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Political Football Disrupts Mahomes’ Charmed Life

In a glimpse of NFL turbulence ahead, the Houston Texans boycotted two anthems while superstar Patrick Mahomes did not kneel and fans booed, kicking off an election season that keeps score for the wrong reasons.

Jay Mariotti

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If only this was an ordinary kickoff to another NFL season, a chance to celebrate the humble audacity and babyfaced artistry of Patrick Mahomes. If only this was an ode to how he took over the league at 24, signed a $450 million contract during a pandemic, picked up his Super Bowl ring the day he gave his high-school sweetheart an engagement ring, bought a piece of a major-league baseball team, rocked the endorsement industry and still found time to put ketchup on his mac and cheese.

But try as we did Thursday night to focus on a real, rootable American superhero during an actual football game, the heat from the political blast furnace already was engulfing the country. If this was a kickoff, it started the clock on an eight-week tornado of social mayhem unlike any this land has seen. President Trump had warned NFL players not to protest during the national anthem, and this time he wasn’t lying, as he was last spring when he purposely downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus, explaining now, “I don’t want to jump up and down and shout `death, death.’ I have to lead a country.” Part of his posture on leadership is to ask Black athletes to shut up, stand for the national anthem, play football and set aside outrage about racial injustice and police brutality.

“If they don’t stand for the national anthem,’’ said Trump, “I hope they don’t open.’’

Well, the NFL opened. And America instantly became entangled in more upheaval, divided by pre-game events that mirrored our ideological chasm. Tears in his eyes, Mahomes did not kneel as Colin Kaepernick once did, standing with all but one of his Kansas City Chiefs teammates for the “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ minutes after they had stood, arms locked, for “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing,’’ the traditional Black national anthem to be played before NFL games. If Trump and his supporters surely approved that only defensive end Alex Okafor took a knee, they might have blanched when the Houston Texans boycotted both anthems by remaining in the locker room, with a team executive saying the players wanted “no misinterpretation of them celebrating one song and throwing shade on the other.’’ The Chiefs also left the field after both anthems and were booed — yes, booed — on the night the team raised a Super Bowl championship banner for the first time in 50 years. When the teams returned, they locked arms in a “show of unity’’ in the middle of the field just before kickoff, with fans continuing to boo in a largely empty stadium in the heartland.

An hour earlier, there was another jolting reminder that the activism is only beginning: Miami Dolphins players announced they’ll also stay inside for both songs, criticizing the NFL’s unification efforts as “empty gestures’’ and apparently unimpressed with how the league has painted “IT TAKES ALL OF US’’ in one end zone and “END RACISM’’ at the opposite end of all fields. “This attempt to unify only creates more divide. So we’ll skip this song and dance, and as a team we’ll stay inside,” Miami players said in a video. “We need changed hearts, not just a response to pressure. Enough, no more fluff and empty gestures. We need owners with influence and pockets bigger than ours to call up officials and flex political power.”

Said Dolphins coach Brian Flores, one of the league’s three Black head coaches: “We’ll just stay inside.’’

It was a potent message to the NFL’s 32 owners, 30 of whom are white: The protests will last as long as the players want them to last. Next thing you knew, there was an image of Joe Biden on the NBC broadcast, in a paid advertisement that excoriated Trump and urged America to “start fresh.’’

So off we go, political football intercepting the NFL season before it barely started. The face of the NFL, Mahomes, suddenly is a sellout, some will say, after a hot summer in which athletes in all sports kneeled and even boycotted games in protest. It’s unavoidable that people keep score in this regard, given the national condition, yet just as it’s a player’s right to kneel after centuries of racial inequality, it’s Mahomes’ right to stand. Problem is, Trumpers will see it as a victory — and the Democrats as a loss — that the superstar quarterback of the defending league champions did not kneel in Arrowhead Stadium, where a swirl of protests, infectious disease anxieties and America’s most popular sport converged with typical 2020 weirdness.

It was Mahomes, remember, who was front and center in the dramatic June video of players calling out the NFL for racial inequality. It prompted commissioner Roger Goodell, the very next day, to finally condemn racism after turning a deaf ear during the Kaepernick-led protests. Now, Mahomes wasn’t kneeling? He knew he couldn’t win whatever he did. “I’m going do whatever I believe and what I believe is right and I’m going to do whatever I can to fight for equality for all people,’’ he said. “I’m going to continue that fight and I’m not worried about people and how they’re going to do negative stuff back to me. I’m worried about doing what’s right for humanity and making sure that all people feel equal.”

