ESPN made official one of the worst-kept secrets in sport media last week: the Sunday Countdown show is getting a major makeover, with Sam Ponder being named as the host of the studio show to replace Chris Berman.
Ponder previously had numerous college football responsibilities with ESPN; the new gig, however, creates an interesting question: how will she be able to objectively facilitate discussions about a league in which her husband — ex-Vikings QB Christian Ponder — plays? (Star Tribune file photo of the Ponders together is from Vikings training camp in 2013, long before Sam Ponder switched to an NFL role).
Christian Ponder is still a free agent and hasn’t thrown a regular-season NFL pass since 2014, his final year with the Vikings. But he was on the 49ers last season and there’s a decent chance he’ll find his way onto an NFL roster in 2017. Even if he doesn’t sign somewhere, Christian Ponder has numerous ties to the league — and Sam Ponder acknowledges she has friendships with NFL players.
It’s an interesting conflict-of-interest question — one posed in a recent interview with Sam Ponder by SI’s Richard Deitsch. Ponder gave a thoughtful answer, that reads, in part:
“I am not an analyst, so my role isn’t to critique my husband, his teammates or anyone for that matter. However, I do think that when fully disclosed and appropriate, relationships with athletes and coaches can greatly benefit sports fans. It helps me know the right questions to ask, to challenge guys when something doesn’t add up and generally gives me a foundation of understanding about what these men’s lives are really like. I’m not ashamed to know guys in the league on a personal level and I’m certainly not going to try to hide who my husband is because I am immensely proud of the man I married. I’m well aware of the criticism that evokes among some fans, but I trust that over time, the way I do this job will put much of that to rest.”
Ponder is right in that her role makes it less of a sticky situation. She’s not being asked to give an opinion but rather be more of a moderator for discussions.
That said, in that role she has the power to shape discussions in certain ways. I don’t doubt her ability to be professional, but I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who was uncomfortable watching Ponder talk about a team for which Christian plays.