- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2016

Announcer and Washington native James Brown started his broadcast career with the Washington Bullets before moving to multiple national platforms in the mid-1980s. Brown, now the host of “The NFL Today” on CBS, spoke with The Washington Times about the future of the NFL, the chatter around Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, and if Washington is a sports town.

Question: I don’t think many people are aware, but you are a minority owner of the Washington Nationals. What did you think of last season?
Answer: It was disappointing from a standpoint that there was so much promise and not unlike any Nationals fans, we were so hopeful for so much because, clearly, those in the know had the Nationals as the odds-on favorites to be in the World Series, if not to win the World Series. What I’m most excited about, the Lerners have lived up to their promise to bring the town a winner, and they’re building the franchise to be one that is perennially a contender, and not just a one-, two-, three-year wonder. So, they have certainly done that. Like any other fan, we’re all hopeful that it will happen.

One of the reasons I got involved is because I was born over in southeast D.C., probably within five blocks of where the stadium is now. My neighborhood no longer exists, as so many things over there don’t exist anymore because of all the land development that has taken place, but that’s not atypical for a sports arena that is located in an urban area and deemed a linchpin for economic development and growth, and that’s clearly what is happening there. I am friends with the Lerners, and at the time we were competing with other groups for a franchise, the fact of the matter is minority participation had to be more than just window dressing, we had to have some skin in the game. So, the eight minority owners who are part of the Nationals’ ownership have skin in the game. But, it was clearly understood and clearly what I wanted so as to not have any conflict of interest given that I’m still involved in sports broadcasting, but specifically, in this case, not broadcasting, commenting, reporting on baseball. My boss at CBS Sports, Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, and I’m sure he also ran it up to the CEO and president of CBS, Inc., Leslie Moonves, to make sure there would be no problems. I am not reporting on, commenting on, nor do we have baseball in our inventory at CBS Sports, so no problems with me being involved as a minority owner.

It is an insular, family-run business. We understood that upfront, I’m completely fine with that. I think I have a pretty full plate as it is right now; rather than trying to immerse myself into that, although baseball was my first love.

Q: Do you worry about the future of the NFL? Even with the post-playing health issues becoming more apparent, and something you have spoken about in the past, domestic violence, the league doesn’t seem to be slowing. Some have suggested that things will catch up with the league, beginning at the youth level.
A: I don’t think that is an inaccurate suggestion, projection or supposition to make. If those issues aren’t addressed in a very meaningful, thoughtful, comprehensive fashion — specifically, football mothers principally will be making the decision about whether their son will be playing football. And, dads as well. Let me get dads in the equation because there are some football players who we’ve heard, those who are retired and maybe some who are even playing now, who said that they would not want their kids playing because of what is coming to light now in terms of the medical science, unless there is going to be a significant change in the way the game is played. Two things. One, the medical research is ongoing and comprehensive. I think that absolutely needs to take place and continue unabated with all of the resources necessary to get the answers. That’s what ought to drive this: What the answers show.

No. 2, the way football is being taught now at the Pop Warner and Pee Wee football levels is heads-up football, if you will, to make sure proper tackling techniques are being shown. Taking the head out of the game because that’s where the issues are. [The playoff game between] Cincinnati and Pittsburgh did not help matters in convincing mothers, parents, period, that the game is a safe game. That’s not the way the game is to be played. I think you can have it be tough, aggressive, impose your will on your opponent and all that, but have it be clean football. The way it’s being taught at the youth level now is vitally important, so that coming up the ranks they’re doing it properly. The game is certainly not without risk, but that’s pretty much the case with a number of sports and certainly with football.

Thirdly, in terms of the league enthusiastically embracing, along with the union — the NFLPA plays a role in this as well given the constituency they represent, to make certain that all things are being done properly to ensure the game maintains its popularity, and that includes having people play the game properly, not with the intent to harm, etc. I see nothing to suggest anything other than that, and I would absolutely speak on that if I saw it, because this is a matter of character and integrity.

Yes, I’m on the periphery of sports, I make my living around sports, but I’m all for making sure it is done properly and correctly. I have no reason to doubt that this current commissioner, Roger Goodell, is anything but committed to that. Troy Vincent, one of his senior executives, who played the game, is absolutely committed to that as well. I know them both to be men of principle and integrity and certainly DeMaurice Smith, who is the head of the players’ union, I know as an ex-athlete himself is vitally concerned about that. So, along as all parties are working in the same direction with the same objective in mind, I think we’ll be clear about that.

