The Weight & Responsibility Matter To Shannon Penn
“There is no ‘right way to do it.’ If anything, it should be a platform. Let’s get rid of this myth of sports being a distraction.”
Shannon Penn’s incredibly impressive resume, work ethic, talent, and contribution to the shows he’s worked on are unmistakable.
Penn, was among the all-star panel of guests who joined the Stupodity podcast episode released on June 5, 2020 to discuss the events following George Floyd’s murder, social injustice, systemic racism and more.
There are many who want to remain committed to the #sticktosports vision at a detriment to themselves and their audiences. In the failure to utilize the platform, scope, reach and resources within the sports media industry to have conversations, the blissful ignorance across demographics will continue unchecked.
The content within sports broadcasting devoted to pop culture, news stories, and weekend experiences, ranging from Tiger King to COVID has demonstrated the flexibility that also includes intelligent, challenging and thoughtful dialogue. As the live sports sabbatical winds down, coverage on an issue of this magnitude can’t fall by the wayside. But what is the best way to deliver content tailored for your specific audience?
I was fortunate enough to learn a great lesson from Shannon Penn that I’ve carried with me through my career after I trained alongside him. Despite his various producorial responsibilities, he was not rattled by the hectic surroundings. He thrived in that environment. In my attempt to remain calm under pressure like Shannon, I was able to be a much better producer and I was grateful to have learned that lesson early in my career.
When I spoke with him about the Stupodity podcast, he was able to top himself. I will undoubtedly carry the wisdom he shared with me in this interview, in both my personal and professional lives.
Chrissy Paradis: That episode of Stupodity with you, Terrika, Roy and Cliff was so powerful. What was your favorite part or takeaway?
Shannon Penn: The beauty of that podcast is being able to hear the stories and the perspectives of the people that you don’t normally hear from, I think that was one of the keys, what was the nuisance of the conversation that we had.
CP: I’m a firm believer in guests sharing their opinions and experiences to add to on-air content. I mean, you can always call somebody, you can always call a guest and have them bring you a new perspective. The murder of George Floyd, the social injustice, the protests— this isn’t just a story or a topic and it’s not an isolated incident. It is so important. The conversation needs to be had, I think especially in the sports media world, within the platform that reaches such a huge demographic that it seems ridiculous to not have the conversation, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult somebody might feel that it is or whatever the rationale may be. But I’m not the person that’s going to say ‘Oh, I can totally relate because let me tell you a story about something…’ because that is ignorant. However, as we do for a living, on a daily basis with guest booking, you can always call and reach out to someone.
SP: That’s the thing, it’s the ‘uncomfortable’ part. People don’t want to have the uncomfortable conversations because it’s easier to fill the void. People just naturally don’t want and don’t like to be uncomfortable.
And the thing that I used to hear and didn’t mind, but, as years have gone on has really annoyed me, is when you hear someone say, “Well I just want sports to be an escape,” because I’m sorry, but I don’t have an escape. For me, and for a lot of blacks in this country, just speaking, frankly, we don’t have an escape. And I’ve tried to articulate some of that weight in the podcast.
No. I mean, you might have fun watching this game, but we still have to deal with the stuff we have to deal with 24 hours a day. The things, trials and tribulations that we may have to encounter on our way to go watch that game in that stadium—we don’t have the benefit of the doubt. We’re still expected to deal with what we have to deal with on a day in and day out basis and still expected to not only perform, but perform better. We have to be better than the best.
So, you can miss me with this whole ‘I need sports to be an escape’ because it’s not an escape. We go through the stuff before the game, in some cases we go through it during the game, and we damn sure deal with it after the game. So there is no escape.
CP: We’re taught that sports are a microcosm of life but this is not the case across the board—did the podcast feel like a positive step or a step in the right direction?
SP: For me, the different opportunities I’ve had with Bomani Jones, Freddie and Fitzsimmons and then, I got an opportunity to work as one of the producers on Stephen A Smith’s show. And for me, getting to work with someone as high profile as him, that was cool. Just, being able to diversify, the type of talent that you work with, that was great. And First Take, Your Take. I had so many different experiences and opportunities in my five years here.
