Bulldogs in Broadcasting
With the recent announcement Ben Watson will be joining the SEC Network as a studio analyst, the 2003 All-SEC tight end and 15-season NFL veteran is the latest in a long line of Georgia student-athletes currently employed in the field of sports broadcasting.
The group of Bulldog athletes-turned-sports broadcasters in television alone includes Turner Sports’ Ernie Johnson Jr., who lettered on Georgia’s 1975 baseball team; ESPN’s David Pollack, a three-time football All-American; and Maria Taylor, a three-time All-SEC honoree in volleyball.
Whereas Watson’s new profession comes on the heels of his tenure in professional football, D.J. Shockley’s broadcasting career began when he was merely an NFL rookie. After quarterbacking Georgia to an SEC championship in 2005, and being selected by Atlanta in the 2006 NFL Draft, Shockley hosted his own Falcons television show during his first year in the league. Since then, his career as a football broadcaster and studio and game analyst has taken off.
For some former Bulldog athletes, like Shockley, it’s a career they actually envisioned while attending Georgia.
“When I was at Georgia, I’d see some college athletes being interviewed on television, and I’d think to myself that I needed to be better than that when speaking to the media. I wanted to make sure, when a microphone was in front of my face, I was presenting something of substance,” Shockley told UGASports. “That’s why I decided to major in Speech Communications. And that’s when I began thinking I could possibly go into broadcasting when I was done playing football.”
After working for ESPN as a college football analyst with the SEC Network and the ACC Network, Shockley recently accepted a position as the weekday sports anchor for WAGA Channel 5 in Atlanta. In addition, working for UGA and Learfield IMG College, the former Bulldog signal-caller will replace Chuck Dowdle, a member of Georgia’s 1967-68 freshman basketball team, as the sideline reporter for the Bulldogs’ football radio broadcasts.
While setting SEC career records for most passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completions from 2010-2013, former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray also thought sports broadcasting could possibly be in his future.
“Obviously, as a Georgia quarterback, I did a lot of interviews and was in front of a camera a lot. So, I developed a comfort level,” Murray said. “I’ve always loved football—loved talking about the sport, breaking down film. And I looked at broadcasting as maybe a way to stay around the game after I had finished playing. So, I kind of knew during my time at Georgia that broadcasting could be a great opportunity for me down the road.”
Upon completion of his NFL career in 2017, Murray called his agent asking if he could search for any possible broadcasting opportunities. The 2021 season will be the former Georgia quarterback’s fifth as a college football color analyst for the CBS Sports Network.
For other former Georgia athletes, the possibility of a career in sports broadcasting was never their intention—not even close.
“Honestly, and I definitely now find it ironic, but I loathed doing interviews when I was a player, and wanted to talk to the media as little as possible,” said Matt Stinchcomb, a first-team All-American offensive tackle at Georgia in 1997 and 1998. “I didn’t have any intention to work in sports broadcasting—never angling for this career. Still, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy it. And I certainly appreciate the opportunity to work in the broadcasting.”
After his seven-year NFL career ended, Stinchcomb realized the best way to promote his charity events was via the media. From there, his broadcasting career began in 2007. Subsequently, Stinchcomb joined ESPN a dozen years ago, and currently serves as a color analyst on the SEC Network while also hosting SEC Film Room. His brother, Jon Stinchcomb, an All-American offensive tackle for Georgia in 2002, also works in the industry as a television analyst for New Orleans Saints’ preseason games.
For three of Georgia football’s greatest players of the last quarter-century, even though their blood runs red and black, so to speak, it has essentially been effortless not to demonstrate any bias for the Bulldogs when it comes to their work.
“If I ever have the chance to call a Georgia game, I’d like to think I’d just go to work and call it as I see it—like I don’t have a dog in the fight,” said Murray, who has yet to be a part of a Georgia broadcast. “I’m going to be fair—and the viewer, unless he or she knew otherwise, would never know I had played for the Bulldogs.”
As for Shockley, he didn't broadcast a Georgia game his first couple of years with the SEC Network. However, he was the color analyst for as many as three Bulldog football games last season, beginning with the season opener at Arkansas. Admittedly, Shockley had to be conscious of being impartial.
“Honestly, my biggest fear when broadcasting a Georgia game was being a homer, or being biased. So, I really paid attention to how I called the game—the things I said,” Shockley recalled. “I wanted to give fairness to both sides. And whatever I said about either side, especially if it was criticism, I wanted to be able to back it up with facts.”
Shockley added he was “given the ultimate compliment” following the Georgia-Arkansas game, when he received a number of texts and phone calls from individuals indicating they couldn’t determine whatsoever he had Bulldog ties.
According to Stinchcomb, when it comes to being unbiased toward the Bulldogs, “doing games is easy.” However, after the games, when he is off the air, his true emotions can be revealed.
“Sometimes, it’s on the drive home after the game, when I slip out of that work mode, and I feel the emotions of being a Georgia alum, a supporter of the program, and growing up a Bulldogs fan,” Stinchcomb said. “Then it—the result of the game—hits me in a more subjective, personal way.”
Also, according to Stinchcomb, he’s not more inclined to reach out to or bounce ideas off another broadcaster, simply because they both played at Georgia. However, provided all factors or circumstances remained the same, he admits it might be easier to collaborate with a fellow Bulldog.
“All things being equal in the broadcasting industry, who would I rather talk to? I’d rather talk to a Dawg,” Stinchcomb said.
For the number of Georgia athletes-turned-sports broadcasting professionals, their work is their work. Still, they all share the special bond of having represented and continuing to represent University of Georgia athletics. It’s an affiliation in which they take pride.
“We (UGA athletes-turned-sports broadcasters) absolutely keep up with all the other Dawgs in the industry,” Shockley said. “And to those broadcasters from other schools, we make it be known that there are a lot of us Dawgs in this field.”