ESPN’s Bomani Jones Gives Us His Take on the Podcast Craze, Social Issues Invading Sports

It isn’t “effective to ramrod politics into sports discussion because it doesn’t do you any good to talk if there ain’t nobody listening,” Jones tells TheWrap

Bomani Jones
Photo by Rodrigo Varela / ESPN Images

It’s always the right time to listen to the unique voice of Bomani Jones, but now the ESPN host is airing his frank opinions on sports and social issues on a podcast instead of his long-running radio show.

“I think the biggest difference is that it’s more concentrated,” Jones told TheWrap of the podcast that airs Tuesdays and Thursdays. “What we really want to do is take the best of what we were doing before and just kind of trim the fat, give people the best concentrated version of what I have to offer,” he said.

“The Right Time With Bomani Jones” podcast reboot premiered earlier this month and Jones’ upcoming daytime television show with Pablo Torre is set to debut this spring from ESPN’s new Seaport District Studio.

Jones’ new show continues ESPN’s push into the world of podcasts, which includes a “30 for 30” series on yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, plus other recently debuted shows “Jalen and Jacoby,” “Sports? With Katie Nolan,” “Marty Smith’s America” and “The Plug” from Undefeated.

While they’ve still a solid roster of radio and TV shows along with new streaming platform ESPN+, what makes podcasts the new go-to platform? On that, Jones, as usual, had plenty of thoughts.

“If you do a radio show for 15 hours a week, you’ve got to please so many different people because everyone in radio is trying to grab that elusive listener for 15 minutes,” Jones explained, comparing the two formats. “With a podcast, you are dealing with people who are opting in, it is your most dedicated diehard fans and people who are making a conscious decision to walk in the door.”

One way he wants to cater to those diehards is by doing less interviews.

“On the radio show, I would try and do interviews such as with a beat writer for a team as a way to share information on a story and then I would give my opinion on it,” he said. “But we won’t have to do those nearly as much. If we’re coming off an NFL weekend and we’re trying to figure that the games are to talk about, now we don’t have to talk about that second or third game — we can focus on whatever the biggest game was.”

Podcasts are also a “far more intimate medium” than television, Jones continued. “With a podcast, I think it’s really a chance to get in touch with those people who want to be there the most.”

As for why he thinks podcasts have become such as trendy medium, especially since the success of “Serial” in 2014, Jones said it is because anyone can do one.

“Not anybody can do a very good one, but in terms of theory, anyone can set up a microphone, run it into their computer and then go do a podcast,” he explained. “Regardless of whether the person has a public profile or not, they can say ‘this is something that I could put out there for people.’”

Like social media, Jones said, “Podcasts allow a lot of those people just to have regular conversations, and there is a demand that comes from the listener… It makes them feel like they are a lot closer to people who are otherwise untouchable.”

Despite this explosion in podcasts over the last few years, “I still don’t think people know what a podcast is,” Jones marveled. “For me, a big part of putting this together is how it will evolve and for me learning not just what a podcast is but what a podcast can be. The page is so wide open right now, which makes it really attractive to a lot of people because no one is really telling you, ‘this is how we have to do it.’”

Bomani Jones Highly Questionable
Jones, left, on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable”

In terms of topics covered, the boundaries of sports and politics have increasingly blurred since President Trump took office, such as NFL player protests and NBA stars clashing with a certain Fox News host. With a masters degree in politics, economics and business, it is only natural that listeners expect Jones to comment on topical social issues.

“Me going outside of the realm of sports has always been dictated by what is going on in the realm of sports,” Jones told TheWrap. “We had a situation at the end of 2016 and early 2017 where the real world topics were coming up in a way that mattered when came to sports, so we talked about the immigration ban because you had NBA players who were potentially caught up in that.”

As for the new podcast, “I think we will fill the show with sports as much as possible as that’s what people come to us for. But once you are there, you’ve got to take it wherever you need to go to answer a question. If that comes from somewhere else, that’s where I am going to go to, but I don’t think it is effective to ramrod politics into your sports discussion because it doesn’t do you any good to talk if there ain’t nobody listening.”

Obvious exceptions have included when boxing legend Muhammad Ali died, as you couldn’t cover his life story without talking about the Nation of Islam, “which is not the easiest thing to do,” Jones said.

“What makes it a little bit different for me is that I am kinda good at it [talking about social issues]. There are a lot of people that when these issues come up, they look at me as they feel like I am a person who can address them,” he said. “I think in the time that I have worked this job, I’ve managed to do this without having any kind of giant controversy over any kind of observations I’ve made.”