To double back on the conversation with Stugotz, and I think for me, being in the position that I am, it was great, because all of the other folks on the call, Roy, Cliff and Terrika are all younger than me. And, for me to be in a position that I am, seeing that, that generation, those folks coming up, and getting that opportunity, that’s awesome. And I told them, and I think I said it there. My responsibility to them, it’s just as, or in some cases, more important, than the content that I produce because I want to be that person that they can lean on. That person that they can go to for advice.. I want to be someone that they can—
CP: Someone to look up to!
SP: Yeah, that’s that’s huge for me, because growing up, there weren’t many others that looked like me, I mean, there were black hosts, but there weren’t a lot of black producers.
That weight and responsibility. That’s why it is so important to me. That’s why I take that stuff seriously. That’s why what we did with Bomani, was so important to me. You don’t know how many people that reached out to me, either on the phone, in person, or through social media saying how much hearing the both of us meant… because it wasn’t just two hosts, it wasn’t just two former athletes. It was a host and his producer—you don’t know how much that meant to those people. And that is something I take very seriously.
CP: It was innovative. Nothing about the show felt like it was ringing false. It just really worked.
SP: It was, and I go back to the uncomfortable. Working with Bomani, our show we’re just being vocal about not having to accept the establishment. And what I mean by establishment is that you don’t have to accept the reasoning that they told you for years that something was the way it was.
CP: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “that’s how it has always always been” are the worst justifications for anything.
SP: Exactly, there is no “right way to do it.” What I’m saying is the whole mind frame of what they told you was the right way to do it. The right way to do as far as getting into sports, discussing sports and sports coverage. There is no “right way to do it.” If anything, it should be a platform. Let’s get rid of this myth of sports being a distraction.
CP: Because we have been taught that sports is life. I mean, if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic resulting in a world without live sports, it just feels like the NFL Draft fits into the format ideology too.
SP: Exactly. People were so excited about the draft and, then disappointed when the draft was over. Guess what, we had a virtual draft but people still watched, right? Just because it wasn’t the same and it wasn’t the draft that you were used to watching, doesn’t make it mean anything less to those kids who were drafted.
And I love seeing all these players now speaking up for themselves. And especially college kids. The black athlete has always had to apologize for being confident.
CP: And some of the huge fallacies and stereotypes surrounding the many draft picks and other famous athletes that exist with confidence being misconstrued as cockiness—
SP: Exactly. How are you supposed to get to these elite levels without having confidence? We’re tired of telling you or stifling our confidence to make you feel, here it comes, comfortable. I’m sorry. And the thing is Bomani said it years ago: the only way this racism is going to change is when white people start getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
As far as, black folks or the black community. We’re not monolithic ; we don’t seem to say we don’t act the same, we don’t have the same backgrounds, thoughts, opinions; we all offer a different perspective because we all have different life experiences and that’s why representation is so key.
When you look at the people who are out on the field, the number of men and women on the court now and in some cases, out on the ice. I look at the number of black people that are out there, but then you look at the number of people who are telling you stories about these men and these women, and the numbers are disparaging.
CP: In terms of the representation in the sports media industry, especially behind the scenes.
SP: And that’s why representation matters, we’ve got to have these different voices. The more voices and the more opinions or differing opinions that you should have to all go into the pot; it’s going to make you better.
Now, it will never really be the same story, but it’s going to be a different perspective. Or it’s going to be a possible connection, so this person or their story or their past, or their life experience that you might have had yourself. The more you have these conversations, the more you can get inside and talk with your white hosts.
But if you only have one type of person, or one specific demo, discussing these things, you’re leaving a lot of material out there, it’s being lost. And it’s not being utilized.
Chrissy Paradis is a BNM columnist and veteran sports radio producer. She’s worked in Las Vegas, Washington DC, Raleigh and Hartford helping personalities such as Rob Dibble, Tim Brando, Steve Cofield, Adam Gold and Joe Ovies. You can contact her on Twitter @ChrissyParadis or by email at Chrissy.Paradis@gmail.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.