Skip to main content
Episode 143 | March 27, 2024

The Stigma of Faith in Sports with Jason Romano

How sports media does (and doesn't) cover faith

Sports used to unify us. But today? Politics has checked into the game. And in many ways, introducing controversial topics into the sports world has benched more frequent conversations surrounding faith. Today’s guest, Jason Romano, knows a thing or two about this after working for 17 years as a content creator and producer at ESPN. He joins Keith to discuss how today’s sports media does (and doesn’t) cover topics of faith. He shares how he lived out his faith while at ESPN and what he learned...

Read More
00:00 / 00:00
Ten Minute Bible Talks Episode Thumbnail


Keith Simon 0:01

Okay, so I know we don't talk a lot of sports on truth overdrive. That's partly because Patrick isn't really a sports guy. I don't even know if they had sports at the private school he went to, but me, I'm a public school kid. And I love sports. Like many of you, I played sports through high school and still follow it today. Regardless of how into sports you are, I'm sure you've noticed two things. The first is that the New Testament references sports several times. It even compares following Jesus with being an athlete. And the second thing you've noticed is that sports have become a big part of our cultural conversation. That's why I wanted to invite Jason Romano on to truth over tribe. And Jason worked for ESPN for 17 years in a variety of roles. He worked on the old Mike and Mike radio show he worked on SportsCenter and on College GameDay. Now though, Jason works for sports spectrum. It's a Christian organization dedicated to covering sports. So we started our conversation with how the sports media covers faith. But Jason also talks about what he learned from working closely with successful athletes, and how organizations like ESPN handle their media personalities speaking out publicly on controversial topics. I think you're gonna love this conversation with Jason Romano.

Jason Romano Welcome to Truth over tribe.

Jason Romano 2:30

Hi, Keith, good to be with you, my friend. Thanks for having me.

Keith Simon 2:33

I'm really looking forward to this conversation. You worked with ESPN for 17 years in all kinds of roles. You're a content creator, a producer. For all the shows everybody's familiar with sports center outside the lines, College Game Day, Mike and Mike, and more and more. But you weren't just working at ESPN. You're a Christian working at ESPN. Right. And so I think you've got some insight on how faith and media sports media specifically, interact. I just wondering, are there any guidelines that ESPN has about how they cover faith in sports?

Jason Romano 3:07

I don't know if they have any guidelines. It's funny. You mentioned I was a Christian working at ESPN. I gotta tell you for many years, I was an ESPN producer who happened to be a Christian. I had it backwards quite a bit for many years. But I don't know of any guidelines, I would think I mean, there was probably some unwritten rules, like in sports, where if it's involving religion, hey, let's not go too deep down that rabbit trail. Let's not go deep in this conversation. I mean, occasionally, but yeah, I didn't see any hard and fast rules. I didn't even see many efforts on ESPN. It's hard to even talk about faith. Too often on their shows, though, or cover stories. Most of the time it was the athletes or the coaches or other people that they interviewed, that would work faith into their answers. But I don't remember. Hardly ever I'm sure there were a few times. So I don't want to just make this a hard fast 100% here, but I'm sure there were a few times. But I don't remember too many times where faith was kind of worked into anything ESPN was doing. But there wasn't any hard, fast rules that I can think of, you know, they didn't come and tell me hey, don't be a Christian, if you work here, or anything like that. Yeah. Well,

Keith Simon 4:12

I want to come back to what you said earlier about being a Christian, who worked at ESPN or being an ESPN person who happened to be a Christian, and how that flipped. But I want to stay on this topic just for a second. The reason I asked you about that is because when Coco golf won the US Open at the end of that match, which is hugely important in her life, right? Her first Grand Slam, she goes over our court site and she kneels down and she prays. Now Coco golf is an outspoken Christian. So anybody who follows women's tennis or who covers women's tennis, knows what she was doing. They know she's a Christian. They could tell she was praying. She was asked afterwards about it and she said this, she said I don't pray for results. I just asked that I get the strength to give it my all. Whatever happens happens. I'm so blessed in this life. If I'm just thankful for this moment, I don't have any words for it, to be honest. But where it gets interesting to me is that sports center tweeted out a video like as a 22nd video of her doing this rang courtside. But then they had this as the caption, Coco golf took a moment to soak it all in after winning her first Grand Slam title. And they had a little heart emoji, and Tony Dungy who I know you have a relationship with, he responded on Twitter by saying I hate to break this to you Sports Center. But Coco Golf was not soaking it all in at this moment. She was praying. She had been very open about her Christian faith in the past, it seems pretty obvious what she is doing here. So I guess my question is, did the person tweeting that did that person not know she was praying? Or did that person know she was praying, but just feel uncomfortable acknowledging it? My

