“The message has been interpreted in ways we absolutely did not intend, and we have removed it from our channels.”
This was a tweet last Thursday from the Ohio State athletic department. The football team’s account had previously shared a graphic prior to facing Penn State on Saturday highlighting the word “silence.” The intended message was aimed at silencing Penn State’s home crowd. Although Ohio State learned this way too late, that wasn’t the way many people interpreted the message.
Head coach Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the season based on how he handled domestic violence allegations of a former assistant coach. Courtney Smith, the ex-wife of Zach Smith, accused Meyer of enabling an abuser while attempting to quiet her accusations.
Ohio State highlighting the word silence would be in the same ballpark as Jameis Winston promoting Uber or Manti Te’o being the new pitchman for Match.com. It just doesn’t fit. This is a very important concept to be aware of in sports radio: consider how your messages might be interpreted in ways you didn’t intend.
It’s vital to have foresight. Know what will happen before it happens. A man might have good intentions when he buys his wife or girlfriend a treadmill for Christmas, but he shouldn’t be stunned when large objects come flying in his direction because her feelings are hurt and she feels overweight.
It works the same way with messages that are delivered daily on the air. You should be able to anticipate what the audience’s reaction will be prior to it actually unfolding. Foresight can save you a lot of time from messes you don’t have to clean up because they were simply avoided in the first place.
If you really think about it, nearly all digital staffers at major universities and on-air hosts are smart enough to know the difference between right and wrong. The most common mistakes are the ones made when the source fails to see how certain messages will appear to be much worse than intended. The intentions get overlooked because of sloppy execution.
If you want an example of sloppy execution and a lack of foresight, look no further than UMass head football coach Mark Whipple. He has been suspended for one week without pay for some comments made following Saturday’s 58-42 loss to Ohio University. “We had a chance there with 16 down and they rape us, and he picks up the flag.” Yep, he actually went there. Whipple believed pass interference should’ve been called, but wasn’t.
The comments following Whipple’s mishap tell you everything you need to know about how regrettable the word choice was. UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford released a statement which read, “On behalf of our department, I deeply apologize for the comments made by head coach Mark Whipple on Saturday after our game at Ohio. His reference to rape was highly inappropriate, insensitive and inexcusable under any circumstance.”
Whipple also released a statement of his own. “I am deeply sorry for the word I used on Saturday to describe the play in our game. It is unacceptable to make use of the word ‘rape’ in the way I did and I am very sorry for doing so. It represents a lack of responsibility on my part as a leader of the program and a member of this university’s community, and I am disappointed with myself that I made this comparison when commenting after our game.”
There is a line from the movie Street Kings that applies here: “It’s not what it was, Lud. It’s what it looks like.” Whipple described what he believed to be a bad call. That’s what it was. The word he used to described the non-penalty makes it look like he doesn’t grasp the severity of what one horrible word sadly means to thousands of people. It looks like he doesn’t get it. That doesn’t mean it certainly is the case, but that’s a perception Whipple should’ve avoided.
I used to think that if someone had the wrong idea of me, well that was on them. Later on I learned that a lot of misperceptions can be avoided. As a married man, I wouldn’t go to lunch with a female co-worker and then expect people not to assume something inappropriate is going on. Although I wouldn’t disrespect the lovely Christina by cheating, I can’t take for granted that everybody if life automatically knows that about me. Don’t just be aware of the truth. Be aware of how the truth might be hard for others to find based on how things look.
Psychologists often use ink blot tests to gain an idea of the type of person they’re dealing with. If the ink blot is nondescript, one patient might see a stack of IHOP pancakes while someone else sees Chiefs head coach Andy Reid holding a parakeet during Oktoberfest. Our imaginations run wild. If the ink blot looks just like a dog, it’ll rarely be seen as anything else. The point is to be descript with your comments and actions. Don’t leave things up for interpretation. The wrong conclusions can be drawn otherwise.
Sports radio hosts can learn from the mistakes of Mark Whipple and Ohio State’s “silence” post. Always be mindful of how your message might be interpreted in ways you didn’t intend. The last thing you want is for offhanded comments about serious subjects, like women, race, special needs, or suicide, to be taken the wrong way. If you want to avoid saying, “Man, I didn’t even mean it like that,” then make sure the statements you make can’t be taken the wrong way.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.