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Hill Is Offside in L.A.'s Pursuit of Team

October 30, 1998|LARRY STEWART

The fax, dispatched to this office on Tuesday afternoon by Michael Ovitz's LA Football Group, currently trying to outmaneuver the New Coliseum Partners for the NFL's next expansion franchise, was an eye-opener.

After three paragraphs detailing the group's presentation at the NFL owners' meeting in Kansas City, Mo., came this:

"Participating in LA Football's presentation were Mr. Ovitz, Jim Hill of KCBS-TV, David Rockwell of the Rockwellgroup, Ed Brown of the Bank of America . . . "

Jim Hill of KCBS-TV?

Hold on there. The competition between the Coliseum and Ovitz groups for an NFL team may very well be the local sports story of the year. This is real news, as close as sports comes to a political campaign, with opposing sides with divergent platforms bidding for one highly coveted prize.

Certainly, it is a story the media must cover objectively and fairly, demanding--it ought to go without saying--obligatory professional detachment.

So what is Hill, one of Los Angeles' most prominent sportscasters, doing aligning himself with one of the competing parties--going so far as to speak before NFL owners on behalf of the Ovitz group?

Say what you will about television sportscasters--are they journalists, or just grinning, bobbing talking heads?--but suppose the news side conducted business in the same manner. Imagine Sam Donaldson laying down his microphone and walking up to the podium to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Phone calls to Hill and KCBS management produced a response from Susan Neisloss, the station's director of communications, who read the following prepared statement:

"Jim is in the unique position here in L.A. of being a former NFL player. As a sportscaster, he is not taking any position on the air about the possible return of a team to L.A. and he did not represent the station in speaking at the NFL owners' meeting.

"In addition, Jim wanted to personally thank the owners for making it possible for guys like himself who grew up in a very poor neighborhood to make a better life for himself.

"An NFL team returning to L.A. is good for everyone--for the community and for sports fans."

Two points:

* If Hill did not officially represent the station when he spoke on behalf of the Ovitz group--"He took the day off, he was not on company time," Neisloss said--he did so implicitly. Again, the Ovitz fax identified him as "Jim Hill of KCBS-TV," not "Jim Hill, Former San Diego Charger, Green Bay Packer and Cleveland Brown."

* Hill might not have taken an on-air position on the Ovitz-Coliseum race, but he compromises KCBS' journalistic integrity simply by reporting on the issue.

Neisloss was asked if Hill would recuse himself from any further coverage of the city's pursuit of an NFL franchise. She said she would find out.

Within an hour, KCBS released an amended statement, asserting, "All future stories about this issue will be handled by the news department, since this is largely a political/financial matter."

Or, Neisloss added, "a sports person other than Jim."

Except for this Sunday's "Sports Central" show on KCBS, which will feature canned interviews conducted by Hill with members of the Coliseum and Ovitz groups.

KCBS said it plans to run a disclaimer, addressing Hill's ties to the Ovitz group.


Lee "Hacksaw" Hamilton called his first San Diego Charger game of the season Sunday, only this time as a member of the Seattle Seahawk KIRO radio broadcast team. Hamilton went north--at least on Sundays-- after the Chargers ended an 11-year association last season with Hamilton and San Diego radio station XTRA (690).

"It was odd," Hamilton said. "I didn't think it was going to be hard going in there after having done the Chargers for 11 years. I got to the stadium early and I was up in the press box by myself and I just kind of got hit by a wave of emotion, a wave of memories.

"I thought about all the great games we broadcast-- most of them under the Bobby Ross era--and I got kind of sentimental. It was kind of neat--and it was kind of sad. . . . You don't pour your heart and soul into something for 11 years and have it taken away without having some feelings about it."

Hamilton said he was "stunned by the lack of electricity in the stadium. It was like there was no home-field advantage at all. And to see where they used to be when I did the games to where they are now, what a shock.

"Of course, it's been bad football--and it got worse this year. They've lost this town emotionally. The Padres now own this town."

Hamilton's relationship with the Chargers has been strained since the team pulled its broadcasts off XTRA, where Hamilton continues to host a sports-talk show five nights a week. Hamilton remains bitter about the Chargers' decision--"I think they made a fatal mistake," he says--and the Chargers have taken to banning him from practice.

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