Analyze This: A conversation with ACC broadcaster Stan Norfleet
On missing John Saunders, the importance of representation, and how hosting radio and TV is like quarterbacking
The Analyze This series is a daily Q&A with African-American college football broadcasters and analysts during The Undefeated’s Fall TV Week.
Stan Norfleet, the new co-host (with Katie Witham and Tommy Bowden), of the ACC Network’s pregame show ACC Blitz, was a letter-winning linebacker at the University of Virginia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies/history in 2003. He then spent a season playing at historically black Texas Southern University as a graduate transfer, where he earned a master’s degree in speech communications. Norfleet worked for several years on the business side of sports — with the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL — before delving into broadcasting by covering University of Kentucky football and men’s basketball, starting in 2011, as both a radio and television personality. Before the college football season, Norfleet spoke about his path to broadcasting, black representation in the field and student-athletes speaking up on social issues. (Note: The ACC Network is an ESPN partner.)
If you were told during your college playing days that you’d be a sports broadcaster, would you have believed it?
I would have said … Maybe. I went to UVA to be an engineer. I wanted to be a systems engineer. My father was a techie. I lost him to gun violence in 1997.
What makes a good analyst?
There are a ton of guys that know more football than me. There are a ton of guys that have more credentials than me. That’s another thing about this analyst thing — just because you played in the league 12 years or just because you were All-ACC doesn’t mean you know more about this game than me. That means you made more plays than me. The public has this perception that if you’re not Ray Lewis, Keyshawn Johnson, Charles Woodson, Trent Dilfer, the Hasselback brothers or on College Gameday Live, if you’re not David Pollack, if you’re not an All-SEC guy — I get it helps to have a name — but what’s most important is, what are you saying? A lot of guys know it, a lot of guys can do it. But now the third phase is: Can you articulate it? And can you make it make sense to the public?
How do you assess the current state of black representation in sports broadcasting?
There’s always a story that’s not being told, and I’ll start from a radio perspective. How is it that the NFL, the last time I checked, was about 70 percent African-American. I think the NBA is closer to 80 percent. So we can play the game, we can coach the game, we can scout the game. But why is it that we don’t have a plethora of black drive time, weekday radio hosts — and I want to all caps that word, HOSTS — when it comes to talking about our major sports in this country? Hosting programs is critical because the host of a radio show controls the tempo, the depth of a topic he or she chooses to cover and how long you stay on that topic. Riley Cooper made those comments a couple seasons ago, Cam Newton made those comments about race, Deshaun Watson talks about being a ‘dual-threat’ quarterback, that if he was white they wouldn’t call him dual-threat. Why is it when it comes to topics that involve black folks, black players — how come black folks aren’t driving that conversation? I’m going to miss John Saunders. I watched The Sports Reporters because of him. He [was] a black man controlling programming — at least the content in terms of how it’s being delivered.
You mentioned Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has said his dual-threat label is racially coded language. What do you think of players at the college level speaking on social issues?
I understand what he’s saying. He doesn’t want to be stereotyped and typecast — because he’s black, he can run. But Watson rushed for more than every other player in the conference other than like six dudes last season. Brother, you are dual-threat, but so is Andrew Luck. So I see his point. They don’t say dual-threat with Andrew Luck. When we talk about the Black Lives Matter movement on the campus of the University of Missouri and what that football team did, I think that’s necessary. We must make sure these kids understand their social responsibility as citizens and as students, as well as athletes. But we always just talk about their branding as players.
Why is it so important for black representation when it comes to driving these sports conversations?
Diversity is necessary at all levels of society if you truly want to eradicate racism. How can you have a conversation about Cam Newton’s plight as a black quarterback without a black radio host being a part of that conversation? I’m not saying you have to have a black host on every time slot of the day … but it’s a problem when I listen from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and haven’t heard a guy who looks like me … We’re trying to break through as hosts the way that Cam, Russ and RG3 have broken through at the quarterback position. We’re trying to do the same thing, and quietly it’s one of the biggest fights we’re having in this business.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.