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Don’t Be Derailed By A Failure Of Imagination

“Leach failed to use his imagination to understand what his intended joke might look like. This is a valuable lesson for sports radio hosts. It isn’t just what you say or post. It’s how others might interpret it.”

Brian Noe

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Former Mississippi State defensive tackle Fabien Lovett announced on Monday that he would be transferring to Florida State. Lovett’s father, Abdual Lovett, told the Clarion Ledger, “I thought better of Mississippi State and I thought they would’ve handled this situation a little bit better than how they have handled it,” Lovett told the newspaper. “I’m disappointed for even pushing my son to go there and for this to happen.” Abdual decided his son should leave the program. 20-year-old Fabien agreed.

What happened prior to this decision? Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach messed up. On April 1, Leach tweeted a meme featuring an elderly woman knitting a noose with the caption, “After two weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf.” The post was meant to be a joke about a married couple getting on each other’s nerves. The meme didn’t generate many belly laughs though due to the image of a noose, which sparked a much different reaction.

Mississippi State coach Mike Leach deletes tweet of knitted noose

Leach issued an apology on Twitter the following day. “I sincerely regret if my choice of images in my tweets were found offensive. I had no intention of offending anyone,” Leach wrote. The statements kept flowing as Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen was up next, “No matter the context, for many Americans the image of a noose is never appropriate and that’s particularly true in the South and in Mississippi,” Cohen said in a statement last week.

There is an important concept to understand here. In the movie Mile 22, various events were written on a whiteboard — Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Paris, London Subway — while an executive tells the class, “Every one of these events occurred as a result of failure of imagination. Your job is to prevent the end of tomorrow by using your brains and imagination.” This is where Leach screwed up. He didn’t use his imagination to anticipate the reaction.

Let’s take Leach at his word that he had no intention of offending anyone. It’s a reasonable position. I highly doubt that Leach woke up on April 1 and thought, “Hey, you know what would be a ton of fun today? If I royally ticked off a bunch of black people including some of the players on my new team.” Leach failed to use his imagination to understand what his intended joke might look like. This is a valuable lesson for sports radio hosts. It isn’t just what you say or post. It’s how others might interpret it.

Sometimes a great way to gain knowledge is to shut up and listen. I reached out to a couple of my friends and colleagues to pick their brains. My tone was like, “Hey man, we have different backgrounds and different life experiences, so I’m curious how you view this Leach story.” The first person I talked to was Rob Parker, host of FOX Sports Radio’s The Odd Couple.

Parker said that Leach’s post was terribly insensitive and that references to hanging should be avoided. He compared the meme to sports writers in the past getting in trouble for equating things to Hitler. It just doesn’t work. Parker also brought up the story of baseball manager Ozzie Guillen saying in 2010 that he loved former Cuban president Fidel Castro. That played a key role in Guillen being fired as Miami Marlins manager at season’s end as attendance sunk. Cubans were incensed by Guillen’s comments.

I reached out to Nigel Burton as well who is a host at 620 Rip City Radio in Portland. He was also the head football coach at Portland State for five seasons. Burton said that Leach will have to re-recruit his current players to stay at Mississippi State because there is nothing keeping them there. He also said that if you talk to any comedian the number one rule is to know your audience. It’s an outstanding point when you consider how diverse “the audience” is for head coaches and radio hosts.

Nigel Burton hypes Utah's legendary football program on 'The Pitch ...

Burton mentioned something else about Leach that really caught my attention — “Mike Leach has a long history of not just having a hard time seeing things from other people’s point of view, but refusing to see anything from anybody’s point of view other than his own.” Instead of debating whether that assessment is deadly accurate or not, it matters that Leach has provide ammunition for anybody to think that about him in the first place. I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to provide reasons for anybody to say similar things about me. 

I don’t want to paint the picture that every comment from a host is like constantly trying to disarm a bomb. I once had an Australian Shepherd named Amigo. He was awesome. For a short period of time ‘Migo’s paws were bothering him. He would walk gingerly across the grass ever so carefully while timing out each one of his steps. Sports radio hosts don’t need to do the equivalent with each statement they make during a show. There is, however, real value in being aware of how comments or social media posts can still be hurtful even if they aren’t intended to be offensive.

FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer is the founder of the charitable organization MVP (Merging Vets & Players), which matches former combat veterans with former athletes. The goal is to ease the transition into their new lives away from the playing field or battlefield. Before signing a deal with the Dallas Cowboys at the beginning of April, defensive end Aldon Smith was out of football and a regular at MVP. Glazer wrote in his recent mailbag for The Athletic that Smith opened up to 80 to 100 total strangers about his sobriety issues and has been extremely vulnerable about it. “Vulnerability is real strength, not the muscles on the outside,” Glazer wrote.

We often don’t think of vulnerability as being manly, but it is. We often don’t think of sensitivity as being manly, but it is. It’s humane to be aware of the pain that other people have experienced. NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns lost his mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, this week due to complications from the coronavirus. How do you think a meme with an attempt to make light of the pandemic would make him feel? Compare that to Leach’s tweet. It’s best to be sensitive toward that deep pain rather than attempt to make light of it.

Timberwolves Center Karl-Anthony Towns' Mother Passes Away From ...

Some will argue that Leach’s intentions should be taken into account more. I say the end result is what matters most. If I intend to paint your house white, but instead paint it green are you focused on my intentions or the end result? It’d be funny if sports radio only focused on intentions — “Hey, lay off of Bill Buckner. He didn’t intend for that ground ball to go between his legs.” Leach intended to make a joke, but the end result was a lot of people being offended because of a painful history that Leach failed to consider.

“Try to see it once my way” isn’t just a cool line from an Alice In Chains song, it’s the right approach to gaining understanding and perspective in life. If many of your ancestors died as a result of hanging, would you be laughing at the meme Leach posted? I highly doubt it. It’s best to learn a lesson from Leach’s post instead of bickering about what the reaction is or should be. Leach failed to see the big picture by showcasing a failure of imagination. If he avoided that miscue, he also would’ve avoided the giant mess he now has to clean up.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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