For some people, football is nothing more than a game. For the McGee family, it is a way of life. Family patriarch Dr. Jerry McGee was a prominent college football official, so his sons Ryan and Sam learned lessons from their father that go beyond the gridiron and can be applied to everyday life.
“The biggest thing I learned from Dad is to take a beat and process what your eyes just saw before making a decision, whether it’s throwing a penalty flag or anything else in life,” Ryan McGee says. “He taught me that it was always better to be accurate than to be first and have made a mistake.”
That lesson has served Ryan McGee well throughout his long and successful career in sports media where his primary focuses are NASCAR and college football. He is currently the co-host of the popular ESPN program Marty & McGee with Marty Smith, but has been involved with a litany of other projects, including The Bottom 10, a podcast, and regular contributions to the SEC Network to name a few. Whether it is as a print or digital journalist or as a radio and TV personality, McGee has diversified himself into many aspects of the industry. No matter the medium, however, he always goes back to lessons learned from his father.
“In everything I do, I just try to be fair,” McGee said. “People may not always agree with what I say or write and that’s ok. My goal is not to have people agree with me or to say something just to get clicks or viewers but to cover a story in a way where people say, ‘I don’t agree with him, but he was thorough, made a logical argument and did it fairly’. ”
Many of those lessons from his father, along with stories and experiences from Jerry McGee’s career are chronicled in a new book, Sidelines and Bloodlines, which Ryan co-wrote with his brother. The forward was penned by Ryan McGee’s ESPN colleague Rece Davis.
“We had a blast writing the book together,” McGee said. “We all lead such busy lives it was just an excuse to sit down with my Dad and my brother, share a pizza and some stories. Between the three of us, we have seven college degrees and I barley have one. My main job was just to write everything down and spell everything correctly.”
Even with the publication of a full length book, McGee says his father still has plenty of stories to tell and lessons to teach.
“Dad will be doing a radio interview and he will tell a story or say something that I have never heard before. I’m like, ‘dang it Dad. Why didn’t you tell me that? It should have been in the book’.”
His father planted the seeds, but McGee’s passion for sports that would eventually bloom into a successful career, were watered in his hometown of Rockingham, North Carolina. Even though he moved a lot due to his dad’s profession as a college administrator, McGee said his love of NASCAR began in the shadows of Rockingham Speedway.
“Marty Smith tells me all the time that I claim so many hometowns, I’m like (Country Music artist) Kenny Chesney. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite team because it seems like I have one no matter where I go,” McGee said.
“But living in Rockingham was everything (for me loving NASCAR). As with most things, everything goes back to Dad. He was in the National Guard in the ‘60’s. He was scrubbing toilets and there was a guy scrubbing toilets next to him whose name was Dave. He claimed to be a race car driver. They got to talking and Dave said that when he came to Rockingham he needed a gas can man and would call him up. Dad did not pay that much attention to it. Five years later, the phone rings and Dave turns out to be Dave Marcus. He is going to be in the Winston Cup and needed a gas can man. I grew up with Dad being a gas can man at the local races. NASCAR was always in the background.”
McGee’s love of college football began similarly.
“We basically grew up on college campuses and with Dad being a college official and administrator, that’s what we grew up talking about around the dinner table. Football was something our family bonded over. We lived in Raleigh when I was around 12 and in the 80’s ACC football was big. We got behind the scenes access and saw the game from a different perspective. We learned football in a completely different way from most people.”
Having a dad as a prominent college official led to many unusual experiences for McGee.
“When he coached our Little League or Pop Warner teams, he never took it easy on the umpires,” McGee said. “They really couldn’t say anything to him because he called the Georgia-Clemson game on National TV the week before. I also learned how to cuss by going to games and listening to people yell at Dad.”
It was that behind the scenes contact with NASCAR and college football, along with his Southern roots, that gave McGee an advantage to start his career.
“I was fresh out of college in 1994, just starting at ESPN,” McGee said. “Jeff Gordon had just won the Brickyard 400, so NASCAR was getting really big. Rece Davis, one producer and I were the only ones from the South. They came to me and said ‘you’re from Rockingham. You must know a lot about NASCAR.’ The truth is, I didn’t know as much as I probably should have, but I knew more than they did. So Rece and I started work on a program, RPM2Nite on ESPN 2.”
McGee’s career mirrors a NASCAR track itself, with a lot of twist and turns. Along with RPM2Nite, McGee became a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine, eventually climbing the ranks to Senior Writer. From 2001-03, McGee made the jump to rival Fox Sports, where he produced Totally NASCAR and then spent five more years as the head of the NASCAR Media Group. During that span, McGee brought home a pair of Sports Emmys in 2007 and 2008 while writing the script for Dale (a documentary on the late Dale Earnhardt) in 2007. But ESPN came calling again.
