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Sports Must Ignore Trump, Continue To Purge Racism

“As the President tries to rally his white voting base amid America’s racial upheaval, it’s important that pig-headed team owners change insensitive nicknames and NASCAR reinforces its support for Bubba Wallace.”

Jay Mariotti

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It always circles back to sports, doesn’t it? Donald Trump dreamed of buying an NFL franchise, and if league owners had approved his 2014 bid for the Buffalo Bills, he’d be admonishing his fourth general manager and fifth head coach by now while ordering players to disregard COVID-19 and get their asses on the field.

He also wouldn’t be President of the United States.

Damn, what were the owners thinking? Choose Trump, vote down Terry and Kim Pegula, and America is saved, right?

Six years later, Trump is trying to breathe oxygen into his gasping re-election hopes by turning to, yep, sports for ammunition. Rather than see empathy in the plight of Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only African American driver, Trump claims the noose hanging in Wallace’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway was “just another HOAX’’ and bemoans the circuit’s decision to ban the Confederate flag. “Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!” tweeted Trump, pulling another muscle in a typing finger that pounded the same message during Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests.

NASCAR Reports Noose Found in Bubba Wallace's Talladega Garage

No sooner did Wallace respond in kind on social media — “Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are taught to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS’’ — than Trump had found another target: franchises that finally are changing racially insensitive nicknames. Landing a shot at a political rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he wrote, “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct. Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!’’

All of which should be ignored, of course. Because if 2020 is the most disruptive and potentially devastating year of our lives — and a logistical disaster for sports, including the testing protocol screwups that threaten the restart of chronically inept Major League Baseball — this also is the year when sports attacked hatred with a purpose not previously evident.

Never usually means never, in particular when a boorish despot orders never to be used in capital letters. “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,’’ Daniel Snyder said seven years ago, referring to the nickname of his NFL team, the Redskins. But the outrage and flames of 2020 have melted away NEVER, even in the once-intractable domain of contentious sports names. As Trump continues to flout tensions that could make America explode again, Snyder represents a very unlikely source of — dare we suggest — hope?

The George Floyd horror itself might not have penetrated Snyder’s closed mind. But it terrified millions who do business with FedEx, the title sponsor of the Redskins’ stadium, and other prominent partners such as Nike and Pepsi. The shrinking of NEVER is a simple equation: consumers complain, CEOs react and pressure is applied on Snyder to either change the name or lose those companies as backers. And unlike 2013, when he made his flip comment to USA Today and prompted this response from then-President Barack Obama — “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing” — the new pressures aren’t as political as they are financial. If Snyder wants to avoid a mass corporate boycott of his team, and if he wants a new stadium to have a lucrative sponsorship at the old RFK Stadium site in D.C., he finally must bury a nickname that is insulting to Native American culture and belongs nowhere near any respectful, 21st-century context.

Stadium sponsors FedEx ask Washington Redskins to change ...

“We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,’’ FedEx said in a statement.

Which, in turn, led to this: “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan and we are supportive of this important step,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who can’t flip the switch to wokeness in a Black Lives Matter video and still allow Redskins as a nickname.

Which, in turn, will lead to a new name that will be offensive to no one, other than racists who aim to be offensive.

All walls won’t be toppled. Still, eyes have been opened, monuments removed and, in sufficient time, slurs such as Redskins and Indians will be purged from the lexicon by owners who are not heroes but billionaire businessmen with clenched teeth. This always was a complex subject for me as a columnist in Chicago, where nicknames such as Blackhawks and Fighting Illini were hailed by the NHL franchise and University of Illinois as proud sobriquets that honored Native Americans — and most of their fans agreed. Now, maybe the same fans will put down their beers and think.

For decades, pro franchises with contentious names have looked the other way, impervious to heat and ultra-protective of valuations linked to tradition and market size. Much as Snyder is loathed, much as his team has been a bust through most of his 21 years as owner, the Redskins have been financial winners  — currently worth $3.1 billion, ranking 14th among the world’s most valuable sports teams and fifth in NFL circles. But growth has flatlined as the Redskins struggle in their aging stadium, and Snyder needed a game-changer in his front office. I doubt he was shrewd enough to realize Ron Rivera might transform his life and his franchise’s shaky standing in America when, in January, he hired Rivera as head coach. But even if he doesn’t win much — and as long as Snyder is the owner, those fortunes likely won’t improve — Rivera will be remembered as the pioneer who gave vision to a blind boss and urged him to sandblast the name.

