You are excused for oscillating between the primal urge to emit sudden noises — a gasp when LeBron James wins for Kobe Bryant, a howl when another Tampa Bay lab clone rocks Aroldis Chapman, a groan when Tom Brady wants a fifth down — and the unavoidable disgust that the NFL is treating players like medical rats. Celebration is what sports does best, whisking us from whatever’s bothering us to crown champions and pity also-rans, but there remains a pandemic-era awkwardness of placing too much importance on winners and losers.
Yes, James has won the Bubble, conquering the most arduous mental challenge ever faced by an all-time athlete with a Lakers team that wasn’t all that great. In the process, he made Our President seethe, lifting a trophy days after Donald Trump eviscerated James as “a hater and “a spokesman for the Democratic party, a very nasty spokesman.’’ Might this be the first of many losses for Trump, courtesy of an all-time sports great and activist who heard the critics last year and ached to quiet them? Didn’t this bring honor and finality to the late Bryant and respect for an embattled, family-feuding franchise?
“We just want our respect. … And I want my damn respect, too,’’ James declared in a mostly empty building at Walt Disney World, home of a weird but fulfilled dream.
Baseball is a story, too, with the Rays ready to wow America as low-revenue savants who just might hit a historic trifecta: trolling the fallen behemoth Yankees with “New York, New York’’ lyrics, teaching the cheatin’ Houston Asterisks about ethics, then beating the blueblood Dodgers in the World Series. Still, amid the cigars and confetti and restrained revelry, we should have guilty pangs.
That’s because the NFL doesn’t give two snot swabs about the players’ wellness and safety amid its COVID-19 crisis, outbreaks be damned. This is not only my opinion, as stated often here. Now, players are echoing it. “I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building — whether it is the league office, whether it is the NFLPA — they don’t care,” said the Patriots’ Jason McCourty, also leery of the players’ union. “For them, it is not about our best interest, or our health and safety. It’s about, `What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good and looks good? How can we go out there and play games?’ ‘’
“My true opinion,’’ said the Eagles’ Darius Slay, “is we shouldn’t have even had (a season) because of what’s going on. It’s a difficult time.’’
And yet, even as the NFL again closes facilities in Tennessee and New England as new positive coronavirus results inevitably pop up, the same corporate defiance prevails: The games are coldly rescheduled, protocols continue to be violated, the league and networks remain fixated on money, and mindless masculinity continues to march on — to the point in college football where a caveman coach, Dan Mullen, wants Florida fans to ignore the infection rates and “pack The Swamp for LSU next week’’ because “I know our governor passed that rule.’’ Jay Z had 99 problems. Gainesville was about to have 90,000 problems, until the school athletic director said otherwise.
The NFL has COVID problems 24/7, with new cases in the Titans’ and Patriots’ camps requiring the league to move around games like ant traps and making me ask again: Why even attempt this madness? It’s stupefying enough that dozens of players have self-isolated, facilities and practices are routinely shut down, and the league suddenly has no idea when or if a $17 billion season will be completed. It’s an absolute mind-blur when every new headline should be accompanied by a scorching Eddie Van Halen riff. But you know what’s most troubling only a month into what will be a long, excruciating slog likely to include a Week 18, if not more weeks?
No one is telling us about the children, the wives, the significant others, the parents, the grandparents, the friends, the people out and about in the community — the potential collateral damage when NFL players, coaches and team personnel don’t take the coronavirus seriously and act as super- spreaders. We know that the Titans have been egregious, with a stunning 24 positive cases. We know that a superstar double whammy, Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore, has tested positive in New England. We know Patrick Mahomes, face of the league, shared a post-game bro hug with Gilmore hours before his positive test — “like, I have all my career and not even thinking about it … a mental lapse,’’ Mahomes called it — and since has been sleeping in a bedroom apart from his pregnant girlfriend.
We know teams have positive tests every day, whether they are fully transparent about the results or not. We know competitive integrity and fairness is a sham, that quality of play will suffer and defenses will be non-existent as attrition and rescheduling exacts a toll. We know this is not a season to take seriously unless one is an owner, a player or a broadcast executive with a deep financial interest. “Unfortunately, Covid is running rampant in our community,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of life in Wisconsin. “All it takes is one guy to infect everyone else.’’
“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We know there’s a challenge because of how easily this thing spreads.’’
The bigger question is, what don’t we know?
How many other people in this country have been infected — and will continue to be infected — because the NFL Insists on bulldozing through a season of games during a pandemic? Has anyone checked in on Gilmore’s wife and their two children? At what point does the urge to recoup billions, and feed networks with the programming inventory they need to stay afloat, verge on the criminal as Roger Goodell and the owners force-feed a season down America’s throat like cyanide? I, for one, was listening closely when the Patriots’ Matthew Slater described his mindset after his team was forced to fly to Kansas City during an incubation period and play the Chiefs. “A lot of us just wanted to make sure we were healthy and not passing anything along to our families,’’ he said.
So we’re just going to keep doing this dance through October, November, December, January and Super Bowl week in party-minded and pirate-happy Tampa, in a state that largely thinks the coronavirus is a hoax?
