Integrity. Class. Warmth. Intelligence. All words one would use to describe James Brown before even touching his excellence as a sports broadcaster.
A staple of the sports-television industry for nearly four decades, the man affectionately known simply as “J.B.” has established himself as the gold standard for the host of a live sports studio show. A winner of three Emmy Awards, Brown has been a fixture of NFL Sundays since 1994 and has hosted the Super Bowl show a record 10 times, including most recently at Super Bowl LV in February 2021.
“Throughout J.B.’s award-winning career, he has distinguished himself not only as the quintessential studio host but also as a versatile broadcaster and, in some instances, the conscience of the industry,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Sean McManus, chairman, CBS Sports. “J.B. is a wonderful human being, a man of faith and as good a friend and colleague as one could ever have.”
Brown’s journey to sports television was anything but conventional. Following a collegiate basketball career at Harvard, he fell short of making the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks in an open tryout and, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, worked for such companies as Xerox and Kodak. In 1984, he got his first opportunity to get back into sports: a role as an on-air analyst on Washington Bullets telecasts and a spot in the rotation of analysts for NBA on CBS.
In the late 1980s, Brown’s star at CBS Sports continued to brighten as he handled a variety of roles, including play-by-play for NFL on CBS and reporting on the NFL Finals, the MLB Postseason, and the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics.
Brown’s big break into Sundays came when Fox Sports shook up the sports-media world, landing rights to the NFL at the end of 1993. At the start of the 1994 season, the first edition of Fox NFL Sunday debuted, with J.B., Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and Jimmy Johnson. Brown anchored that iconic program for its first 11 years.
“J.B. has been a Hall of Famer ever since he first sat in front of a camera,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer David Hill, former president, Fox Sports. “He has this authentic charisma, which makes every viewer feel that J.B. is speaking exclusively to that individual. It’s a rare gift.”
During his tenure at Fox, Brown stretched himself into hockey, serving as lead studio host for NHL on Fox from 1994 to ’98.
In 2006, Brown returned to where it all started — CBS Sports — to take over as host of The NFL Today, and he has been behind that desk ever since, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest to host a studio show.
“It’s a joy to have J.B. as a valued teammate,” says Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Jim Nantz, CBS Sports’ long-time lead play-by-play voice. “It’s even better to be able to call him a trusted friend. Simply put, he is one of the finest men I’ve ever known. A giant television talent. An all-world human being.”
Brown’s signature has always been bringing out the best in those around him. Whether it’s expertly crafting a story — as he did with one of his all-time favorite projects, the 1991 film Let Me Be Brave, the story of 12 mentally disabled athletes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro — or setting up his analysts to succeed from behind the desk on an NFL day in the fall.
“J.B. is simply the kindest, most prepared colleague with whom I’ve ever worked,” says former NFL quarterback and current analyst on The NFL Today Boomer Esiason. “He brings out the best in everyone. His egoless nature, along with his self-deprecating sense of humor, brings harmony and professionalism to all of our broadcasts. Throughout his entire career, he has carried himself with dignity, grace, and substance.”
“Sustained excellence is what I’d like to be thought of,” Brown said in 2020. “It has never been about me. It has always been about those with whom I work and trying to pull out and elicit the best from them for an excellent product, whatever that telecast is.”
A native of Washington, DC, Brown received the 2016 Pete Rozelle Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which recognizes “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.” Sports Illustrated named him the Best Studio Host of the Decade in 2010, and he was also honored that same year as one of the “Faces of Black History,” celebrating Black Media Legends who have impacted the Black community through their achievements and positive examples. He was also the first recipient of the coveted Pat Summerall Award, which is presented annually during Super Bowl weekend.