Greenberg), possess reprehensible egos (Keith Law), mail it in regularly (Rick Reilly), etc, etc. You could go on and on for hours on this topic when you scroll through all the writers, radio hosts and TV voices.
Recently, one name has emerged as the perhaps the most respected voice at the network: Jay Bilas. There isn’t really a credible criticism of Jay Bilas. I mean, other than the time he nearly made Dick Vitale cry – starts at 2:20:
Many folks at ESPN are wary of being overly critical of the NCAA – ESPN’s TV arm, of course, is in bed with dozens of bowl games – but Bilas frequently hammers the corrupt organization in a respectful manner. Bilas has been one of the champions of the pay-the-college-players debate, and others have since joined him. He’s smart – obviously the law background helps – and clever and moderately hip, and if you attempt to try and take a shot at him on twitter, he’ll dispatch of you in a manner that’ll probably leave you laughing.
Feel like mocking his basketball ability (he was a 4-year starter and won a title at Duke)? Go ahead. Same goes for his rapidly-receding hair line and his excessive use of certain words. He’s self-deprecating.
Because of the scrutiny that comes with working at ESPN and being on the .com, radio and TV so frequently, a lot of ESPN employees are fearful of what they tweet. Plenty of writers will only tweet out ESPN links. ESPN suits love this, of course. Keep it in house! There isn’t a sports world outside of ESPN! More than a few ESPN staffers have told us they’ve been advised to only tweet ESPN links.
Not Jay Bilas. On any given day you’ll see him tweet out links to various outlets. I’ll venture a guess that if you checked the last 20 links he’s sent out, only 3-4 of them are to stories on ESPN. Online competitors, blogs, obscure sites … it doesn’t matter. Bilas plays no favorites. One gets the impression Bilas might be the most well-read analyst at ESPN.
Funny, self-deprecating, not a company stooge, progressive with his praise and liberal with his links. Seems like at a company as large and dominant as ESPN, there would be a few more of these.