Yes, we are, regrettably. Rather than copy the successful NBA and NHL blueprints of Bubbles — in this case, enveloping each of the 32 franchises, including mandatory hotel stays until seasons conclude — the NFL office is locked in a stubborn ego-and-hubris trip. Goodell and his lieutenants are sticking to a flawed plan that could backfire at any time in any facility. They are convinced the protocols are sound and are pointing fingers at players and coaches for the violations, refusing to acknowledge that the league relaxed, too, and reveled in a God complex when September revealed few COVID-19 positive tests. In the Titans’ case, it’s undeniable that players flouted a league edict by working out at a school — and the organization surely was complicit, which should have warranted a forfeiture of at least one game for a 3-0 team dreaming of a Super Bowl. That is, if we believed Goodell’s memo to teams last week: “Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.’’
But rather than hammer the Titans where it hurts, in the standings, the league sided with money and ratings by simply moving the much-awaited Titans-Bills game to next weekend, though a large fine is expected. By continuing to punish teams financially and not competitively, the NFL maintains leverage to keep teams out of Bubbles — oh, think of the huge costs! — and places the entire onus on players, coaches and personnel to avoid COVID-19. The demand, of course, is far from failsafe; as witnessed throughout the league, the comprehensive testing system is imperfect, even on a daily basis, such as when Gilmore tested negative before the game in Kansas City when he likely was infected already, leaving dozens of human beings vulnerable to a spread on the field and inside the Patriots’ two planes. That didn’t stop Goodell from being more bullish, now able to play Big Brother with a new league-wide video system that effectively spies on each facility to see if protocols are followed. Can you imagine this Park Avenue conversation …
Goodell: “I’ve got Tennessee duty again today. I hear through sources that players were at a honky-tonk last night.’’
Lieutenant A: “I don’t trust Adam Gase with his shoelaces, much less protocol adherence. I’m watching the Jets.’’
Lieutenant B: “Gruden is a madman who refuses to wear his mask, so Raiders for me.’’
They can play gotcha all they want. Why would anyone of sound or sane mind think the Tennessee outbreak is an aberration in a league of 2,200-plus players and some 1,500 coaches and support staff? “It takes one guy to go to the grocery store and it’s as simple as that,” said Bills quarterback and early MVP candidate Josh Allen. “You’ve got to hope that guys are wearing their masks and the contact tracers are working.’’ But Goodell is flying blind, and considering he’s capable of bad decisions when he can see, the season ahead is a scary proposition. The virtual Bubbles have a much better chance of working than the status quo. Ask Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who wouldn’t be pulling off what has become a compelling postseason without forcing teams into Bubbles this month in Texas and California. The NFLPA would need extra incentives, but the Titans’ outbreak might have changed players’ minds about restrictive confinement. Said Mahomes: “If it happened, for me, I love the game and I know how special this team is, so I’d be willing.’’
In truth, the NFL and college football’s Power Five conferences aren’t receiving enough public backlash about exposing players to danger. When much of America isn’t treating the coronavirus with appropriate concern — starting with the continuing follies of the COVIDiot-in-Chief, football’s powers-that-be can afford to be cavalier and keep playing the games so the billions roll in. Then they trot out their versions of Tony Fauci — in the NFL’s case, Dr. Allen Sills, who says, “It’s critically important that we do not grow complacent in our rigorous application of measures proven to be impactful. This 2020 season, our common opponent is COVID — it’s all of us together versus the virus.”
Unless you’re the Titans, who have adopted a bizarre us-versus-the-media stance when they should be thankful those infected are recovering. “It’s a snap-to-judgment society that we live in today,’’ said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who also doesn’t trust the testing system. “People feel empowered to have strong opinions and go to extremes without knowing the details of how things went down. I’m of the opinion that you should find out details before you jump down someone’s throat.’’
Though pandemic sports viewership is significantly gutted — even the almighty NFL was down 10 percent heading into Week 5 — enough people are watching to more than keep the lights on at the leagues and networks. If Trump and Joe Biden are the main entertainment on the phalanx of news channels, sports continues to be an effective sideshow. And the games have delivered, whether it’s a close finish or the return of Washington’s Alex Smith from his grotesque broken leg, a glorious scene tarnished when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury. This is why the NFL and college football ramble on, figuring enough people are interested — look, Nick Saban thinks Lane Kiffin knew his defensive signals — to keep pushing a dangerous envelope. As I’ve said at least 99 times, football is not played in a Bubble. The NBA season was.
Which allowed James to win his fourth championship — for Kobe, for a Lakers franchise not long ago in disarray, for social justice and, of course, for himself. This one will not make him the greatest basketball player ever, but it will give him peace, going on age 36, that he overcame attrition and emotional fatigue when his younger rivals did not. What are Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo thinking when they weren’t good enough to even reach the Finals? When twice-fired head coach Frank Vogel, who was supposed to be knifed in the back by assistant Jason Kidd, earned James’ respect — and won a title that rescued the slumping reputations of owner Jeanie Buss and basketball boss Rob Pelinka? Jimmy Butler was LeBron’s equal for five games, but he and the Heat ran out of juice.