“I’m an ESPN-lifer,” McGee said. “Even when my career took me other places, I was looking for a way to get back in. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”
McGee credits his longevity to adaptability and his diverse skill set.
“The days of being a one trick pony are over,” he said. “I know many extremely talented writers who are out of work right now because that’s all they do. It’s not a knock on them. That’s just how the industry has changed.”
The perfect example of that change is ESPN The Magazine, which ceased print production in September of 2019.
“I got a little emotional working on that last issue,” McGee said. “I was a little sad but mostly proud of the 20 years of high-quality storytelling we had in every issue. I had a byline in issue # 4 and one in the final issue. I think Rece and I are the only ones still around from the beginning. Working on the magazine was a lot of fun.”
In fact, writing a 2009 magazine article on Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt led McGee to the most memorable experience of his career so far.
“They sent me out to Jamaica just before the Track & Field Word Championships,” McGee said. “I was only supposed to spend one hour with him (Bolt), but I ended up spending three days. This isn’t at some resort. We are way back in the mountains and he is visiting with kids in poverty stricken areas. I am out of touch with everybody. Nobody could get to me.
“While I was there watching Usain Bolt win four events in his home stadium, some other guy named Ryan McGee overdosed at a party in Lake Norman (North Carolina). Word gets out that Ryan McGee of ESPN is dead. Everybody’s calling my phone, but I don’t have a signal. I land at Myrtle Beach when I get back and my phone just goes crazy. I call a friend of mine who works at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway to find out what in the world is going on. He’s like, ‘oh my gosh, you’re alive.’ He runs into the media room and yells, ‘McGee’s alive!!! McGee’s alive!!!’ That was my Paul McCartney moment.”
As much as McGee enjoys reminiscing over memories of ESPN The Magazine, he says it is time to look to the future and he believes the future of sports is bright.
“You know, sports are supposed to be fun,” McGee said. “With the pandemic and the much needed calls for social change coming from athletes, people seem to have forgotten that. But now that seems to be coming back. People are reaching out to me, giving me ideas or telling me which teams to consider for The Bottom 10. They are having fun with it and that’s good to see.”
“Fun” is the driving force behind the success of Marty & McGee, along with the chemistry between the two co-hosts.
“Marty & McGee was born out of a road trip we took to Martinsville for a race. We have the same sense of humor and we were just talking and giggling over nothing,” McGee said “I thought people might actually enjoy hearing this and that’s what we pitched to ESPN. After every show, we look at each other like ‘can you believe we got to talk about that and have that much fun on National TV and people watched it?’ ”
McGee says Smith’s energy and enthusiasm in particular, are what connects with viewers.
“I feel like I have known Marty Smith my whole life,” McGee said. “We can’t even remember the first time we met. What you see is what you get. People ask me all the time if he is really like that in real life. Yes, he is. He is authentic. The same energy he has on the show, he also has at four o’clock in the morning visiting schools that have made the NCAA Tournament, and in a text message at 10 pm. Sometimes it’s intense, but it is totally genuine.”
McGee also understands that it is his duty to strike a delicate balance, having fun, while at the same time reporting and offering commentary on some serious issues.
“Some of the things like NASCAR allowing drivers to kneel during the National Anthem or the other drivers supporting Bubba Wallace, that’s news. You cover it just like anything else,” McGee said. “The column I wrote about NASCAR banning the Confederate Flag, that’s my opinion. I didn’t write it to get clicks or to popular. I wrote it because it was time for the flag to go. I knew some people would not be happy about it and that’s fine, but it wound up being one of the most read pieces I had ever written.”
McGee adds that the removal of the flag has opened NASCAR to a new demographic and believes the sport can still stay true to its Southern roots.
“Michael Jordan doesn’t get involved with NASCAR without that flag coming down or Bubba Wallace being a driver,” he said. “For years, Brad Daugherty tried to get his friends to come to races. They wouldn’t because they assumed certain things that are not true about NASCAR because of the flag. Now they are giving it a chance and they are falling in love with it. The sport is growing. A lot of these new fans are as Southern as Grits and Sweet Tea, so I don’t think it will lose its Southern roots or appeal by welcoming new fans. I’m excited for the future of NASCAR.”
As for McGee’s future, he has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I’m going to keep going as long as I can. I love what I do,” he said. “I want to keep doing Marty & McGee for sure. When I do retire, I want people to be able to say two things about my work – that it was fun and that it was fair. That’s the goal with everything I do and I hope that’s what people remember about my work.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.