Steve Young is in damage control mode, apologizing to ESPN after participating in a profile that sure made it look like he’s not that into the NFL or his Monday Night Football analyst job, and even seemed to imply his MNF job is merely a means to bolster his private equity firm.
The Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Young, which was published last week, focuses on Young’s life outside of football and in finance, and it comes across as way more rewarding and important to him:
Young says he may have quit ESPN years ago if not for his private equity partners, who like him to keep a high profile. When he works a Monday Night game for the network, he spends no more than an hour or two at the stadium preparing his commentary, he says; the rest of the time, he’s holed up in HGGC’s suite, cramming for deals. Once the game starts, he barely watches the action. A couple of transactions, he notes, have even been agreed to with handshakes in the suites.
“My wife hates football, and my kids don’t really care,” Young says. “I see myself as a deal guy first. I’ve put football behind me. Roger Staubach once told me—and I’ll never forget it: ‘When you retire, run. Never look back.’”
The story notes that MNF is basically a touring marketing event for Young and his partners. They buy a luxury box at every game to entertain clients, potential customers, and acquisition targets, and Young can’t wait to get up there and talk about anything but football from the moment his analyst duties are finished.
Naturally, this didn’t make ESPN happy and didn’t make anyone look good. ESPN would prefer you think its analysts do more than an “hour or two” of preparation before showtime, and actually watch football throughout the week. An ESPN spokesperson gave a statement to the Sporting News insisting that Young works hard and knows what he’s talking about.
“Steve is one of the most respected analysts in football and he remains committed to his job at ESPN. His producers and colleagues have noted his work ethic internally, his level of preparation and the effort he brings each week. In addition to analyzing ‘Monday Night Football,’ he watches games, actively participates in production meetings and contributes weekly analysis to our studio shows using a camera that ESPN installed in his office. He is one of the veterans of our analyst team and he’s constantly making fans smarter about the game.”
Young is trying to defuse this too. He sent a statement to Bloomberg Businessweek, which has been appended to the bottom of the story, insisting that he takes his TV job seriously. Then he went on television Monday, and gently criticized the story’s author for portraying football as a distraction for Young.
“I certainly think it’s a little disservice in the article about my passion and expertise at ESPN and for football. I mean the truth is I spend an inordinate amount of time in the fall preparing for my job. I don’t want to do a disservice to my family at ESPN, who I’ve been with longer than the 49ers, so there are so many rich relationships there. I feel like they’re not in conflict, the two jobs, at all, and I’m really lucky to have them both.”
I have a take here, and it’s that research is a relatively small part of a TV analyst’s job, especially in a pregame role like the one Young serves. The nature of television, both in the format and the limited time allotted, doesn’t lend itself to that much more than surface observations and oversimplifications. (If you want in-depth analysis, go read Bill Barnwell or Football Outsiders or Pro Football Focus.) Much more important than compiling a detailed dossier is being able to convey concepts to an audience, quickly and clearly and naturally. It’s almost closer to acting than true analysis.
The smartest people are rarely the best on TV, and vice versa. All I’ve ever heard from ESPNers is that Young is one of the smartest guys working, and whatever his preparation, it’s clearly more than enough to make him very good at the job he has. I think ESPN knows it too, or they wouldn’t have leapt to support him with yesterday’s statement. This will blow over, and now we have the pleasure of knowing while watching Monday games that Young has mentally checked out only a few minutes before the rest of us.