The nation is talking over him today. How about listening to Mahomes? He wants change, and if he thinks standing is a better call than kneeling, it’s his call and his life. “It has become something where it’s whether or not you’re going to kneel instead of what the reason why the kneeling began in the beginning, which was social injustice and police brutality,” he said. “And I feel that’s been the biggest thing: It’s not necessarily the gesture, but we’re trying to fix something, we’re trying to make it where it’s equal, everybody feels safe, everybody feels secure, everybody can go about living their lives and they really, truly care about the person next to him. Every single time you get interviewed or you go out and you’re in public, people are asking, `Are you going to kneel, are you not going to kneel?’ They’re not asking about the actual injustices that you’re trying to fix and what you’re trying to help the community with.”

Was he shocked to hear boos? “Being out there, honestly, I didn’t hear a lot of booing,’’ said Mahomes, wisely avoiding a public flap. “I wanted to show unity. We wanted to come together and fight the good fight. I hope our fans will keep supporting us.’’

Said Texans coach Bill O’Brien: “I thought that that was a nice thing to do, so I’m not sure why they would boo that.’’

What’s sad is that Mahomes is as cool and grounded as advertised. He just wants to outwork, outthink and outperform the competition, as he showed again in throwing for three touchdowns in a 34-20 victory that suggests the Chiefs could repeat as champs. “There’s a reason the guy has the accolades and the money he does,’’ Texans star J.J. Watt said after Mahomes spread the field and used multiple weapons, including breakout rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Just as he didn’t ask to be the King of Football, it’s unfair at his age to ask Mahomes to orchestrate reform against systemic racism, much less take a knee. He is all “about love,’’ working beforehand with Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson in how the teams stood united after the anthems. The boos were disconcerting — did Kansas City look and sound racist on a night of civic pride? — but they weren’t surprising. Unity, after all, never has been a more elusive goal.

We await the Sunday protests and reaction of Trump, which will trigger how some conservative NFL owners respond about possible repercussions if players kneel or stay in locker rooms. Goodell insists the league supports any decision by the players, including game boycotts, but the owner with the most influence, Dallas’ Jerry Jones, has sent scattered messages, asking Cowboys fans in one breath to “understand that our players have issues that they need help on,’’ then asking players “to be very sensitive to just how important it is to the majority of our fans, more than any other team … in recognizing what this great country is and what this flag stands for. Everybody knows where I stand. And there’s no equivocation there at all.” Jones will allow players to protest Sunday night in a new, spectator-less, $6-billion stadium in Los Angeles. He’ll throw a fit if there’s another such display days later in Texas.

Each NFL week, from now until early November, will bring new political winds. Giants owner John Mara is supportive of the players at the moment, saying, “I’m going to support your right to do that because I believe in the First Amendment, and I believe in the right of people, especially players, to take a knee in silent protest if that’s what they want to do.’’ But how will he and others feel if it’s happening in Week 8?

At least we had football again. This was an unprecedented day in U.S. sports history — never before had the NFL, NBA, NHL, WNBA, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and tennis’ U.S. Open played on the same date. But the opening of football, the American lifeblood, was bigger than just another sports event. It was the nation’s self-worth on stage — resilient and brave against the ongoing threats of civil unrest and the coronavirus. “America needed it. I needed it,’’ NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth said.

What Collinsworth couldn’t do was execute his trademark “slide’’ into the camera shot as the broadcast opened with partner Al Michaels. That’s because of social distancing protocols that weren’t obeyed by all Chiefs fans, in defiance of rules required masks of the 16,000-plus allowed in the 76,500-seat stadium. NBC’s Liam McHugh wasn’t through with his first pre-game report when a maskless fan leaned into view. Will the Chiefs enforce the law by ejecting the fan? Or is the protocol just more of the same lip service from a league that thinks it’s above COVID-19? The league has successfully prevented an early spread of the virus by agreeing to test players daily and keeping them inside “32 bubbles,’’ as Goodell puts it.

But now that players from opposing teams finally have spent three hours in full tackle mode, breathing and expectorating on each other, we’ll await the next test results. That is, assuming the league is transparent and not hiding data to avoid panic — which is what Trump did last spring, right?

I applaud Chiefs coach Andy Reid for trying to combat COVID-19 with a face shield attached to his red cap. Unfortunately, the plastic fogged up on a wet night. “It was a bit of a mess. We’ll get that cleaned up,’’ he said.

Besides, he had a more important message. Asked about the boos, Reid said, “I thought that was kind of a neat deal, both sides coming together for a cause, and the story was told there. We can all learn from this, and really it’s just to make us all better, even a stronger country than we already are. We have a chance to just be completely unstoppable when all hands join together, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Completely unstoppable.

Have we heard anything so inspiring from either presidential candidate?

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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