The incredible two-hour radio show, espnW Presents: The State of the NFL, has netted a prestigious Gracies Award for Outstanding Interview Program or Feature. The producer of the show, Stosh Cienki, is celebrating his 15th year with ESPN Radio. Raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, he now calls Connecticut home, along with his wife Kelly and their five children. His regular gig is producer of the weeknight show The Freddie Coleman Show, but he was glad to work on this important project with espnW.
What is espnW? "espnW serves women as fans and athletes, provides an environment that offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, and offers a female point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women," Cienki explains. Recently, ESPN radio switched up their weekend lineup that includes a regular espnW segment, which is enormous — sports radio is pretty male-dominated.
The award-winning show was his first espnW project, and he shares that it came together quickly, not too long after the Ray Rice domestic violence story first broke. Dave Roberts, ESPN Radio Vice President, asked Cienki and his program director, Louise Cornetta, to work with espnW on a show that would examine domestic violence as it relates to the NFL from the perspective of women.
The well-rounded special definitely did. "Jemele Hill, Jane McManus and Cary Champion hosted the two-hour show, which also featured contributions from ESPN writers Kate Fagan and Sarah Spain, Keith Olbermann, who immediately called for the resignation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization of Women."
Cienki says that he thinks that the topic of domestic violence in sports is an issue that hasn't been taken as seriously as it should be. He notes there are those who will go out of the way to protect the athlete — and not the victim — due to the unique nature of the billion-dollar industry itself. "It's important to do shows like this because not only do the actions of athletes have consequences for them, but there are millions of kids out there watching these guys, wanting to be like them, and we need to make sure the message is delivered to the next generation that domestic violence is unacceptable and not something to be idolized," he explains.
He says that this is the first time he's been a part of something that has received an award like this, and while he is proud, at the same time, he is humbled. He notes that he doesn't do what he does to win awards, but he's immensely grateful for the recognition. "I truly give the credit to the ladies who put so much into this show, I was proud to be included," he says. "I think what it does do is serve as a symbol for my kids, that if you work hard and do things the right way, good things will happen."
He also notes that more women are watching the NFL than ever before, and not only is viewership up, fantasy football numbers are also climbing among the female population. He says that it's crucial for the NFL to handle domestic violence cases correctly and ensure that enough is being done, not only for the victims, but for the fans as well.
The NFL does have a ways to go before it can fully repair its image, but shows like the one Cienki produced do make a difference. Examining the difficult issues, and refusing to sweep them under the rug, is an essential step in keeping the conversation front and center, and the Gracies, which are presented by the Alliance for Women in Media, realize that these efforts are worthy of recognition.
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