Jason Romano 5:48

guess is, they probably knew she was praying. I mean, if you watch the clip, or if you just look at it, obvious, I will say I've been in this boat many years ago, when I was maybe 2013 2014. I had become a social media producer at ESPN. So I've worked on a lot of shows creating content. And then I started to go into the digital and social space, my last four or five years at ESPN. And I remember a moment working on Monday Night Football. And at the end of every NFL game, as most people know who watch football. There's guys and sometimes coaches and definitely team chaplains who come to the center of the field, the 50 yard line. And they kind of form a circle, a prayer circle, and they pray. And I happen to know a lot of those guys now I didn't know as many chaplains then. But I was certainly a Christian then. And I remember seeing this and somebody had taken a wonderful picture that we wanted to use when we were posting because we were what you would call live tweeting, live posting on the Monday night game. And so we're posting all of the stuff that's happening at the end, there's this picture of these players praying at the end of the game. And I remember talking to my boss, who I don't think at the time, I don't even know if he still is or not. But I don't believe he was a Christian or as a Christian. He could be I just don't think he was but I remember going to him and saying, Hey, this is a pretty powerful photo. Should we post this? He goes absolutely. And I said, Well, what should the caption be? And he's like, well put what you think is best there. And so initially, I put for the first time giving thanks, you know, NFL players after the game gathering together to give thanks. And I remember being mad at myself. But I remember my boss coming to me after and he's like, what was that? And I said, What do you mean? He goes, they're praying, he goes, right. I said, I didn't want to offend anyone. He goes, No, just put what they're doing. They're praying, you're not offending anybody by putting what they're actually doing. And I'm like, okay, and that actually was really refreshing for me to hear. And the rest of the year, whenever we found that picture. And it was many weeks where we had that picture going forward, we would just put hay players gathering after the game to give thanks in prayer, or to pray after winter loss. You know, guys get together to pray whatever the caption was, we were told. And I felt like yeah, let's put what it is. So when I saw this post on sports center with Coco, I thought they know what it says. My guess is their thinking is they don't want to offend anybody. I think you do more offending, when you don't put what it actually is than trying to just kind of keep it neutral. Again, I don't think that's an ESPN coming from the higher ups. I hope it isn't. I just think put what it is. And clearly she was praying. So I wonder

Keith Simon 8:27

if part of the difference between your boss telling you to put what those football players are doing. They're praying and how they handled the CoCo golf thing. I wonder if that's the distance of time like has something changed. I wonder in how we feel comfortable or don't feel comfortable talking about faith in sports because Tim Wakefield recently died. Did you know him at all?

Jason Romano 8:47

I knew a lot of people who played with him, but I didn't know Tim, I didn't even know about his faith much until I started reading about it after and I was impressed. Okay,

Keith Simon 8:54

well, then maybe that helps answer my question then. But just to set it up for people, Tim Wakefield died at 57 of brain cancer. And he was a pitcher most known for playing with the Red Sox, he had a knuckleball, and he was a sincere Christian is faith really deeply motivated him. And when he died, the newspapers like the Boston Globe did a bunch of stories on on the athletic ESPN like you would expect. None of them mentioned his faith, Boston Red Sox ownership come out. And they are very complimentary because he was very much involved in the community that all kinds of charitable acts. Now to know Tim Wakefield has to know that he was motivated to do that because of his love for Christ. But nobody talks about it. And so do you think something's changed? Where we don't feel comfortable? Or is this always been a tension within the sports media community? Or do people in sports media, it's not like they're against Christianity, they're just so removed from it. They don't even recognize the impact it's having on people's lives that they're covering? I

Jason Romano 9:56

think it's exactly what you said on the ladder. I think a lot of it isn't intentional sort of deletion of any mention of faith. Right? I don't think that's always the case. Sometimes I think it is. Sometimes I think they recognize something. And then they're like, well, we'll just leave that out. That's happened a couple of times in stories. And I've talked to athletes. In fact, I remember one athlete with the Chicago Bears, Matt Forte, who was a great running back with them reached out to me, and we were connected. And when he announced his retirement, we got a call from him. And he's like, I want to announce my retirement on sports spectrum, where I work. And we are one of the few media companies that keep Jesus in the sports conversation. I asked him, I said, Why do you want to do that? He's like, because I'm worried that other people will take what I'm going to write in this statement about my faith and take it out. I said, Oh, okay. Well, that's awesome that you trust us to do this. And so we, you know, were part of his retirement announcement. I think it was 2018. I don't know if it's intentional. I just think we're so desensitized sometimes to being told, okay. We don't talk about religion. We don't talk about politics, although that's steeped into the conversation of sports too, which is really interesting. But I don't know why it's such a stigma. I mean, I get why everybody believes different. I mean, if you put somebody's in there, you know, put somebody was deeply Jewish, you know, legendary athlete who had a deep Jewish faith who practiced their religion pretty consistently. I'm not going to be offended by that, because I'm of a different religion. You know what I mean? I in fact, I'd like to know that because if you want to know about the person, let's know about all of the person. I wish that but I get I think that goes back though, Keith, a few years, which is always like the staple is to stay away from, you know, his religion and politics and anything controversial, but I think the game changed a little bit, you know, when we started bringing in other areas of those things that we stayed away from into the conversation. Well,

Keith Simon 11:51

let's go there because you talk about how the tendency is to want to stay away from controversial things. And I think that is true in the past, but it seems like now sports has been drugged into the culture war, right. So you can think of Colin Kaepernick kneeling because of injustice that he saw in police actions toward black men. Are you Laurie Ingram, saying that LeBron James should shut up and dribble or Jason Adam and Tampa Bay Ray pitchers saying they didn't feel comfortable wearing the pride patch on Pride night in Tampa? You know, we've come a long way since Michael Jordan said, Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too. And that's why he tried to stay out of the political game, I say out of politics as it related to sports, because he wanted to kind of have this broad appeal to everyone and not turn people off unnecessarily. Do you think sports has become more political? Because sometimes when you raise that people go, Well remember, the power salute back in the 68 Olympics. And so help us think about that. Has sports become more political innovate? Has it ever been good for sports? Or has it been bad for sports?

