Will somebody PLEASE teach Brad Nessler how to pronounce “Tagovailoa”?


It’s disrespectful, it’s lazy, it’s unprofessional, and it may even be a bit racist.

CBS Sports coverage of yesterday’s big Alabama/LSU matchup was fronted by their top SEC football duo, play-by-play guy Brad Nessler and color analyst Gary Danielson. Nessler has been a sports broadcaster for nearly 40 years, primarily covering hoops and football for, in addition to CBS, ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network.

In other words, he’s a pro. Which means he has no excuse.

Bama’s star QB is – as anyone who pays even a little attention to sports knows – Tua Tagovailoa. And Nessler hasn’t pronounced his name correctly yet. His go-to seems to be TAG-o-va-loa, which doesn’t even have the right number of syllables. (I’m not certain, but I think I may even have heard a TAG-a-loa in there once.)

Tagovailoa is of Samoan heritage. He was born and raised in Hawaii, and yes, from a mainstream white American perspective his name initially looks a bit hard to pronounce, especially since it isn’t pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled. You say it this way:


How do we know this is correct? Because it’s not a freakin’ secret. There are Web pages, news stories, and even videos, including this one with the man himself.

As it turns out Tagovailoa isn’t all that hard to pronounce after all. Who knew?

This is Nessler’s third season with CBS and while I’m not sure how many times he’s been charged with covering Alabama my best guess is “a lot.” They’re on TV every week and since they win the national title as a matter of routine they’re either the featured game or a featured game several times a year. Tagovailoa is a leading Heisman candidate, so if you cover SEC football for a living it’s a name you say, as part of your job, pretty much daily.

And after all this time Nessler hasn’t bothered to invest the ten seconds it takes to get it right. That’s disrespectful, it’s lazy to the point of slothfulness, it’s unprofessional in the extreme, and it may even be a bit racist. He can pronounce Krzyzewski, and that spelling is way less probable than Tagovailoa.

It’s not only unacceptable for Nessler to keep butchering the name, it’s nothing short of malpractice for CBS. And the SEC. And the University of Alabama. Has CBS not noticed? Are they afraid to hurt Nessler’s feelings? Why hasn’t the Tide’s AD dispatched somebody to run up the hill with a sheet of paper explaining how to say it right?

And what’s up with the nation’s sports press? How can I not find a single damned article from any other reporter on this?

Listen, I get it. Hacking at “sports journalists” in America is shooting fish in a barrel. It isn’t rocket surgery. But unless you have a speech impediment (I searched here and can find no evidence Nessler does) this fundamental refusal to get a small thing right is appalling.

It’s also something that can fixed, and quickly. Is it asking too much of a four-decade pro and one of the nation’s largest broadcasters to master this one simple thing?

5 replies »

  1. Lazy? Absolutely. Unprofessional? No doubt. Inexcusable? Goes without saying. Racist? That’s quite a leap. Even qualified with a “maybe.” At that point you’re impugning more than his journalism without any evidence. Is there a pattern here beyond Coach K? If so, call it out. If not, it hurts your otherwise iron-clad case on the other points.

    • I think you ask a fair question. Here’s how I see it.

      It isn’t, for me, a personal thing. Nessler is the target of this post, but the issue is CBS, the NCAA, the SEC, etc. We’re talking about a behavior that exists within a specific context and that involves institutions not known for the rabid pursuit of social justice. (Notice how I didn’t use the word “plantation” once there?) I’ve learned to ask that race question through the years because I’ve been taught, time and again, that it’s often a fair question.

      Here I can’t imagine, in a million years, that a broadcaster would be allowed to butcher the name of someone less … exotic. Coach K? Hey, there are other names that aren’t immediately obvious how to pronounce. I mean, I’m a Smith. Where I came from EVERYTHING with more than two syllables could be a wrestling match.

      So no, I’m not making an evidenced allegation. But I’m not unfamiliar with media institutions and given all we know and the details of this case I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the question.

      Because NOT asking the question certainly hasn’t fixed the problem.

  2. I agree with everything you’ve said here. Maybe it’s my weariness of a cable news network (or a president, for that matter) which so easily tosses out thinly veiled accusations with a shrug and a “Maybe…I don’t know…” that has my guard up for such things. And that’s certainly not your fault. Because your question is valid. It’s just incredibly important how we ask it. Ideally, the burden would be on Nessler to be better at his job. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion in that case.

    • I’m aware of the implications of pulling a Trumpism (and also “playing the race card”). I may say things I shouldn’t, but I rarely say things I didn’t mean to. 😀

      So yeah, what do we ask, what do we not ask? Why or why not? How? I wish the answers and motivations here were more straightforward than they are, but we don’t live on that planet, do we?

      For me it often comes down to presumption. We’re presumed innocent. Until, that is, we forfeit that presumption. After three years Nessler has abandoned any conceivable presumption of innocence and now the burden is on him. Maybe it’s not racial at all. Maybe it’s just simple incompetence. I’m easily able to believe that. Excuse it, no. But believe it? Absolutely. Either way, it’s on HIM.

      It’s been a long damned time since ANY corporate news outlet got any presumption of goodwill at all. And don’t even get me started on the college athletics establishment.

  3. I guess I have to change my syllabus to add mispronouncing names to misspelling names as an instant failing grade …