We have two killer diseases in this country, one invisible and the other as blatant as seven gunshots fired toward a Black man’s back. If COVID-19 is insidious, police brutality is the naked terror. Imagine life as an African-American basketball player right now, locked down in a science globe by a league and two broadcast networks, watching the savagery in Wisconsin and figuring America is the same slave nation that oppressed their parents, grandparents and ancestors.
They are being paid, yes. But they do not trust The Man, so to speak. They wonder why Adam Silver, the commissioner who convinced them to resume this disjointed season, hasn’t been in the NBA Bubble and why the league’s interest in amplifying social justice initiatives has waned during the playoffs. And they don’t trust the owners, nearly all white men, even if sports has made many of the players wealthy and renowned. They want these billionaires to use their tentacles to influence politicians, regardless of party or persuasion, and stop the bloody massacre of Black people by white cops.
That message was just beginning to resonate Thursday throughout a $200-billion industry, allowing sports to avoid a devastating domino-effect stoppage, if only until the next shooting. But there to muck it up, as usual, were the socially ignorant klutzes of Major League Baseball, creating even more distrust a day after the NBA season was nearly shuttered by LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and other players feeling helpless in fighting racial inequality from their Disney World confinement. The MLB lords have been stuck in self-sabotage for decades, undermining their sport with endless scandals, a sluggish on-field product and an existential disconnect with younger people. Their failures are as commonplace as another 450-foot pummeling of a juiced ball.
Still, it’s beyond comprehension that this old-fart operation, long mired in a racial crisis with its scarcity of Black players and executives, not only would delay a unified response to the shooting of Jacob Blake but also turn a New York ceremony into a finger-pointing farce.
Jackie Robinson shattered racial barriers in Brooklyn, a few miles from what is now Citi Field. He would have been ashamed to see the dysfunction in the hours preceding what should have been a simple edict: postponing the Mets-Miami Marlins game, following the lead of all other major-league games on the day’s schedule. I don’t trust the entirety of MLB leadership, so I’m still not sure who’s telling the truth and who might be in cover-up or throw-under-bus mode. But knowing the raw ineptitude of commissioner Rob Manfred, I’m not ready to assume Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was mistaken when he accused Manfred of asking Mets and Marlins players to do the unthinkable: Walk off the field as a tribute to Blake, then return an hour later to … PLAY A BALLGAME?
The idea did come from someone’s convoluted mind. Would Manfred be so crass to prioritize scheduling issues, an ongoing quagmire in baseball’s nightmarish pandemic season, over the Black Lives Matter movement? It would be a fireable offense, another death knell for the sport, yet that is exactly what Van Wagenen suggested in the latest leaked video to burn a sports figure. Talking with two Mets colleagues in late afternoon as the fate of the game was being decided, Van Wagenen ripped Manfred as a leader who “doesn’t get it’’ while failing to understand that Mets players had zero interest in playing. What the loose-lipped GM didn’t know is what everyone should know in the 21st century: His conversation, which referenced an earlier meeting with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, was being streamed on MLB.com. Minutes later, the video was posted on the team site, where it was discovered by a 20-year-old New Yorker who naturally shipped the clip into the breaking news viralsphere.
Said Van Wagenen to the others: “Baseball’s trying to come up with a solution, saying, `Oh, you know what would be super powerful’ — the three of us here, this can’t leave this room — `you know it’d be really great if you just have them all take the field and then they leave the field and then they come back and play at 8:10. And I was like, ‘What?’ I told Jeff … these guys aren’t playing. They’re not playing. But that’s Rob’s instinct.
“At a leadership level, he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.’’
He’s right. Manfred doesn’t get it, period, about anything. But that isn’t the point here. Three white men named Brodie, Rob and Jeff were making America Look Stupid Again. Had they already forgotten the powerful words of the previous night from Mets outfielder Dominic Smith? Weeping and choking up during an interview, Smith carved himself a place in history by saying this of the Blake shooting and racism in America: “The most difficult part is to see that people still don’t care. For this to continually happen, it just shows the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks, you know. Being a black man in America is not easy.’’ All you need to know about the Mets is that the goofish Alex Rodriguez, part of a group angling to buy the team, would be a marked boardroom improvement over Fred Wilpon and his son. So, of course, they botched the Smith moment.
What followed was pure tragicomedy. Van Wagenen, an ill-advised hire with no management experience after a career as a sports agent, released a statement, saying he had the story wrong. It was Jeff Wilpon’s idea, he said — the most overt case of ratting out a boss in recent sports memory.