Jason Romano 12:57

Well, it's a really interesting topic, because in the world of sports are people from all backgrounds, all races, all religions, all political affiliations, you name it, they're all over the place. And that's how kind of that's always bent. That's why the Jordan comment is such an interesting one. You know, Republicans buy sneakers, too well, he's trying to say, Hey, I'm trying to appeal to everybody. And obviously, he's a very smart businessman. And he knows that the more people who like his shoe, he doesn't really care what they believe he just wants to buy their shoe. I think we're not any more politicized than we have been. I just think we're in a age where we know more about it. With social media, I think that changed the game, whatever it was 15 years ago or so. And we started hearing opinions from everyone on everything. And it was right there for us to read and to see and to hear, and everybody has a soapbox, and everybody has a place where they can voice their opinion on topics, right. And then when 2016 happening, Trump became president in 2020, which was such a polarizing year anyways, with all of the different things that took place. Now everybody's starting to voice their opinion on whether they're for or against this in that. And I think when you get more people doing that, that's going to seep into sports, just like it's gonna seep into everywhere else. Sports has become what's interesting about not just ESPN, but everywhere, I think has become this sort of hot take, opinionated sport, it's not about what happens and just telling me what happened and then letting me have my own opinion and talking about it with my buddies. It's become where it's either right or wrong, left or right, black or white on opinions. And opinions aren't always that opinions. Sometimes you're spot on, and it's the truth, but sometimes it's just what you think and you're way off or whatever. Opinions have turned into truth. And that's where I think you start to find some polarization. And that's where I also think when ESPN reports a story or when Fox Sports reports a story or Bleacher Report or whoever reports a story. They have to report it from all All ends in the way that they're supposed to. And that's where I think we've gotten away from that, not from them reporting stories properly. I think most of them still do that. But it's combining the reporting and the story with the opinion. So if you go on ESPN, zap or any sports app right now, you'll see a game that ended in that game is the score. And here's what happened in the game, it was plain and obvious. But then you'll see the opinions on either side or thoughts on this athlete or thoughts on these things. It's really interesting, because we have to be very careful, especially in the sports world to do that, because we don't want sports to turn into that. I mean, for me growing up, I didn't care what Dan Patrick or Keith Olbermann believed politically or anything like that. I just loved watching them on SportsCenter. Give me the highlights of the games. And so I fell in love with sports center, watching those two watching Stuart Scott, Rich Eisen, all of these legends, Chris Berman, Bob Lee, you name it, I had no idea what they believed. And I honestly didn't care. And I still probably don't care what you believe. If you're on TV, I just want to hear sports. And unfortunately, I think it's turned to a different tune now, where I kind of don't pay attention as much anymore, because I'm worried that you're going to start seeping opinions with truth. Sports

Keith Simon 16:15

used to be more unifying, I think, right. And now it has become a bit more divisive. Like we used to all go to sporting events. And people, I would assume conservatives, progressives, people from every race, every economic background, we're all rooting for your team, whatever that was. And there was something unifying about being at the stadium of people who were really different than you, but nobody cared because what you shared in common was a love for the game or love for a particular team or player, whoever everybody was there to watch. And now unfortunately, it's become more divisive. In

Jason Romano 16:48

social media, we're Oh, Keith, I'll say this. If you go to a sporting event, and you root for your team, and you're there to root for your team, I'm going to a college football game in a couple of weeks, my first time ever to see Auburn, the University of Auburn, Auburn, Alabama, I'm going to sit there and I'll probably cheer for Auburn, I really don't have a connection to Auburn. And I know a few people I know their coach, but I'll probably cheer with the other 70,000 people in the stands. And when you're at an event, and I've gone to many, even the sheer, those things still, when you're at the event, are put to the side because nobody knows what I believe, or where I'm from, unless they happen follow sports spectrum. And then maybe they'll know but 99.999% of the people have no idea about any of that. They just know I'm there to cheer on Auburn or to cheer on the New York Mets like I root for my baseball team. And so when you go to win, it's really the only place that you can go to where you're sort of unified without any bias or prejudice, because you're just there to root for a team and high five the people to your left to your right behind you and in front of you. But the social media world, and the social media landscape that we live in, even on the shows, and on these networks are where we can try to turn that while he routes for the Cowboys, I root for the Cowboys. But man he votes that way. So screw him, forget it. It's like no. What are we doing here? And obviously we're talking from the perspective of faith. Like that's a no no for me. Well,

