Legendary NBC sports broadcaster Mike Tirico was one of the big names at the Mackinac Policy Conference this year. Tirico has covered everything from the Olympics to the Super Bowl, and starting this fall, he’ll be replacing Al Michaels in the booth for Sunday Night Football on NBC.
When looking back on his accomplishments, he says a 2006 Saints game against the Atlanta Falcons stands out to him.
“That football game was the first message to the rest of the world [after Hurricane Katrina] that New Orleans was open for business again. And it was on the shoulders of a football game,” Tirico says. “That proved to me that this stuff does matter. It’s not just a toy shop, it’s not to fill out the half hour after news and weather. Sports has a real passionate connection.”
He says this connection was even present at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
“That was thematic of the start of this conference [last] week: using sports, teamwork, races, genders, different religious groups, different beliefs, different upbringings, to come together for the greater good even if they don’t have things in common. I think that’s what I love about sports, and an event like that is one that sticks with me forever because it showed me that it is more than just a game.”
“It’s not just a toy shop, it’s not to fill out the half hour after news and weather. Sports has a real passionate connection.” — Mike Tirico
One way sports are evolving beyond being “just a game” is through the increase of athletes and coaches using their platforms to speak on social issues. Tirico says that while he believes this is a good thing, he tries to steer clear of overly politicizing himself.
“I’m always cautious to share my thoughts politically because I know that the people who are watching us are on both sides of the aisle,” Tirico says. “They’re both red and blue, and some of them are purple, and they’re on extreme edges. They like to come to sports to get away from that.”
He says that some issues, like the Uvalde mass shooting last month, can make it particularly difficult to maintain neutrality.
“Sometimes, there are moments that call for you to share your emotions, like 21 people are senselessly killed in a school,” Tirico says. “No matter where you are on gun violence or the Second Amendment … it’s still awful, it’s still painful, it still rips your heart out.”
But even so, he reserves political commentary for before or after the sporting event, not during it.
“You can express that emotion without delving into the political side of it, because it’s not the place to do it before, ‘OK, now here’s the Indy 500.’”
Listen: Mike Tirico talks civility in sports and what to expect this football season.