“There were times I questioned whether I should be here,’’ James said. “Is it worth sacrificing my family? I’ve never been away from my family for so long. Shout out here to the late, great Steve Jobs. Without him, those FaceTime calls wouldn’t have happened.
“Our ballclub got here back on July 9. It’s October 11 now. This was very challenging and difficult. It played with your mind and your body. You were away from the things that made you successful.’’
But he kept hearing the voices of doom. “There were still rumblings of doubt when comparing me in the history of the game: `Has he done this, has he done that?’ Having that in my mind fueled me,’’ he said.
He also knew that a divided America needed his voice. “Social injustice, voter suppression, police brutality — to have this platform, it’s something you will miss and think back on,’’ James said. “We also had zero positive tests for as long as we were down here — 95 days for myself. I had a little calendar I was checking off. But seriously, zero positive tests. That is an accomplishment.’’
There will be no parades in Los Angeles, where, unlike Florida, the city is too fixated on COVID to issue special event permits. But the Dodgers are inviting fans to Chavez Ravine for a drive-in watch party in the parking lot. Price per car for each game of the National League championship series in Arlington, Texas: $75, with fans allowed to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Dodgers require masks if fans want to use restrooms, which is more prudent than what they’re doing in Arlington, where MLB is only defeating the Bubble purpose by permitting 11,500 fans per game. Are Manfred and Dan Mullen sharing notes?
The dream World Series in L.A. — and for America, really — would be Dodgers-Astros. That way, after three years of organizational and fan-base anger about Houston scamming to win the 2017 Series, the Dodgers would have a legitimate revenge shot, not having to settle for Joe Kelly throwing at Houston batters and making pouty faces. Imagine, Dodger Blue beating the unrepentant liars days before the election. But baseball operations president Andrew Friedman may have been premature in saying this on Sirius XM radio: ““Like, I get that it’s been a difficult year for them, but to play the victim card, I think, has been, you know, a curious strategy.’’ See, loaded as the lineup is, the Dodgers still have Kenley Jansen issues. And not having an established closer could be trouble against the Braves and their mashers, accompanied by a pitching staff that has thrown four postseason shutouts.
Inside quiet ballparks such as San Diego, site of the American League championship series, at least the Astros can say they don’t need to steal signs and bang trash cans to win. A formidable lineup makes contact and puts pressure on pitchers, with Carlos Correa in MVP form. And they aren’t gloating as much, refusing to rip critics like before. “Absolutely not. We’re motivated because we want to win,’’ Correa said. “We want to bring another championship to Houston. We know what it feels like, so we want have that feeling once again. 2017 was such a special year celebrating with the fans in Houston. The thing that motivates is to get to feel that again.’’
Ugh. No longer armed with Gerrit Cole and the injured Justin Verlander, the Astros will be underdogs against the Rays, who manufacture victories with skilled starting pitching, a fireballing bullpen and typical Tampa creations such as Cardinals castoff Randy Arozarena, a Cuban defector who spent his own COVID quarantine doing 300 daily pushups and adding 15 pounds of muscle. The result has been a Mr. October transformation, his power bat spooking the Yankees. The conquering hero is Mike Brosseau, an undrafted find who symbolizes the Rays Way. Remember when the snarling Chapman almost beheaded him in September with a 101-mph heater, which led to counter threats by manager Kevin Cash? On the 10th pitch of an all-time at-bat, Brosseau sent a 100-mph pitch over the fence, giving the small-market Rays their latest triumph over the pinstriped colossus.
As the celebration continued in fan-vacant Petco Park, first baseman Ji-Man Choi was kicking over and stomping on a recycling bin. Hello, Houston. You have a problem. Might the Rays join the NHL’s Lightning in a Tampa Bay title perfecta, pandemic style? Brady and the Buccaneers would love to join the fun, but last we saw our ageless wonder in Chicago, he was raising four fingers after his final incompletion, trying to trick the officials into giving him another try. Is that how desperate he has become with a team battling penalties and injuries? “When you’re 43 years old, as you start to get older, it becomes harder to come back from these types of games,” Fox analyst Troy Aikman said. Brady says he doesn’t miss the cold weather of New England, calling himself “a Floridian for as long as I can envision now.’’ At this point, with Brady throwing clipboards and Newton recovering from COVID, the Great Brady-Belichick 2020 comparison debate is on hold.
It could be our grandest sports memory of 2020 is Rafael Nadal in Paris. Not because he won his 13th French Open title and 20th Grand Slam event, which places him a tie with Roger Federer for most all-time, but because he provided precious dignity. He beat Novak Djokovic, the ugly man who threw a summer COVID party and infected himself and others, then was tossed from the U.S. Open when he whacked a ball in frustration and struck a linesperson in the throat. But it was Nadal’s commentary on the global mood that will stick.
“The feeling is more sad than usual,” the Spaniard said. “Maybe that’s what it needs to feel like. It needs to be sad. Many people in the world are suffering.’’
Perspective. Why must we cross an ocean to find it?
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.