Of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, Rivera is the NFL’s only Hispanic head coach and one of only four league head coaches of color. When the latest dump-Redskins avalanche came after Floyd’s death, Snyder couldn’t have had a better in-house ally than Rivera, the son of an Army officer who grew up on military bases. At his introductory news conference, he said the nickname issue “is of personal importance to me,’’ adding that he looked forward to working with Snyder “to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our military.’’

New coach Ron Rivera takes over the Washington Redskins | WTOP

The breakthrough came Saturday, Independence Day, when Rivera told the Washington Post that he and Snyder have been hard at work on a new name. Ever think you’d read those words? “If we get it done in time for the season, it would be awesome,’’ said Rivera, mentioning that he especially likes two possibilities.

Not that Snyder’s house doesn’t remain chaotic. Frederick Smith, the FedEx chairman who approved the letter demanding the name change, happens to be one of three minority Redskins owners who are tired of Snyder and trying to sell stakes. And why is Rivera, the coach, speaking to the media and collaborating with Snyder on a monumental reshaping of the team’s image? Because the team doesn’t have a football boss after the firing of president Bruce Allen. For all we know, Snyder will return from vacation — Bahamas and Europe, regardless of coronavirus — and have second thoughts about the nickname. But I doubt it, as even his friends are telling him it’s time to evolve or devolve.

What’s fascinating is how Rivera spent part of his formative years in the Washington metropolis and became a Redskins fan. He also loved the nickname. “It was hard to fathom that it was in any way a racist thing, to be honest with you,” he told the Post. “Now, putting it in perspective, there’s been a change. My eyes are wide open.’’

Because the Indians are based in Cleveland and not immersed in the politics and media swarm of the nation’s capital, their ownership group hasn’t been scrutinized nationally like Snyder. Only last year did the team finally remove the stereotypical, cartoonish, red-faced Chief Wahoo from its uniforms and caps. Will the Indians, after 105 years, finally seek a new nickname? Or will they continue to bow to pressure from traditionalists and racists? This time, they sound real. “We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,’’ the team said in a statement.

Indians manager Francona favors nickname change for club | WTRF

Like Rivera, Cleveland manager Terry Francona is publicly lobbying for change from the people who pay his salary. When a fan of a team sees a popular skipper take a stand — and the team knows he’s doing so — it sends a message that life is progressing at Progressive Field. “I think it’s time to move forward,’’ he said. “I know in the past when I’ve been asked, whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful. And I still feel that way. But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today.’’

And like Rivera, who is 58, the 61-year-old Francona acknowledges his belief system needed a revision. “Even at my age, you don’t want to be too old to learn or realize that maybe I’ve been ignorant of some things — and to be ashamed of it, and to try to be better,’’ he said. “I’m glad we’re going to be open to listening, because I think that’s probably the most important thing right now, is being willing to listen, not necessarily just talk.”

Just as Snyder says he has launched an “evaluation’’ of the nickname and logo, the Indians say they are “examining’’ the matter. Consider it an incremental pushing of a story to its inevitable, rightful end. Major League Baseball, mired in a diversity crisis on all levels, can’t afford to dawdle. That also applies to the Atlanta Braves, who ditched their urban ballpark for white suburbia three years ago and still don’t view their nickname and accompanying “tomahawk chop’’ chant as offensive. Wasn’t it just last October when Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was critical of the chant? Before the next postseason game, the team didn’t distribute the red foam tomahawks that fans have waved for decades in Georgia.

If they can take that step, the Braves certainly can embark on a more monumental social mission. For now, they say the team “honors, supports and values the Native American community. That will never change.’’

So Braves and Blackhawks are still acceptable when Redskins and Indians are not? This is no time to prolong the justification game. When Dan Snyder can take a jackhammer to NEVER, anyone can. And should.

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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