Keith Simon 18:14

seems like we wanted athletes to say more than kind of the standard cliches after a game, you know, we played hard win, some lose some, you know, turnovers will kill you every time. We wanted to say more than that. We got bored with that. Well, then they started saying what they thought, especially like you said, their opinions became well known through social media, and then we didn't like it anymore. So it's like they're in a no win position. Right? If they just say the cliches, then we call them boring, and we tune out. But if they say what they really think then we get angry at them. And I do think that the media drives us a little bit, right? Because they want clicks. They want their social media posts to go viral. They want to get paid based on how many views they have. And just highlights from the game or cliched quotes from the athletes don't get you many views. But if you have a hot take on something, well, that is more likely to bring in dollars, right

Jason Romano 19:09

100%. And all you have to do is look at I'll use my former company, right on a Monday morning, after a Dallas Cowboys loss, go to the app and go on social media on their platforms. And you will see posts from their analysts, or from Steven Naismith, most likely talking about how the Dallas Cowboys are fallen apart. Wait a minute, they do this every week, don't they? Every single week wait when the Cowboys lose? They do this every single time, don't they? And if you're not too keen on this, you're not realizing that they're doing this for one reason to get clicks. Because they've said this they admitted this they admitted this when I was there. They want to talk about the Dallas Cowboys because people care about the Dallas Cowboys. You either love them or you hate them. So the ratings go up, right and the clicks go up, and the views go up. So what does that mean? That means you can charge more to advertisers and get them to pay its business. And it makes sense. I'm not knocking them at all. Like, there's this genius. And they should do that. And all of us who are in this business of trying to make money through the media, understand that there is a little bit of clickbait to all we're trying to do. But it's the only reason why you see that it's one thing to just report the San Francisco 40, Niners beat the Dallas Cowboys, 42, whatever it was, but it's another thing to say the Dallas Cowboys fell on their face again. And here's Stephen A Smith with a cowboy hat and a cigar talking about the Cowboys being the end, you know, falling on their face yet again, they're a walk in mass waiting to happen, a disaster waiting to happen. There's a reason why you see that every single time. And they created this really cool thing.

Keith Simon 20:55

It's why the argument shows do so well. Right? All the shows in which the people are sitting around the table arguing yelling at each other, and Stephen A Smith has made a great career out of that he's really good at it. Those

Jason Romano 21:05

that are really left outside of sports center. And even sports center has turned many of their segments into debate segments or argument segments on topics. And what's funny, Keith, if you watch MSNBC or Fox News or any of the new shows, they're just doing what first take does. And it's all about making money. That's why they do it. And first take does it because they want you to either love or hate the Cowboys. So we're going to argue about this and get you really riled up and passionate. MSNBC and Fox News do the exact same thing. They just do it from a different perspective. But they're trying to get you riled up picking sides and choosing and making sure you either root for this team, or you hate this team. It's the same thing. It's a model that they've discovered worked probably 1415 years ago. And they've stuck with it. It was called Embrace debate, embrace debate back in 2009, or 10, I think, on ESPN, when first take shifted how they went about doing their show. And MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, all of these other networks, even some national networks on ABC and CBS, like they found these shows and they said, Wait a minute, people are interested in that and getting riled up and then you enter the social media world right around the same time. And you got a real big moneymaker you do. And it's perfect timing for all those people.

Keith Simon 22:23

And if you don't remember it, maybe some people weren't watching sports before the time where you said they embrace debate, sports center and ESPN programming and all the big networks other ESPN was one of the only ones maybe the only one big one, at least back then. The program is completely different. It's just a whole different world, right than it used to be used to just get highlights a lot of highlight shows, and you don't get that much anymore. But this hasn't just affected players. It's affected the sports personalities and the people who cover sports. And so I'm thinking of people like Jamel hill or sage Steele or Dan Leba tard or Michelle to FOIA. Some of them like sage steel just won a lawsuit against ESPN. Michele Tafoya left the network. Not ESPN. I don't think it was NBC, I believe Yeah, he left them to start her own podcast more on the conservative side. Dan love, it's hard left ESPN, and he's more on the progressive side of things, ESPN or Fox Sports, all the big sports networks? How do they handle? How do they think about get us into the mind of how they perceive these personalities that they have that are successful, they bring a lot of eyeballs, but they're also divisive, and maybe turn away a lot of people. It's really interesting,

