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Is Anyone Concerned About The Athletes?

“Through wildfire smoke, protest backlash, Covid uncertainty, collegiate mind-changing and in-game silence, the players deserve praise — salaries and all — for how they’re handling the heavy challenges of 2020.”

Jay Mariotti

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We should worry about firefighters, Covid-19 frontliners, the homeless, the maskless. We should worry about police encounters on the streets and what could happen next. We should worry about the long-term economy, climate change, the air that has me dry-heaving in California. We should worry about young people, parents, teachers and what kind of life a 20-year-old is looking at in America The Pitiful no matter who is president.

Athletes? We’re not supposed to worry about them, especially those who’ve resumed making one-percenter salaries. Clippers fans might argue that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are worthy of voodoo pins after their Game 7 washout, but, please, this is much bigger than outcomes and so-called curses. I cover sports, have for a long time. And I’m stunned by what the players are dealing with as leagues across the landscape, hellbent to complete seasons, begin to recoup the ample revenues once thought lost.

Imagine being a Black athlete and thinking 2020 finally has brought measures of truth and justice to social inequality — only to hear the White face of Old Man Football, Mike Ditka, ordering you to leave the country if you protest racism and police brutality during the national anthem. “You don’t like the game, get out of it. It’s not for protesting one way or the other. What color you are, what you think, this or that. You play football. That’s it. You’re privileged,’’ said Ditka, who turns 81 next month and has lost touch. “I would tell those players: Go to another country and play football there. You don’t have to come out if you go to another country. You can’t! Because the game’s only played in this country. And if you can’t respect this country, get the hell out of it.”

Sigh.

Imagine being on a baseball team forced to play a doubleheader in the city with the world’s worst air, Seattle, where it’s surprising none of the Mariners or A’s didn’t suffocate in the smoky haze hanging over the field. Check back to see how many suffered lung damage. “I’m a healthy 22-year-old. I shouldn’t be gasping for air or missing oxygen when I’m getting to the line. I’ll leave it at that,’’ said A’s pitcher Jesus Luzardo, among many asking why the games proceeded, under the retractable sort-of-roof of an outdoor/indoor ballpark, when air quality was measured at a “very unhealthy’’ 233. Why is Major League Baseball unfazed by the historic wildfires that left a freakish orange glaze over both Bay Area ballparks and impacted all teams based on the West Coast? Oh, because commissioner Rob Manfred is a madman who will risk the health of others — but not his — to bum-rush a regular season that leads to a nearly $1-billion TV payout in October. Never mind that the postseason would include a Bubble in southern California and possibly four of the state’s five teams.

Cough, hack, wheeze.

Imagine being a professional athlete tested regularly for the coronavirus yet wondering if the leagues have been transparent and forthright about the results. The NFL is swabbing daily and insists the players are Covid-free, but with teams operating outside a single isolated Bubble and traveling to road games, isn’t an MLB-like outbreak inevitable? How serious is the NFL when Rams coach Sean McVay is allowed to work the sideline most of a game with a mask worn under his chin? Why did the league wait until the next day to admonish him? And when Manfred mentions having fans at postseason games and a World Series in Texas, isn’t he, uh, defeating the purpose of finally placing players in a Bubble setting starting next week, when playoff contenders are quarantined in hotels for seven days? In the sport in which players have most often flouted protocols, you’re inviting fans who might not obey protocols themselves, some after traveling long distances from other places? And mixing them all together?

WTF?

Imagine being a college football player, unpaid and impressionable, having to trust power freaks who run the biggest programs and university presidents thirsting to reap the financial bonanzas. Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, isn’t considering the long-range health dangers that accompany Covid. Sounding uninformed and almost diabolical, he actually hopes his team achieves herd immunity — though he clearly doesn’t understand what that may or may not mean. “Not all of our players, but most of our players have caught it. I think that hopefully they won’t catch it again, and hopefully they’re not out for games,’’ he said. “Hopefully that once you catch it, you don’t get it again. I’m not a doctor.’’ Then why is he trying to play one? Know how many college football coaches are playing hocus-pocus with players’ lives? And their loved ones? And the students they associate with — and party with — on Covid-ravaged campuses? The Big Ten had been one of the two wise conferences not playing, yet there were those presidents, voting to return in October, kids be damned.

Help.

