Nepotism in sports broadcasting: ‘A tremendous advantage,’ but ‘what do you do with it?’


When Jac Collinsworth, at just 27 years old, debuted on the prestigious job as NBC’s play-by-play voice for Notre Dame football in September 2022, he succeeded one of the most decorated announcers in sports, Mike Tirico.

To receive such a position suggested he was a sportscasting prodigy, but from his first game — when Marshall upset Notre Dame — Collinsworth did not sound like he deserved the national stage in this role. He lacked precision and rhythm, and he kept saying, “Mmm, hmm,” a bad habit that usually is eradicated with years of practice.

The focus on Collinsworth only grew last year, especially during a flat performance with his partner, Jason Garrett, on a Notre Dame-USC prime-time game in October.

Underlying all the criticism is that Collinsworth’s father, Cris, is NBC’s top NFL analyst, showcased on “Sunday Night Football” and in five Super Bowl broadcasts. Jac also appears on the SNF pregame show as an on-site reporter/host, among other roles at the network.

Any son or daughter who goes into the family business is stamped with the nepotism label. Jac Collinsworth’s case was no different, but the attention grew as he floundered.

Though Collinsworth, after graduating from Notre Dame in 2017, had success at ESPN as a reporter and then on the sidelines and hosting for NBC Sports, his failure on the Fighting Irish games caused the man responsible for the move in the first place, Sam Flood, the president of production for NBC Sports, to finally remove Collinsworth from the role last month, admitting his mistake as Collinsworth did not have the requisite play-by-play reps yet for such a large assignment.

Jac Collinsworth, Cris Collinsworth and Flood all declined requests to be interviewed.

Jac Collinsworth working the Chargers-Bills game before Christmas with Tony Dungy, center, and Rodney Harrison. (Kirby Lee / USA Today)

Sportscasting is filled with father-and-son stories of succession. There are more successes than failures — and to be clear, Jac Collinsworth should not be put in either category just yet; especially at 29. He is just not alone.

This offseason, in Oakland, the A’s hired 24-year-old Chris Caray, a fourth-generation broadcaster dating back to his great-grandfather Harry. In Toronto, 23-year-old Ben Shulman, son of Dan, is joining the Blue Jays radio booth, just a door over from his father, who calls TV for the team along with his ESPN work.

There is a long list of sons and daughters following their parents into sportscasting from Mike Golic Sr. and Jr. to Karl and Sam Ravech to Kevin Harlan and Olivia Harlan Dekker.

And the trend is nothing new, as Fox Sports, after luring the NFL from CBS in the mid-1990s, hired three sons of famous play-by-play broadcasters — Joe Buck (son of Jack, voice of the St. Louis Cardinals and national football and baseball broadcasts), Kenny Albert (son of Marv, the legendary NBA play-by-play voice) and Thom Brennaman (son of Marty, the former voice of the Cincinnati Reds).

Like Fox three decades ago, NBC has shown a penchant for sportscasting offspring from Collinsworth to Chris Simms, son of Phil, and Noah Eagle, son of Ian.

Collinsworth’s demotion opened the door further for Noah Eagle to continue to rise. Eagle, who is just 27, excelled on Big Ten Saturday prime-time games and the NFL playoffs in his first season with NBC.

Next season and beyond, he and his analyst, Todd Blackledge, will continue on the Big Ten, but, in a given week, if Notre Dame is the top game on the network, the duo will slide over to that matchup.

Eagle has started on a path reminiscent of Buck’s, but the issue of nepotism in the booth is complicated.

When Joe Buck talks to kids who want to become a sportscaster, he often falls back on an old joke.

“My advice is to start with a famous father,” Buck told The Athletic.

Buck is often cited as the quintessential example of sportscasting nepotism, but he is also probably its greatest success story. His dad, Jack Buck, is one of the most legendary play-by-play announcers in history and, at 54, Joe has matched his father, if not exceeded his accomplishments.

Joe Buck has already called 24 World Series and six Super Bowls on TV. Jack called two World Series and one Super Bowl on the medium, while also being a constant soundtrack as the radio voice on both events.

Growing up in St. Louis, by the time Joe turned 6, he began studying how his dad prepared for MLB and NFL broadcasts.

At 12, Joe was calling games into a cassette recorder in an empty TV booth in the press box at Busch Stadium. On the drive home, he and his dad would listen back and Joe would learn. With Jack doing the reviews, it was as if a raspy-voiced Mozart was giving feedback to a teenage violinist.

Joe Buck

Joe Buck (right), with Cris Collinsworth (left) and Troy Aikman on the call for Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., in February 2005. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images)

By 21, Buck was slated to be in the Cardinals’ main booth, but before he could call a game, he had tears in his eyes.

He was still living at home when he opened the biggest newspaper in St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch, and saw that its respected media critic, Dan Caesar, had written a column about how nepotism helped Buck land the job.