Jason Romano 23:38

because I think so many of the names you just mentioned left, where they worked to have more freedom to talk about topics outside of just sports in the traditional way we would talk about sports, I'll say, and some of them, you know, we're at ESPN and shared some personal thoughts on their social media pages or whatever. And that got them in trouble. Or in the case of sages, she went on a podcast and talked about her concerns with the vaccine. And she got suspended from ESPN for doing that, at a time when it was required to work there to get the vaccine. If you wanted to come in the office. I believe that was I didn't work there at that time. So I'm not 100% sure on that. But it's really interesting because I think some of the people left those names that you mentioned whatever side they're on, because they wanted more freedom to be able to say and do what they wanted to do without repercussions more to align themselves with a more conservative or a more progressive show or dialogue that they can have. I think a Daniel avatar like Dan was awesome. I love listening to his show. It was always on right after Mike and Mike the show I worked on my last year at ESPN and I love Dan's takes and I loved how he was willing to say things that others might not say and call out some of the things that certain parts of the media wouldn't call out. So I love that about Dan when he left I think it was contract dispute or whatever. But ultimately, he also decided, you know, I'm gonna do a show now where I don't really have to answer to anybody but myself. And I don't think that they go off the deep end on the stuff I've heard from Dan show. I think Dan's great. I really do. I don't align with all of his beliefs and things that he talks about, but I still love that he's a voice and sports. You mentioned Jamel Hill. I love Jamel, I was one of the first people to ever put her on ESPN. So you can blame me I guess for putting her on television. But this is like 2008 or nine when I was working on outside the lines. It might even been before that like 2007. She was a reporter or I'm sorry, a columnist for I think the Orlando Sentinel. And she was in Detroit as well with the free press. And she was a female, African American with a voice in sports. That was a pretty strong voice. And so any of those topics that we talked about back then whether it was steroids or whether it was cheating in sports or whatever. Jamel was a voice that we wanted to bring on because it was a diversified voice than just your you know, typical 60 year old white male guy. And she was awesome. And so we had her on and then she got hired by ESPN started doing more with them and had her own shows and ultimately Sports Center with Jamel was always great to me. I liked her a lot. We got along awesome. don't align with a lot of the stuff that she puts out there. But that doesn't mean I don't want to cheer her on and want to believe that she meant a lot to my career because she really did. She helped me a lot in my journey. That's the part that we get lost on because you might say, well, Jason is a Christian. I don't really lean conservative and probably more middle, middle, right, if I'm going to put that out there. I don't like aligning to the extremes on anything. And Jamel does, obviously she's put it out there, which she believes in when she stands. But that's not going to stop me from like, caring about her the person or thanking her for all the help as she gave me in my journey at ESPN. And the same with sage Steele. You mentioned sage, we just talked to Sage on our podcast a couple of weeks ago and sage, obviously, on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Jamel if you just follow those two on social media. But sage has been nothing but fantastic to me. Wonderful person who I loved working with. She's awesome. On television, she was a true pro. And her situation was crappy at the end as well. I hate to see her lose her job. But I love sage too. And I want to cheer her on and root for her. And that's what's missing. I feel like Keith, like, can I root for two people on completely different sides of the view of whatever they're thinking about and talking about politically, but still like them and want to cheer them on without agreeing with everything that either of them side on? Can we do that? For notionally?

Keith Simon 27:38


no, you can't. You can't just believe people are wrong about something you have to believe they're wicked, right? You can't just disagree with them. You've got to demonize them. Right.

Jason Romano 27:50

And that's where we're missing it. And that saddens me and what we're seeing right now, from Christians to that's what saddens me the most well, that's what I was gonna

Keith Simon 27:57

say is that Christians should be able to lead the way. But you know, even in the diversity, we were talking just recently in our church, about diversity in church, and how a church is a natural band of enemies that love each other for Jesus sake, and that we have an opportunity to show the world a better way. And yet we have our own problems with it. So you were really big on social media, you are kind of on the leading edge of developing social media, ESPN, I think you built out the whole NFL social media platforms and all that. And social media, obviously powerful. And it's a way that people communicate. And I think that the people like me on social media, we want to hear more from personalities than brands, right, I'm more likely to click on sage dealer Jamel Hill than I am just ESPN corporate or something like that. But then these people, Scott Van Pelt, I mean, whoever all the people out there, they have this presence. And they're encouraged to have that presence, because that brings in viewers. And yet when they put on their personal beliefs, and they get in trouble for it, but if they never put on personal beliefs on their social media account, then it's kind of boring. It's not much fun. People don't want to interact with them. So from ESPN perspective, or again, major media, sports media, how do they balance that of we want you to share your life, your personal beliefs, you be interesting, be provocative, but we have these guidelines, and you can't do this or that they got themselves into some trouble with this. So I'm just curious from the corporate perspective, what's their goal there? Where did they think they made some mistakes? You know, what are they doing differently? Now?