And imagine being a player in the NBA or NHL, sequestered in restrictive environments since July. Covid has been kept out of the Bubbles and Igloos, infection-free so far as family members visit the (Adam) Silverdome, but it will take a grounded soul to survive isolation and lead a team to a title. Is it any wonder LeBron James is best equipped mentally to hoist a trophy with the Lakers next month? “Meditating helps a lot for me personally with taking a lot of deep breaths, closing my eyes and just centering myself and listening to my inner self,’’ he said. “That definitely is something that keeps me sane in the Bubble.” As opposed to George, who lost himself inside the Bubble, as have others not as willing to discuss it.

Aummmmm.

Through it all, the athletes are expected to perform at optimum levels and entertain us as we sit in the relative safety of our homes. And they’re doing so in front of only smatterings of spectators, if any, in stadiums and Bubbles. We shouldn’t feel sorry for them because they work in silence; consider the daunting plights of the aforementioned. But it’s another stark departure from normalcy that requires them to find inspiration from within in spooky surroundings. Sports Business Journal provided a rundown of comments after Week 1.

“There’s just no excitement. There’s just no energy from an outside source,’’ Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said.

“ “You definitely could hear the defense and hear what they’re calling,’’ Ravens receiver Marquise Brown said.

“It felt like a scrimmage out there,’’ said Tom Brady, who wished the game hadn’t mattered.

“Even that little buzz in the stadium that they create in between plays, it just feels like a whisper compared to what it normally is,’’ said Drew Brees, who had enough Superdome familiarity to beat Brady and Tompa Bay.

The eerie stillness was best captured by Bill Belichick, who said of the fan-less atmosphere in New England: “Practice. It’s like scrimmaging the Titans, or scrimmaging Detroit, or scrimmaging the teams we scrimmage. I mean there were a few fans there, but basically there are no fans there and it’s just competition. There’s some energy from your teammates and your own energy. It is what is. That’s what it’s like out there in practice.’’

The game-day experience is formidable, starting with the pre-game decisions about protests. Who’s kneeling? Who’s standing? Who’s staying back in the locker room? What is Colin Kaepernick going to tweet next? What other advocate of President Trump will lash out like DItka? What are they saying on TV? Kaepernick’s latest tweet condemning commissioner Roger Goodell — “… the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black life …’’ — was followed by a tweet from his former kneeling partner, Eric Reid, who wrote this about the league’s treatment of Kaepernick: “What the @NFL is doing is half-hearted at best. @nflcommish has gotten comfortable saying he “was wrong” as if his mere acknowledgement reconciles his admitted wrongdoing. He hasn’t even called Colin to apologize, let alone reconcile, proving this is only PR for the current business climate. As such, Roger Goodell uses video of Colin courageously kneeling to legitimize their disingenuous PR while simultaneously perpetuating systemic oppression, that the video he’s using fights against, by continuing to rob Colin of his career. It’s diabolical.’’

Thus, the protests remain front and center on the NFL stage, as the first presidential debate nears. On the day Ditka’s tirade went viral, another fixture of Old Man Chicago culture, Dan McNeil, was fired for a noxious tweet. He compared the outfit of ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who is Black, to that of a host for an adult film awards show. Proud day for Chicago, Chicago, that doddering town. How would you like to be a Black athlete in that racially polarized, kid-murdering city?

At least the games are being watched by home viewers. But other than the Brees-Brady game, ratings are down in the NFL, where prime-time metrics from the initial Sunday and Thursday nights — featuring Patrick Mahomes, the Cowboys and the vast Los Angeles market — is causing anxiety at NBC. At ESPN, the “Monday Night Football’’ doubleheader was a ratings disaster. This follows lower numbers for NBA games and staples such as U.S. Open tennis and the Kentucky Derby. Is Trump right when he says most Americans are weary of pre-game protests? Are the games just too ragged and sloppy? It’s too early to make sweeping judgments, but two weeks into Sportsapalooza — the 10-week cornucopia of championship events and meaningful games unlike any stretch in American history — our national depression clearly has seeped into sports.

Something is lost when the Heat win a thriller — Jimmy Butler hits a shot, followed by Bam Adebayo’s soaring rejection of Jayson Tatum’s flying dunk attempt — and there is no visceral reaction from spectators. It was Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, but it felt like a Summer League thing, players walking off the floor to a minimum of sound. To quote two troubadours from the past, silence like a cancer grows.

You don’t have to feel sorry for athletes. But I do.

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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