NFL Network opts not to renew contract of Jim Trotter, who had twice confronted the Commissioner on diversity
One of the problems with sports leagues hiring reporters to cover those leagues is that unspoken limits apply to how aggressively those reporters can cover the league.
Mike Silver, who previously worked at NFL Network, has talked openly about it since leaving. Jim Trotter, whose time at NFL Network is ending, could be an example of a journalist who was just a little too committed to journalism.
“This will be my final week with the NFL Media Group,” Trotter tweeted on Monday. “I was informed over the weekend that my contract is not being renewed. I thank NFL Network and NFL.com for the lessons learned and affirmed over the last five years.”
That last line likely wasn’t the result of carelessness or coincidence. Lessons learned and affirmed.
Trotter may have learned, and/or had affirmed, the fact that there is a line that reporters employed by NFL Media can’t cross -- and that he may have crossed it. If he did, it may have happened when Trotter aggressively pressed Commissioner Roger Goodell during his February 2023 pre-Super Bowl press conference regarding the absence of diversity in management at NFL Media or in the NFL Media newsroom.
Trotter reminded Goodell that the same question had been asked in 2022, with no satisfactory answer or any progress since then.
This year, Trotter at one point quotes James Baldwin to Goodell, “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
Watch the exchange. Draw your own conclusions about the importance of the question to Trotter. About whether Goodell appreciated being confronted about the situation in a public setting.
At one point, Goodell asks Trotter, “Can I answer your question?” As Trotter later explained to Richard Deitsch of TheAthletic.com (via AwfulAnnouncing.com), Trotter was trying to respond to Goodell’s claim that he doesn’t run the newsroom.
“My response to him is, indirectly, you do, and that’s when he cut me off and said, ‘Can I answer? Can I answer?’ because look, the reality is the league office sets our budget at NFL Media. They know who the employees are and who they are not.”
Very soon, Trotter will move from “are” to “are not,” and it’s hard not to wonder whether the decision was motivated in whole or in part by his decision to ask the Commissioner, during consecutive pre-Super Bowl press conferences, about diversity issues at NFL Media.
So why do it in a public setting? Trotter believes he had no other avenue for raising the issue with Goodell.
“They don’t let you get close to the Commissioner often enough to actually have these dialogues,” Trotter told Deitsch. “So, I knew that I had asked him about it the year before, and I knew that there had been no progress. No real progress as it related to the areas that I asked him about a year earlier. And so I felt that it was important to ask him in that situation because it’s not something that I haven’t brought up internally over the course of the last year with the powers that be at the media group.”
NFL Media declined comment on the matter.
It will be interesting to hear whether Trotter believes his departure arises from being too journalistic for the league’s liking. While the NFL surely isn’t foolish enough to articulate to its in-house reporters the existence of a line that can’t be crossed, the NFL should be going the other way, repeatedly reminding on-the-payroll reporters that they can cover freely and aggressively any aspect of league business, no matter how embarrassing it may be to Big Shield.
That probably doesn’t happen. Consider the things Silver said after he left NFL Network.
“Imagine you work for Procter & Gamble and you’re going on Procter & Gamble live from Procter & Gamble Studios and talking about a scandal that could take down the entire operation,” Silver said in 2021. “It would be a little awkward.”
Silver knew that he had to exercise discretion while working for the league.
“I did self-regulate,” he said in 2021. “If someone came to me and said, ‘I’ve got an exposé on player safety and how the NFL is covering up concussions,’ my response would have been, ‘I’m not your guy on this.’”
Trotter may not be the only one whose contract isn’t being renewed at the end of the month, which is typically when the NFL Network on-air talent deals expire.
Currently, the NFL is closely examining all costs and expenses at NFL Network. So there could be more. If, in the end, Trotter is the only one, the potential connection between his selection and his past questions to the Commissioner will become a little more conspicuous than they already are.