Jason Romano 29:35

Yeah, it's interesting, because I'm speaking strictly from a viewer perspective here. You know, it's been six plus years, seven years since I've worked there. So I want to be very mindful that I'm not speaking for ESPN. I promise you that. But I will say, even then, it was less politicized and you know, stuff that was going on in our world didn't seem to be as prevalent maybe in 20 1314 as it was today on social media. But I will say, there were times when, if you said something that offended people that was hateful. And how do you describe hateful? Because people today might say, because I put a Bible verse on my Twitter page that that's hateful. I hope not, because it's not the intention at all. But I think there's things that if you use foul language, and you call somebody out and call them this, or call them, uh, that, you know, that's where I think you can get in a lot of trouble. And I think it was always one of those deals back when I was there, to remember even though you are a personality, and you want to encourage opinions and want to encourage them to be themselves, Mike Greenberg is a great example of the guy who's the biggest New York Jets fan there is right and he became that personality. So when he would go on social media, you know, he talked about his wife, and he put a couple things about his kids. And he always talked about the jets, and he talked about the shows that he was on, and occasionally, you know, mixing some pop culture stuff, but you don't ever watch if you read Mike Greenberg, social media, even today, you won't ever see him posts, anything that's going to potentially offend people, specifically politics. Very rarely, if ever, I don't think greenies ever posted anything about politics on there. Certainly sports family, but that's kind of the lane. And I've always watched grinning and said that's kind of the lane. I think ESPN execs would probably say or other execs from other media would say, follow that lane. Like it's good to welcome in your dynamic of being a dad and being a husband. You know, eating out, going to dinner, having some fun with your friends, nothing too outlandish. When your team's playing, people are expecting you to talk about the Jets, right, greenie. So talk about the Jets because that's who you are a fan of talking about your shows and sports and things happening. And then there's this little lane that you don't want to veer into. And that's anything controversial, or that would offend someone. And they tried to stay away from that lane. So I'm pretty sure that's still the case in terms of how you talk to your clients, your employees and say, hey, you know, be yourself but just Herm Edwards always said, Don't press send. That was his line, you know, the former coach and ESPN analyst. He's like, Don't press them, because he always believes if you press in, you're in trouble once you press it, and you always got to end up apologizing, and it's always out there forever. I don't believe in don't press them. But I believe in like, read that thing three times and say, is that going to do any good before you press send? Maybe even sleep on it? Maybe sleep on it? Yes, I can tell you, I've written out things that are probably going in a direction I don't normally go in, whether it's politics, or whether it's gender issues, or whether it's something that's just mind blowing to me in the world, outside of sports, and maybe not even doing anything to do with faith either. And I will then usually delete it, or let it save in the drafts. And maybe never post it because I always look at am I doing more harm than good here. And I'll even go a little bit further from the spiritual perspective and say, am I representing Christ, the way I should represent Him, even in this social media world properly. And that usually brings me back into the things that I post about a lot, which is just some sports stuff. Occasionally, I've actually dialed that back to keep, I don't share my opinions, when my teams don't do well on social media like I used to. Because I know so many players on different teams and current teams now that I don't want to have them think of me less or differently. Because I'm just a crazy sports fan rooting for my teams, I want to represent Christ well. And I want them to be able to say, okay, hey, Jason, you know, I appreciate you for who you are. And you can refer whoever team you want, because they hear that from everybody else. On social media, I don't want to be just another one of those people. And I've done that. And, you know, I tried to dial back to

Keith Simon 33:44

I think it's wise to, you know, be in that Greenberg lane and stay into sports. But there's a lot of pressure that comes on people to post things. So outside groups, that pressure on you, whether it's after the murder of George Floyd and or something related to the Trump presidency or trans athletes, and how are we going to handle that there's this pressure to, you know, use your influence. And I think it's probably each person's own decision about how they want to use that influence. And you have to use it wisely. Because you can blow a lot of relationships, you can do a lot of damage with one tweet one way or the other. Hey, you've got two great books learn to forgive and what you tell about growing up with your alcoholic father and then reconciling with him, and another book called uniform of leadership, as in that book, you share a story that kind of goes to where we started this conversation about how your perspective changed from being ESPN employee, you happen to be a Christian to a Christian who worked at ESPN. And I think it was, if I remember, right, it was with Tony Dungy, his assistant that said something like this to you right. When you were kind of walking around the ESPN campus, can you share that story and what difference it made in your perspective about working there? Yeah, changed my life. I

