Everyone in media today works in a fishbowl where viewer and reader perceptions are hyper-tuned to pick up any trace of perceived bias, spin or "agenda," and ex-athletes who move in front of the camera are unusually susceptible to the charge: They wore the uniform, after all. We have pictures. The scrutiny escalates in college football, where — as the only major sport that leaves certain outcomes to arbitrary opinion polls — the opinions of talking heads actually matter. Former coaches and players have to walk a fine line between fair, objective analysis and a genuine attachment to their alma mater. And within college football, no talking head is more attached to his alma mater in the eyes of his audience than ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit.
That's in part because Herbie is arguably the most prominent pundit on the most prominent network for college football, as well as a color commentator for the network's most prominent games. But he also makes the least attempt to obscure his Ohio State roots. A former starting quarterback and captain, he proudly puts his bawling children on air in Buckeye jerseys. He's not afraid to be caught in moments of off-camera homerism, or to unapologetically defend them. The only piece of "news" he ever attempted to break was a false coaching rumor at OSU's rival, Michigan. He's also a regular on sports radio in Columbus, where he was one of the city's most prominent residents.
Yes, was, mainly because his efforts to stay true to his school cut both ways: Where some national fans see a Buckeye homer trying to cover his tracks on the air, some fraction of Ohio State fans see Herbstreit's efforts at objectivity toward OSU as a betrayal. After 15 years of being pulled in both directions, the disconnect between his national job and his local persona has finally forced Herbstreit to move his family from Columbus to Nashville. Per an interview with the Columbus Dispatch:
"Nobody loves Ohio State more than me," said Herbstreit, a former Buckeyes quarterback. "I still have a picture of Woody Hayes and my dad (Jim, a former OSU player) in my office, and nobody will do more than I do for the university behind the scenes. But I've got a job to do, and I'm going to continue to be fair and objective. To continue to have to defend myself and my family in regards to my love and devotion to Ohio State is unfair."
"From a sports perspective, this is rough," he said. "I love Ohio State. Love the Blue Jackets. Love the Reds. Those are my hobbies. I don't like moving. I love living here. I don't want to leave. But I just can't do this anymore. I really can't keep going like this.
"Eighty to ninety percent of the Ohio State fans are great. It's the vocal minority that make it rough. They probably represent only 5 to 10 percent of the fan base, but they are relentless."
Herbstreit initially broke the move on his brand new Twitter account earlier this week, which appeared so abruptly with the news on Thursday that no one was certain whether to take it seriously. (Anyone can set up an account as "@K_Herbstreit" and type "I'm moving to Nashville!") But the account is real, and in less than two days has already produced exactly the brand of fair-weather local sentiment he says he's trying to escape. You probably would, too, if you had to deal with guys like this on a daily basis.
It's either that, or Nashville offers much better tax breaks.
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