“Jeff Wilpon called Commissioner Manfred this afternoon to notify him that our players voted not to play,” he said. “They discussed the challenges of rescheduling the game. Jeff proposed an idea of playing the game an hour later. I misunderstood that this was the Commissioner’s idea. In actuality, this was Jeff’s suggestion. The players had already made their decision so I felt the suggestion was not helpful. My frustration with the Commissioner was wrong and unfounded. I apologize to the Commissioner for my disrespectful comments and poor judgement in inaccurately describing the contents of his private conversation with Jeff Wilpon.”
Later, in case everyone didn’t hear him the first time, Van Wagenen reiterated his apology during a conference call. “I have put myself and this organization into this conversation in a way that takes away from the real point,’’ he said. “I’m disappointed in myself.”
Or, was he was dutifully covering Manfred’s ass, with Wilpon’s approval, so the commissioner could avoid epic humiliation and nationwide calls to replace him with whatever fool wants the gig?
If Wilpon did hatch the plan, as he claimed, just be happy the Mets are on the sales block, assuming anyone really wants them. “To clear up any misunderstandings, it was my suggestion to potentially look into playing the game later because of scheduling issues,” Wilpon said. “Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable.’’
Somewhere on a Florida campus, LeBron was cringing. He had come close to taking down a league — and perhaps all of North American sports, by extension — when he walked out of a volatile players’ meeting after both Los Angeles teams, James’ Lakers and the Clippers, had voted to end the NBA postseason and go home. Now, here was living proof that executives and commissioners are clueless about social injustice. The players who questioned James in the ballroom might have said he was being selfish, that he could afford financially to pop the Bubble when they needed the paychecks. But if LeBron was thinking about himself, it was his legacy as an activist, which currently takes precedence over a fourth championship. After a night of sleep and a cooling of heads, the NBA playoffs carry on. But the games have lost their momentum, after a fun ride of basketball story lines, and any chatter about title contenders has been replaced by when the players next threaten to ditch the Bubble.
“You forget that being in the bubble is hard,’’ said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who thought the season was over when his team initially voted no. “I don’t think it’s coincidence that everyone in this bubble seems to be a little more emotional. I’m not kidding, it’s true. I think part of the effect of being, like, jammed together every day, it has had that effect on everyone.” Besides, James is busy fighting the White House. “NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences,’’ said Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, as the league was postponing two days of games.
After James fired back a tweet — “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW! — Kushner offered to make peace. “Look, if LeBron James reached out to the White House or we could reach out to him, we’re happy to talk with him and say, `Look, let’s both agree on what we want to accomplish, and let’s come up with a common pathway to get there,’ ‘’ he said.
Trump was too busy ignoring the coronavirus during his re-nomination speech to react specifically to James, which surely bugs LeBron. “I don’t know much about the NBA protest,” Trump said. “I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA. They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing.”
At least NBA players have an ally in Silver, though a message was sent through ESPN reporter Marc Spears that the commissioner needs to get “a helicopter’’ and invest more Bubble time with them. It could be worse: Their leader could be Manfred. That such a debacle could happen in such a sensitive time in history is another indictment of a man who shouldn’t have his job. Manfred can’t even control the buffoonery of a team across the East River from his midtown Manhattan office, much less guide baseball through an absurdist pandemic season interrupted by virus outbreaks and game shutdowns. He, too, issued a statement: “Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games. I have said both publicly and privately that I respect the decisions and support the need to address social injustice. I have not attempted in any way to prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing, nor have I suggested any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.”
Do you see a denial in there about Manfred asking the Mets and Marlins to play an hour after a symbolic walkout? Me, neither.
Only the NHL, which finally postponed games after criticism for not doing so the previous night, has had a weaker response to Jacob Blake than MLB. The Mets and Marlins did share a tender moment, standing for a moment of silence and placing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate before leaving the park — without a ballgame. Smith led the Mets onto the field, his tears having inspired the sports world. “It’s still overwhelming at this moment, just to see how moved my peers are — my teammates, my brothers, the front office, the coaching staff, everybody who talks to me on a daily basis,’’ he said. “Just to see how moved they were, it made me feel really good inside. It made me feel like we are on the right path of change.’’
The silence lasted 42 seconds. It came on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day, when every major-leaguer wears No. 42, even if a pandemic shifted the date from its usual April 15. The players and their tribute, it seemed, had saved the commissioner and Mets management from themselves.
But the reprieve was only temporary, as always. “It needs to be an ongoing thing,’’ Miami’s Lewis Brinson said of the Robinson tribute. “It can’t just be one day out of the baseball year that we bring light to everything.’’
“I think he would be amazed at the lack of progress in his eyes,” said Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain. “The fact we’re talking about this in 2020, I don’t see the progress in that. It’s almost like we’re going backwards.”
If this is a time machine, it might take us to the point of no return.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.