Spoken like a true son of New Jersey, Kevin Burkhardt said he doesn’t give a fuck if people — especially those commenting on social media platforms — like him or not.
“I do try to go back and have conversations with fans when I can, because I do feel like most of them turn out to be pretty good, but there’s always somebody who’s going to be sour no matter what I do,” Burkhardt, FOX’s new NFL lead play-by-play commentator, told Deadspin. “If they don’t like me, I don’t give a fuck. I can’t let it affect how I do my job.”
And the Bloomfield, N.J. native needs to have thick skin, as he is replacing Joe Buck. The son of a broadcast legend, and a lightning rod of criticism, Buck is considered by many professionals to be one of the greatest play-by-play men of all time. Yet, if you were to look online, you’d find thousands of comments from casual fans detailing their disdain for ESPN’s newest NFL broadcaster.
“I think everybody’s angry about everything,” Burkhardt said. “Joe Buck is one of the greatest to ever do it, so I never understood the hate he got online. I mean, it’s a subjective business. I’m not naive. I know there are people that don’t like my style, maybe don’t like the way I call a game. That’s fine. You just hope that you do the game justice and you make it an enjoyable experience.”
When pushed further on how his online presence can affect his demeanor, Burkhardt responded, “Look, everyone wants to be loved, right? That’s the goal, but at the same time if people on Twitter are going to criticize me then it’s like ‘You try being on TV uncensored for three-and-a-half hours live.’ There’s no delete button. For everyone that says they could do it better, I don’t go into a hospital and critique a heart surgeon on his procedure. The odds are they [internet trolls] can’t do it better.”
This opportunity has been a long-time coming for Burkhardt, who covered high school football and even worked at a local car dealership before landing broadcast gigs including Sportsnet New York.
“I feel a lot of pride. I would say I’m being with it. I worked a lot of lower-level jobs and sold cars and all that. I take pride in the whole thing,” Burkhardt said. “I just hope that people look at me, certainly when you’re just starting out in the industry and you’re overwhelmed, and say ‘Hey, if that dude can go to a Super Bowl, then maybe I can do this!’ I know that’s corny, but I do take a lot of pride in that.”
Burkhardt admitted that he does feel a little bit of added pressure given the responsibilities being put on his shoulders this season, but also claimed that pressure has never bothered him.
“That comes with the territory. If you don’t want the pressure, you shouldn’t go into national broadcasting.” Burkhardt continued, “Will this be different? Yes. I’ve never done a Super Bowl. I’ve never done an NFC Championship… but I welcome that part of it.”
If anything, Burkhardt has earned this opportunity. He started out working at WGHT in northern New Jersey covering high school football and other local events for eight years before finding his next gig. During that time, Burkhardt also worked as a broadcaster for independent baseball squad, the New Jersey Jackals, and as a sales associate for a Chevrolet dealership. That was followed by several freelance gigs before getting his big break in 2007 at SNY.
“I didn’t expect to get that job when I applied for it,” Burkhardt said. “I had to have so many things along the way happen to get me to this point, and so many people believe in me.”
Burkhardt admitted that the sports broadcasting industry has changed since then. Whether it be the free-agent markets we’ve seen for big-name announcers switching between major networks or just the level of expectation put upon low-level announcers in their first jobs, Burkhardt holds fast that as long as you love working in the industry, and that love for your work shines through, people will eventually take notice.
“I think everyone’s feeling should be, ‘If you love this or you love something else, that’s why you grind.’ That’s why I traveled on a 12-hour bus ride to Quebec City doing independent baseball making $25 a game, because I loved it,” Burkhardt said. “So, that has not changed for me, and I don’t think it ever will.”
Burkhardt’s passion for broadcasting was on full display during his time with the Mets. Despite the team never reaching the postseason during his time in Queens, Burkhardt came into every game with an enthusiastic attitude, just happy to be getting paid to do what he loves. As the field reporter, Burkhardt had many opportunities to mingle with fans and prominent members of the community. From a career trajectory standpoint, Burkhardt claims he never wants to go back to his position at SNY. He does miss that aspect of the job though.
“I was really fortunate. I had a great relationship with the fans,” Burkhardt told Deadspin.” I always tried to give them the time of day when I could. It was special. You don’t get that on a national stage. I mean, I’ve had plenty of great interactions nowadays, but it’s different when you are on TV every night to the same market to the same fanbase. You develop a relationship. People feel like you’re family. There were a lot of those fans that I got to know personally. I still feel like it’s there, too. I feel like I’ll always be an honorary Mets broadcaster because of the fans, and that’s a pretty special thing. I feel like that will always be home to me.”
The feeling seems to be mutual. Burkhardt is scheduled to toss out the ceremonial first pitch at the Mets game on Sept. 3. However, despite Burkhardt growing up a Mets fan and being a part of that community for most of his life, throwing out the first pitch at a game had never really crossed his mind until the opportunity arose.
“It’s funny. I saw a lot of first pitches, being the sideline reporter, but I never really thought about myself doing it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I mean, it’s a full circle,” said Burkhardt. “To come back and throw out the first pitch as a sort of ‘Welcome Home’-type thing as a national guy to kick off our NFL season on FOX. It’s amazing! I don’t think it’ll fully hit me until I get to the stadium.”
When asked what the gun will read after that first pitch, Burkhardt just laughed. I tried to give him some credit. I asked him if 70 was in the question, but the William Paterson University (N.J.) graduate stayed humble.
“Oh geez, I’m 48. I did go out to the park with my son though,” he said. “I hadn’t thrown a baseball in a while, full exposure. I had to at least get the arm loose over the weekend. It’s been a long time. Hopefully, that got the cobwebs out, so I can at least get it to the body of whoever’s catching.”
Throughout his career, Burkhardt has had the opportunity to work with many great athletes. His partner this season will be Carolina Panthers’ great — and fellow New Jerseyan — Greg Olsen. Burkhardt believes the two of them already share an incredible connection that comes through during their games this season. He cherishes every partner he’s ever had and never tries to look too far into the future at what opportunities may lie ahead. However, with Tom Brady having already signed a contract to become an analyst on FOX after he retires, I couldn’t help but ask if he was perhaps a little more excited at the prospect of working with him.
“I can’t even think about it. For one, I don’t know when that’s going to happen. Second, I love my current partner [Olsen]. There’s too much on my personal plate to think 2-3 years down the road, when I have so much on the line this year.”
Burkhardt said he’s texted with Brady about his future position at FOX, but Burkhardt went on to say, “that was the last time I was going to think about that this season.”
Burkhardt’s ability to stay in the moment and focus on what’s immediately in front of him has played a large role in his ability to grow as a broadcaster. It’s probably one of the most important features a commentator can have given that their job is literally to call what they see right in front of them.
That said, Burkhardt still looks back at what he’s been able to accomplish and encourages anyone with a similar passion for broadcasting to stick through the brutal beginnings of the career if their love for the industry is strong enough. Burkhardt knows that not everyone will get the opportunities he’s been given, but he hopes his story can convince a few more people to gut it out when they believe getting out of the industry is the only option. It may have taken him 25 years, but Burkhardt has finally reached the top, and he’s not coming down anytime soon.