Look, Roger Goodell has taken his hits, pun intended, from folks. Although, I think hearing a case and ruling a case, he should not be judge, jury and executioner. But, one of his stated mandates, firmly committed to, was to make sure he cleans up the game. That certainly hasn’t put him in the best of light with a number of people, and he recognizes that. But, he’s firmly committed to that and I respect him because of that. He’s not going to be a beloved figure in that regard, but if he’s serious about making the game such that it is safe and parents should not worry about kids playing the game, then he has to be resolutely focused on that, and I have not seen anything to suggest otherwise.

Q: What are your thoughts on the discussion in the last week or two around Cam Newton, where 30 years after Doug Williams, it seemed we should have moved on to more valuable discussions than this guy’s celebrations and this turning into a racial topic with him as well.
A: It is hurtful. It’s almost like, figuratively, if you will, a big sigh that you can hear coming from me, “Not this again.” I’ve been covering the game now, for, heavens, I first started doing play-by-play at CBS for NFL games I think in 1986, and have been black for a long time [laughs]. It’s like, when? You know? When will we move forward? Sports has played a vital role in moving issues that or on the social docket, in terms of our country embracing diversity. Sports by and large have been a meritocracy, where those positions can be earned on the field. Although, the last bastion that’s been protected by so many, and, I guess stereotypically associated with possessing all of the requisite skills and assets, first and foremost, would be smarts and intellect, the mental acuity to be able to play that position, is the quarterback position. And, it shows to me how those remnants of that kind of myopic, maybe even bigoted mindset is still there. And, it’s hurtful. To use words like “lightning rod” and “polarizing” when describing Cam, what does that mean? And, I’m asking the question rhetorically for folks to answer themselves, because if you think about what this kid has done in his five years in the league, it’s been nothing short of sensational.

He’s 26 years of age. I think he’s maturing nicely. Has he made his mistakes? Absolutely. But, you name me one quarterback, and I mean them all — I know the game, I’ve been around it long enough to know it — you name me one quarterback that hasn’t had some challenges and issues when he was younger, that he’s grown through, and even while he was in the league, some of them have done some things that have been off the track. But yet, they’ve overcome them, they’ve matured and many of them have have faced up to it and met their responsibilities, but why is that this kid seems to be under the red-hot light of the national media and people?

I’m hoping that some of this is generational. That would be the nice way to look at it. I’m sure there is a lot of that at play because many have been raised in the environment where the quarterback was more self-controlled, more restrained, etc. Other positions, yeah, you could be a bit more demonstrative, but not the quarterback. But, this is a new age. If the millennials are such that that’s a part of what they are, as long as it is not being disrespectful to the opposition, it’s in the balance of good sportsmanship and you’re not doing this to be selfish about it, have everything to point to you, I’m OK with that. Hey, look. At my age [64] and stage, my taste and desire might be, because I grew up in that era, “OK, there’s nothing wrong with the exuberance, absolutely not.” Might you regulate and contain it? Well, hey, my attitude about that might be the same as somebody else, and somebody else might have a taste that there be no show, no display. Others may say, you can go up there further. So, where is that happy medium?

I think as you get to understand the kid, the young man, this kid has got a great heart. One, he is smart. Two, he is a leader of that team. Three, his work habits are contagious. Four, the celebrations that you see him demonstrate on the field, he does the same thing in practice. Contrast to Allen Iverson, who might have said, “This is practice, man, practice.” Well, hey, this kid, as [Carolina tight end] Greg Olsen was saying, shows the same level of exuberance and enthusiasm when he throws an 80-yard strike in practice and he runs zooming down the field and engages with the celebration with the guy who caught the ball, and he engages others; it’s not just about him. He has a heart for kids. The kid is just transparent, genuine and honest. He has such big plans to try to be influential with young people, especially those on the margins of all colors. How do you fault somebody like that?

Q: Is Washington a “sports town”?
A: Some people might disagree with me, but I would say, yes, it is a sports town. Football is still, I think, king there. We had baseball back with two iterations of the Washington baseball franchise. Hockey, I think we’ve got some pretty die-hard fans there in Washington, as far as the [Capitals] are concerned. Certainly Mr. Leonsis is doing an excellent job with the way he is building things and very much is a fan-friendly owner. The Wizards, I can only hope they get back to as they were way back in the day when I broke into broadcasting with the Washington then-Bullets. So, yeah, I think it is a sports town. No question about it. The question is how rabid? Now, that might be a fair one. But, I think that is probably open to interpretation by many people.

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