In June 1990, Caesar wrote: “The burning question is why is Joe Buck, at age 21, being force-fed to Cardinals fans? The reason is simple, and it’s spelled B-U-C-K.”

It hurt Buck, but he knew it wasn’t wrong.

“While it crushed my soul reading about how off-putting my hiring was, he was right,” Buck said. “I remember crying about it.”

Buck said he felt like he was in a race but was beginning behind the starting line. While recognizing he had the advantages of an apprenticeship from the earliest of ages, he realized he had the job in large part because of his last name.

Over the years, even as Buck has often come across as the most confident guy in the booth, that insecurity drove him — and still does — because he always knew there would be those who felt his accomplishments were due to his dad’s Hall of Fame credentials.

“It was a gift that I got from Dan to be given a window into what people think,” Buck said. “It’s human nature. ‘Oh well, we know how he got the job.’”

Today, with social media, it is even more difficult, Buck said, because everyone’s a critic.

“It makes it really hard to kind of get your legs,” Buck said.

Eagle has done well under the same NBC umbrella as Collinsworth, but it comes from being credible on the broadcast.

“For Noah Eagle, he’s been meteoric, and he’s obviously worked really hard at this and put in the hours,” Buck said. “I think all of us — and it’s a big group — had the advantage of being around it as a kid. I think there’s something to that.”

Noah Eagle first thought he wanted to be a sportscaster at 13. Less than a decade later, he was sitting in front of one of the richest people in the world — Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer — for 90 minutes in a conference room in the Seattle area, overlooking Mount Rainier and Lake Washington, in an attempt to land a job on Ballmer’s broadcast team.

In college, Noah did his best to be his own person — almost too much. Since his father and his mother, Alisa, both attended Syracuse, he was at first reluctant to go there but ultimately decided it was the right place for him. Once he got there, though, he tried to hide his last name. He would introduce himself as just “Noah.”

“I wanted to be like Cher or Madonna or Beyonce, you know. I just wanted to be ‘Noah,’ period,” Noah said.

He didn’t want the perception that any opportunity was because of his father, who is considered one of the best broadcasters in all of sports and will call the Final Four this year.

Halfway through Noah’s time at Syracuse, Ian told his son that he should embrace who he is, not run from it.

“I respected the fact that Noah wanted to be his own person when he got to Syracuse but reminded him to be proud of his last name,” Ian said.

Noah Eagle

“For Noah Eagle, he’s been meteoric, and he’s obviously worked really hard at this and put in the hours,” fellow broadcaster Joe Buck says. (James Black / Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

By his senior year, Noah had the respect of Olivia Stomski, an Emmy Award-winning sports producer who heads Syracuse’s Newhouse School’s sports media center. She had a contact with the Clippers, who were looking for candidates after longtime TV play-by-play voice Ralph Lawler retired.

Stomski recommended Eagle and Drew Carter, Eagle’s classmate, who is now part of the Boston Celtics’ broadcast crew. The Clippers liked each of their tapes but preferred Eagle’s and invited him out to Los Angeles for an initial interview.

Stomski said the Clippers knew this was Ian’s son, but it was Noah they were deciding on.

“I would say very little, if any,” Stomski said when asked Ian’s impact. “I know for a fact they didn’t call Ian. Ian didn’t call anyone else. If anyone was pushing, it was probably me.”

After Noah Eagle aced the first interview, he advanced to meet Ballmer, the Clippers’ owner. The two went back-and-forth with Eagle even having the chops to disagree on some points with Ballmer.

Eagle ended up receiving the radio job, not the TV one. It allowed him to have four years of play-by-play in the second-biggest market in the country.

This has led to calling Nickelodeon’s well-received Slimetime broadcasts, including for this year’s Super Bowl, and then landing NBC’s top college football job. He’s also called games for Fox Sports.

The four years of 82 games on radio and the playoffs gave Eagle the reps for the national stage. He then handed the Clippers job off.

“My biggest goal was that I would do a good enough job that other people would be more willing in the future to hire younger people,” Eagle said. “I would basically go out there and they would know a 22-year-old can get this done. And so the most pride that I’ve had, it literally did not come from the four years that I was there. It came from the fact that they hired another 22-year-old after me.”

At 22, Carlo Jiménez, right out of USC, succeeded Eagle as the radio voice of the Clippers. Jiménez’s dad is a professor at Santa Clara, teaching ceramics, and works in academic advising, while his mother is chief revenue officer for a tech startup. With an assist from Eagle, Jiménez has quickly leveled the playing field and is honing his craft on a big stage.

“I think it gives you a tremendous advantage,” Buck said of being the son of a famous sportscaster. “But then the question is, ‘What do you do with it?’”

(Top photo of Jac Collinsworth: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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