Jason Romano 34:59

tell people this Stay. This was a day I was very excited about. I was producing Tony Dungy his full day at ESPN. He was coming to ESPN to promote his book and to talk about the NFL season. It was August. And you know, great time getting excited about the football season. And I booked and secured Tony to come to ESPN through his assistant, Jessica, who was working on this project. And Jessica is awesome. And Jessica and I had worked on some projects previously. Tony Dungy is a Christian Jessica stone is a Christian. And I was excited to spend the day with Coach Tony Dungy, right and just to see if he'll talk about Jesus on ESPN, that's really why I was most excited. And also to get to know the guy a little bit more. I'd met him maybe one other time previously, just you know, for like, a couple minutes and I was excited to kind of spend a full day with him. Because when you spend a day with someone that's really when you can get to know someone a little bit deeper than just shaking hands, taking the picture and, you know, moving on, and Coach Dungy asked me a question in between being on Mike and Mike and Sports Center, we found ourselves hanging out in the greenroom, just waiting for our next, you know, scheduled of events to take place. And Coach Dungy finds out that I'm a Christian through Jessica and just asked me this question. He says, Jason, how do you live your faith out? As a believer here at ESPN? Just curious, how do you do that? And I had a terrible answer for him. Because my answer was, Can you do that? Coach? I don't really know how to do that. I'm a Christian. I love Jesus. But I don't know what you mean by that. And I could sense coach Dungy just kind of shaking his head disappointed, oh, very disappointed. And he's shaking his head, he probably wanted to jump in. But before he could, Jessica jumped in, kind of stepped in front of them. And just looked at me. And remember, we had been friendly and had a relationship previously on some different things that we worked on. So she felt comfortable, I think saying this to me. And she says, Jason, you don't get what Tony is saying to you do, and asking you? And I'm like, What? What do you mean, Jessica? She says, Well, listen, look where you work. Look at this place. There's 1000s and 1000s of people coming through this campus every day, right? And I said, Yes, yes, there is Jessica. She goes, All right, look at this ministry, that God has placed you in. And that was probably the first time I'd really heard that before, like my job at ESPN as ministry, right. And she says, Look at this place, this ministry that God has placed you in, you can be a light right here for so many people and impact them. Because I thought I had to go work for where I'm working now with sports spectrum, or go to work with a sports ministry and FCA Fellowship of Christian Athletes or athletes in action to be able to live my faith out, you know, at work. And Jessica said, Listen, before God calls you away somewhere else he might do that. He's like, but this is where you work. This is your ministry. So until he calls you somewhere else, you're at a bloom, where you're planted, actually come again, she goes bloom where you're planted. And that to me sticks out to this day, I mean, that was going to actually be the title of the book. That's how much those words bloom where you're planted affected me. Because it made me realize that this was a place that I had to be a light in right where I was, and it didn't mean I come into work, I'm actually wearing a shirt with a cross on it today. But it doesn't mean I go into work, wearing a shirt with a cross on it, or bringing my Bible and telling people, you know that they need to have Jesus in their life. I was hired to be a producer. So I needed to be the best producer I could be and do my work well. But in doing that I could build relationships with people, I could serve them, Jesus says we are to serve and not be served. I could love them, like Jesus loves them, and just be there for them. Right. And in doing that, that's being a light in a dark place in the workplace. And what happened after that was like this giant light bulb went on over my head, and I realized that that's what was missing in my life. Like I was so entrenched in my job that I wasn't thinking about anybody else. I was only thinking about me, and Jessica and coach Dungy asking that question reminded me Wait a minute, now you're a follower of Christ first, who happens to be a guy who works at ESPN. You're a follower of Christ first, who happens to be a husband and a dad. You're not an ESPN producer, first, who happens to be a Christian who happens to be all of these other things. And it was just this little corner turn on the title and the mindset that I had to live on. That helped me understand that this was ministry, wherever I was not just ESPN, but anywhere, wherever I went, that's, that's my ministry field, if you will, to be the best ambassador for Christ that I could be. And it changed my life forever. Well,

Keith Simon 39:36

none of us work at ESPN. But we all work somewhere, right? We go to school or we work somewhere and we need that switch to take place in our perspective. To not think that somehow we are lesser in God's kingdom then the missionaries in the pastures but to embrace our work to do our work with excellence, to do it with character with the people we work with and to show compassion toward them. that, that will give us a platform that will be taken as credible people, not perfect people, but credible people who are honest, and who people go to for advice, because we've demonstrated that we care about them. We love them. And we've done our job with excellence and it gives a platform. You know, one of the things that you did at ESPN if I understand right, is your A talent. Booker, right. Is that the right phrase,

Jason Romano 40:22

the official title, Keith was talent producer. It was basically a talent Booker, and you escorted

Keith Simon 40:27

people, like you're doing with Coach Dungy, you did that for all kinds of athletes, probably all the big names. Yeah,

Jason Romano 40:33

I would book guests on the phone for shows as well or get him on, you know, wherever, at a studio locally. But yes, part of the perks of that role was to bring people to campus, as we say to ESPN, and set up a day of interviews, we call it the ESPN carwash, and we walk athletes and coaches around, it was amazing.

Keith Simon 40:52

So you spent a lot of time with athletes. What did you learn from them? I'm not really talking right now about necessarily the Christian athletes. I mean, we can talk about that in just a second. But as you just walked around with all these athletes who have everything that we want, right, they have money, they have status, they're excellent at what they do, they probably have plenty of opportunities to date, whoever they want, or they're married and have his beautiful family. At least that's what it appears like to us. When you were walking all these athletes around over the years. Did you get the impression they were happy?

Jason Romano 41:22

It's a great question. Some were, some weren't. I could sense that because they were angry. Or some of them were there and just didn't want to be there. Which is kind of blows my mind, like, why would you even come then because you're an athlete, you can make whatever decisions you want. But there's probably a money making opportunity or a chance to promote something. See, happy is interesting, because we both know, like, there's a difference between happiness and joy, right. And we would find, some guys were happy. But I don't know, if they were always happy. There was a little bit of entitlement with some of them. But for the most part, most of the people I met were normal people who, you know, happen to play a big sport, and, you know, have a lot of eyeballs on them. But they were just normal people trying to live a life, you know, in their profession that they were doing it in was just a public profession of a lot of people who, you know, count on them to achieve and to accomplish what they've set out to do in the world of athletics, but they're pretty normal people. And I can even say now, especially since then, more Christian athlete world than non Christian athlete well, but even a lot of the non believers who I know in the sports world, like most of them are just pretty good dudes. Listen, ego is involved, I think in any aspect of sports. That just is I say, ego is easing God out. But ego is also pride. And, you know, standing up there and saying, you know, I'm really good at what I do. And you have to have somewhat of an ego to accomplish a lot in sports. Most of the athletes have a little bit of ego, and that's okay, I understand that. But they try to stay humble. A lot of them, especially the Christian athletes, and I see humility, and a lot of them I see joy, and a lot of them, but I also see in some of them, what else is there? I saw that a lot with the ESPN were like capitalizing in the moment on what's happening. And thinking this is utopia. This is heaven, this is amazing. And then a year or two later, they're out of the league, or they had a bad injury, or they're not in the spotlight anymore. And then what are they who are they? And in that sense, I don't think they were happy at all. Keith, to be honest with you.

