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Brazilian ESPN football commentator fired after on-air joke

Raiam dos Santos, a punter and kicker for Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo Futebol Americano football team who was happily moonlighting as a commentator for ESPN Brasil, was sidelined by an on-air joke during the Oct. 19
Dallas Cowboys—New York Giants game.

Raiam and announcer Ari Aguiar were working from separate studios in Rio and São Paulo, respectively. At one point Aguiar made an innocuous aside about the weather. “The thermometer hit [102º] here,” he said. “Is it like that in Rio?”

“It’s the same,” responded dos Santos, “the difference is that we have Ipanema Beach and you have the Tietê River.”

Brazilian ESPN football commentator fired after on-air joke
Ipanema Beach (by Dimitry B., cc via Flickr)
Brazilian ESPN football commentator fired after on-air joke
Tietê River (by Fernando Mafra, cc via Flickr)

The Rio—São Paulo feud is even older and fiercer than the Cowboys—Giants rivalry, and the gratuitous dig at the notoriously fetid Tietê River couldn’t end well. dos Santos quickly realized the mistake and attempted a joke at Rio’s expense, followed by a Facebook apology, but the damage was already done.

The next Sunday dos Santos didn’t show up on ESPN even though there were five football games airing that day — sometimes with no commentary in Portuguese.

F5 asked ESPN Brasil for an explanation and got this statement:

ESPN embraces the principle of respect for diversity and individual opinions without distinction. Our commentators have the freedom to express their opinion, as long as they respect that principle. The comment in question was made in a humorous tone, with no intention to offend anyone.

But dos Santos hasn’t been on air since, and on Sunday he confirmed to F5 that he had been let go — which, of course, he blamed on backlash from the trash talk.

Tuca Morais, NFL production coordinator for ESPN Brasil, said the network started the season with three freelance commentators, including dos Santos, in addition to a staffer. “Everything [dos Santos] said on air can be taken in consideration as to whether or not he stays with the network,” according to Morais, who, while maintaining that the joke was not a determining factor, said the network decided to stick with the two other freelancers, who “didn’t make controversial statements and made the most out of the opportunity.”

dos Santos, a Rio native, played soccer in his hometown as a youth but discovered football as an exchange student at  San Diego High School, where he quickly proved to be a better punter than the local boys. He attended the University of Pennsylvania on a full scholarship and played for the Pennsylvania Quakers from 2007 to 2010, making history as one of the first Brazilians in U.S. college football and earning much kudos along the way.

After being passed up in the 2011 NFL draft, dos Santos took an analyst position at Morgan Stanley in New York. In January 2012 he was called up by the blooming national football team (Confederação Brasileira de Futebol Americano) and played at the first-ever international football match held in Brazil — a friendly against Chile. After playing a few more international friendlies, he was hired by Flamengo in January 2014.

dos Santos started a regular gig as a football commentator at sports channel Esporte Interativo in 2013 before moving on to his short-lived ESPN stint in September. No word on whether he’s going back to Esporte Interativo.

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Sergio Barreto

Brazilian-American editor, web developer and (occasional) event promoter. As founder and content director for this site, I keep an eye on what's wrong with Brazil, but what really makes my heart beat faster is sharing the exciting things happening in Brazilian tech, music, film, and other creative industries.

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