Flood illuminates life in sports television

On Monday night, Sam Flood ’83, a former College hockey captain, 10-time Emmy Award winner and Coordinating Producer of NBC Sports, presented the Frank Deford Award to Ben Horwitz ’09 and Liz Kantack ’09 as the top student assistants for the Office of Sports Information. Accompanying the award presentation, Flood gave an energetic and interesting lecture on his life working in sports television.
Flood, a jocular and charismatic speaker who has been described by Kieth Olbermann, a news anchor MSNBC, as “the best [producer] there is,” began by explaining how he began his career in sports production. “While all my friends decided to go off to Wall Street – I left this place and decided I wanted to stay in the candy store and work in sports television,” he said.
“My first job was holding an umbrella for Sam Cosell at the World Series while he interviewed Pete Rose,” Flood told the audience. A photograph from the interview was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the next week, and Flood explained that all his friends from college called to give him a hard time. “I learned then, after looking down at Cosell’s toupee for awhile, that I didn’t like toupees,” Flood, who is balding, said jokingly.
“My career built from there, and I have traveled the world the last 30 years,” he continued. Flood then spoke about his first big jobs working at the Olympics in ’84 and ’88 and about the challenges of making interesting segments on athletes. “You have to find out what is going to make the people at home care about that athlete and want to listen to his story,” he said.
Flood eventually became a producer, which he said is like being “a coach, manager and general manager” all in one position. Flood shared anecdotes about some of his memories as a sports producer, including coverage of the 1996 Olympic 200 meter dash in which Michael Johnson broke the world record, an interview with Jim Grey and Pete Rose that he produced, and the Superbowl production this past year.
Flood also conveyed some of the challenges of being in sports television. He explained that it “is not about the one hour you are on the air but the hundreds of hours that go into preparation.” He told stories about segments that people spend months producing that are never even shown on television. “That’s two month’s of someone’s life gone,” he said.
As a family man, Flood also said that the amount of travel was hard. “It is not always fun to miss every weekend and all the fun activities,” he explained.
Also a challenge, Flood said, are stories that can be difficult to share. He talked about producing the Kentucky Derby last year when the Philly Eight Belles fell on the track and died. Flood had to make the decision whether or not to show the dying horse on television.
Flood explained that he had to ask himself whether or not “the image of the horse dying was appropriate for the audience at home,” and that he decided that the image was appropriate for only 10 percent of the audience, so he had the broadcast take a wider view. “I had to worry about the [other] 90 percent,” he said.
Flood was later criticized for the omission in the Washington Post, but he stood by the decision because he “knew that there were kids and families watching.”
Flood spoke throughout the lecture on how much of a positive impact the College had on his life. “Williams roots take you a long way and take you wherever you go,” he said, attributing his success in part to the liberal arts education at the College, which helped him to create innovative approaches to NASCAR and NHL telecasts that are now widely used.
Throughout the lecture, Flood continued coming back to the lessons learned here at the College, saying that Williams is the “greatest place in the world,” and that it is a place where “you learn how to make decisions based on the greater good.”