Keith Simon 43:24

I think that, you know, portraying the athlete is just that normal person with normal person problems is really healthy for us, because they're just like, gosh, right? They have the same issues, the same concerns that we do. They're just maybe more people watching them as they navigate life. But you host a podcast on sports spectrum, and you talk to a lot of Christian Athletes, and they face the same temptations we do, right, like all the same temptations they have we have they just might have them in more abundance or more intensity or something. I'm not exactly sure how to phrase that. But they have money, pride sacks, all those things. And have you learned from them any kind of ways that have shaped your life? Like if you as you're talking to all these athletes on their podcast? Is there a sense in which you've heard from them, here's how they navigate those issues. That's maybe something you've tried to incorporate into your life,

Jason Romano 44:13

being an athlete and trying to live out your faith and being a Christian. I think it's extremely difficult. I think it's really hard. Because in the athletic world, you're all about achievement, and working hard, and accomplishment. And if you're a believer, you know, none of that matters. It's what Christ did on the cross, not what we can do to earn our way into his good graces. And yet sports is completely the opposite. Sports is all about earning your way into the good graces of your coaches, management, your teammates, all of that. I think the biggest lesson I learned though, is discipline, especially if coming from from Christian athletes. It takes discipline to be an amazing athlete, right? It just does. I wish fans would truly understand everything that goes into play just for athletes to get Get ready to go and compete and whatever sport they're at, particularly at the professional level, but everything that goes into just getting ready. And so we look at the score and the outcome and say all that team got blown out by that team. So they stink. And that player threw three interceptions. So they stink. And that guy fumbled three times. So he stinks. And yes, listen, I've been that fan. Occasionally, I still am trying to keep that stuff at home. But I remember Wait a minute, do we understand what these guys have went through for most of their lives, but particularly even in the past six months since last season ended or nine months since last season ended? To get to this point, just try and do the best that they can. And I think discipline stands out because particularly for those who are very devout in their faith, you know, I think a Kirk Cousins who's over my left shoulder here on our magazine was sports spectrum, Kirk Cousins is discipline as a football player, there's no doubt. He's also very disciplined as a believer, and he makes sure that he goes to Bible studies and attends those and makes time for his family makes time for his personal devotionals that he reads, makes time to connect with athletes outside of the world of sports makes times to make sure he's building relationships with his teammates. All of that is part of being disciplined as a believer, not just discipline as a person or an athlete. So I think for me, that's one of the things I carry with me is I want to be disciplined to in my walk with Jesus in my work and the way that I treat people. Discipline is really where it comes back to when I think about these athletes.

Keith Simon 46:30

I think we watch these athletes, and we just think they're naturally talented, right? Like Matthew Smith could just feel those out of their bed and they just go play. Yeah, they're naturals, right? I mean, you look at it, Aaron Rodgers or Patrick mahomes, or whoever it is, and just like, wow, I wish I was as lucky as they were. And they definitely talent, they of size, they have something going for them. But they put in whether it's LeBron James or Michael Jordan or whoever it is, they have put in hours and hours and hours daily discipline. And sometimes I think we look at Christian and go, Oh, that person is naturally good at praying are naturally a godly character naturally patient, you know, just like they've got this great talent instead of saying, No, they've memorized a Bible verse and prayed over it. They've asked God for mercy. They've shown up with a Bible study. And so I think it's a great little takeaway, that just as an athlete works hard. So we as Christians have disciplines we do not to earn our way with God. But because it's the way God grows us. Hey, Jason, we really appreciate it. And it's night sports spectrum, and your two books learn to forgive and uniform of leadership. Is there anything else that we should know about you or where to find you?

Jason Romano 47:36

Well, you can find me on those wonderful world of social media pages with Instagram and mostly Twitter acts as where I kind of live in you'll see me I mean, you can connect with me, my DMs are open love to hear from anybody that wants to I don't put a lot out there other than, you know, I'll put a Bible verse every morning. Occasionally I'll share some stuff. I tried to find the content, but sports Spectrum sharing and share that where we're trying to keep Jesus in the sports conversation with you one of the truth, Keith and so we're highlighting the athletes and the coaches that love the Lord, that are doing well in sports, but also trying to live out their faith, the best way that they can and be unashamed for the gospel. And that's really the lane that I've been staying in and living in for a while, but I'd love to connect with anybody if they want to reach out for sure. And I appreciate you having me on man. This has been great.

Recent Episodes

Last Chance to Subscribe to Truth Over Tribe