By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – John Anderson, a 1987 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a four-year member of the track and field team, is host of ESPN’s SportsCenter and ABC’s Wipeout. He will serve as the Master of Ceremonies for The Bowerman, track and field’s highest honor, for the second time this December.
Anderson sat down with the SEC Digital Network for this Q&A discussing The Bowerman, his own track and field career and his thoughts on the sport.
SEC Digital Network: How did the opportunity for you to host The Bowerman ceremony come about and what did you enjoy about hosting it the first time?
John Anderson: “I was kind enough to be invited by Rick McGuire who, at the time, was the head coach at the University of Missouri for both men’s and women’s track and field. I have known Coach McGuire since I was a freshman in college when I arrived at Missouri. He had taken over the women’s track and field program and I was on the men’s team under Coach Bob Teel. I have known him almost 30 years and he said he thought I would be good for that role as they were trying to get things off the ground with The Bowerman. I enjoyed myself and, most of the time, I was kind of wide-eyed agape at some of the people I got to meet. The first guy that came up to me and said hello was Harvey Glance, who was on the 1976 Olympic Team, and that was a really big deal for me. I was 11 when he was in the ’76 Olympics and the Olympics didn’t go on again until I was in college because of the 1980 Boycott. Those guys on that ’76 track and field team were the guys I loved. I had met Harvey several times before, but that time at The Bowerman was just like the first time, I had the same experience – I couldn’t remember my name. After I saw from a distance a grey-haired gentleman who was Clyde Hart. I just had repeated moments of going ‘Whoa, this is awesome. I can’t believe they brought me in to do this. This is fantastic.’ Last year, because of some schedule conflicts, I wasn’t able to do it, but I’m happy that they saw fit to have me back again.”
SEC Digital Network: As a Missouri grad and a former student-athlete for the Tigers, what were your thoughts about Missouri joining the SEC?
John Anderson: “It’s funny because it was clearly a football decision. Everyone was asking, where would Missouri fit in the SEC with football? My first thought was, do they realize what they’re getting these track and field programs into? If this isn’t the deep end, this is the diving well. This SEC meet, when you’ve also thrown Texas A&M in there, is going to be as good as the national meet. If you don’t have your best day at conference, there is a very good chance you could be a national champion and not a conference champion. For track and field, short of a national championship – either NCAA or USATF – I can’t think of a better track meet that I’d like to see than an SEC conference meet.”
SEC Digital Network: What makes The Bowerman such a special award for college track and field?
John Anderson: “It is just nice to have an award that honors you for an overall season of excellence. We do make so much out of the Heisman. I was visiting with [former UConn head men’s basketball coach] Jim Calhoun the other day, discussing all the great players he has had in the pros and he said that the thing that has gotten to him over the last 10 or 15 years is that it no longer seems to be enough to be a great college player. If you win the Heisman – look at Tim Tebow or Andre Ware – they were great, great college players. That to me stands for something. When I was a kid, the Bucks were my team and they drafted Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner and they did not have great careers as pros, but the fact that they were great college players, to me, still means something. That’s the beauty of The Bowerman, it validates what is a really good college career. It’s kind of like in track and field, you have to win that gold medal on that one day in the Olympics; if you didn’t win that, what did you win in life? That’s not the right way to look at it – it may not time out right for you. Lolo Jones was here a few months ago and she talked about how much she really wanted that medal in the Olympics because she sees the value of that perception on people who aren’t fully engaged in the sport. She really wanted to take the time and fight to win that medal. Here’s this fabulous career, but she has to put up with the questions of ‘Where is the Olympic medal? ‘Does she deserve these endorsements?’ The Bowerman recognizes the best college athlete from each season and those athletes can go on from there and have Olympic glory or maybe win a major marathon; I think that’s special. It is a fairly large award that you may not always have on your mantle, but the fact that you have it on your resume is really significant. It helps publicize and promote the sport. When they do well internationally, it can be said that they won The Bowerman in college. I think it’s a wonderful thing for furthering the sport.”
SEC Digital Network: How do you think that collegiate track and field can help promote itself, grow the sport and gain additional exposure?
John Anderson: “Isn’t that the question that not just college athletes wrestle with, but the sport in general wrestles with? We’ve become so driven by the Olympics and it’s something that baffles me. I’ve been on conference calls discussing this at length. What I don’t get is that when people watch NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, the main sports that people watch and those that draw the best ratings are track and field, swimming and gymnastics. In a non-Olympic year, you could probably run color bars and get the same ratings. There has been more exposure of Olympic track and field and swimming than there was of the Dream Team. That’s pretty well documented. The people at those times would rather see Alyson Felix run or Ashton Eaton win a gold medal. There is a great curiosity of why then on a Sunday in working around other mainstream sports in season, we can’t seem to draw an audience in a non-Olympic year. It’s beyond me and I don’t have the answer. Everyone wrestles with how to do that because there are some really great athletes. When you look at the fellas and the gals who won The Bowerman in the early stages – Galen Rupp, Ashton Eaton and Jenny [Barringer] Simpson turned out not too bad. These people are great and far more likely to make an impact in sports beyond college than the average guy drafted out of the NFL or NBA. There is an incredible success rate of Bowerman winners and even finalists. The first year I did it, Blessing Okagbare was there and she showed up in Nigeria in the long jump and the 100 final and ended up making the Olympic team. There is no lack of depth and no lack of quality at the top of the national meet. Now, television comes in and it’s here’s the national meet in an hour and I think it’s an injustice.”
SEC Digital Network: If there are track and field student-athletes out there who, like you, would like to transition from a career in collegiate track and field to sports broadcasting, what advice would you give them?
John Anderson: “The first advice I would give them is that they should be less talented because they have more options. I was driven to the sport because I had very little ability. I was on the team and earned a captainship in my senior year, probably because I was an American and could be trusted to drive the team van. I had more value in an administrative position. That’s the first thing – if you could somehow dial back your athletic prowess, that would be helpful. Second, it’s just very much the equivalent of your athletics. If you can bring the same desire, passion and work-ethic that you have in athletics into your professional career, I don’t care if you’re a journalist or doctor or project manager, you will be fine. There are a lot of reasons why athletes in general, but especially in sports like track or swimming, are so successful. They are things that take great physical effort and great discipline. Those things you do in everyday workouts and training naturally bleed into the working profession. After a while, in order to succeed in those events, you’re going to actually have to work hard. You can’t cheat it and glide through and then run 27 minutes in the 10K, you have to make an effort. Swimmers swim twice a day and distance runners usually have a long run in the morning and a work out in the afternoon. As a journalist, I tell people you have to write, write some more and then make sure after that you do some writing. Make sure you tell the right story, make sure your facts are straight, make sure you have that healthy cynicism and, after that, make sure you’re doing some more writing on top of that. That’s where the value is. Anybody can write a story but I’m not sure everybody can tell one.”