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How Did MLB, Cubs Not Know About Porter’s Lewd Texts?

A troubled sport faces a new crisis: Was a talented, young executive protected from his 2016 conduct by a network of cronies, including those in Chicago, who enabled a rising career that ended in disgrace?

Jay Mariotti

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Baseball once had an old-boy problem, a network of ownership cronies who ruled the sport’s inner sanctum via backroom politics and finer cigars. Now, it has a bro-dude problem, a sabercreep problem, a new fraternal culture that somehow enabled Jared Porter to remain a coveted young executive for four years after texting a photo of his erect, naked penis to a female reporter.

Jared Porter fired as New York Mets GM after explicit texts

It’s highly improbable, given the loose lips in Major League Baseball, that someone in the Chicago Cubs’ hierarchy didn’t know about the 2016 sexting story involving Porter — then their 36-year-old director of professional scouting — until this week’s ESPN expose. The time gap is disturbingly long, the length of Donald Trump’s presidency, and Porter’s career never should have been allowed to ascend to the high-profile point where the shamed New York Mets finally fired him Tuesday as general manager.

How could this happen? How could the Cubs and the rest of MLB not know? That’s what the Cubs are claiming — and it should be underlined here that the savior-in-charge during the 2010s, Theo Epstein, resigned two months ago. In the story by Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan, ESPN reports “a baseball source” tipped them to Porter’s conduct in December 2017, more than a year after his uninvited barrage of suggestive text messages and lewd photos to a woman who’d moved to the United States to cover baseball. That source was one of several people who reportedly knew about the texts — including, stunningly, a Cubs employee from her home country.

The reporter, fearing reprisal from Porter and unsympathetic people in her native land, said she was connected to the Cubs employee by a lawyer referred by her media bosses back home. According to ESPN, that employee contacted Porter, who said he wanted to apologize in person — a request she rejected. By this point, she also had alerted a major-league player from her native country, seeking further advice.

Come on. How did the Cubs not know? Are we supposed to believe that a team employee, acting independently, didn’t tell anyone at Wrigley Field about the allegations other than Porter? That Epstein, who had groomed Porter as part of his bro-dude posse with the Boston Red Sox, didn’t know a thing about the story? That current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, part of the same Boston posse, hadn’t heard a word? How did team owner Tom Ricketts not know? How did the commissioner’s office, with its expansive security and surveillance detail, not know?

Or did they know?

“This story came to our attention tonight and we are not aware of this incident ever being reported to the organization,” the Cubs said in a Monday night statement to ESPN. “Had we been notified, we would have taken swift action as the alleged behavior is in violation of our code of conduct. While these two individuals are no longer with the organization, we take issues of sexual harassment seriously and plan to investigate the matter.”

The investigation should extend to the MLB office, where Epstein was hired last week as a consultant to commissioner Rob Manfred. In any event, this is a troubling indictment of the industry’s bro-dude culture, given Porter’s career arc since the sexting-and-photos flurries. After apologizing to the woman via text and thinking he was home clear, he became assistant general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2016 offseason, after Epstein and the Cubs had broken a 108-year drought and won the World Series in a festive Chicago. Last month, not vetted by the Mets, Porter was named GM in multibillionaire owner Steven Cohen’s new regime — the same Steve Cohen whose investment firm was accused of harassment toward women in 2018.

Mets fans deserve better than Steve Cohen - New York Daily News

“We have terminated Jared Porter this morning,” Cohen wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

Then why didn’t Cohen spend more time investigating Porter before hiring him? Making phone calls? Asking around? The owner is new to the sport, but baseball operations boss Sandy Alderson is a baseball lifer — straight from the old-boy network, in fact — and he also whiffed badly here. After Porter’s firing, Alderson delivered a wishy-washy response, suggesting extensive vetting isn’t always possible. It’s 2021, Sandy. Your boss is one of the richest people in America. Don’t pass the buck.

“This is a wake-up call. It clearly suggests something like this can be out there in connection with almost anyone,” said Alderson, back for another tour of Mets duty at 73. “We have do to our best to make sure we know about that information, but there are limits to what we can actually get. I don’t think this reflects a fundamental flaw in the process. I think this is a very unfortunate circumstance that we wish we knew about, but didn’t.”

In covering his own tail, Alderson said the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Red Sox praised Porter during his discussions with team executives. Keep in mind that an Epstein link threads through all three franchises. “There really wasn’t a dissenting voice, so from my standpoint, I was shocked. Eventually that gives away to disappointment and a little bit of anger,” Alderson said. “There’s always a risk associated with hiring. There was no disclosure of this conduct. I don’t think we would have hired Jared if we had known about the conduct beforehand. Should we have known? We did a background check. We asked if there was anything else we need to know.”

He didn’t ask enough.

In a case of extreme sensitivity, credit ESPN for resisting any journalistic temptation to report what it knew and corroborated in late 2017. Realizing it could be accused of sitting on explosive information and protecting Porter and the network’s high-priced partnership with MLB, ESPN rightfully ceded to the female reporter’s request to not publish the story then when, according to Kimes and Passan, she had “concluded her career would be harmed if the story emerged.” As the aggrieved party, her wishes took precedence.

Someone should explain journalism ethics to WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts, who accused ESPN of just that: sitting on the story for years. Passan responded in kind on ESPN Radio in New York.

Jeff Passan on Twitter: "Jared Porter is working on a deal to be the new GM  of the New York Mets, sources tell ESPN. A longtime executive in Boston,  Chicago and Arizona,

“There’s another radio station in New York that’s been pretty damn irresponsible today about its coverage of this, and I hate giving them any shine because they don’t deserve it,” Passan said. “But the notion that ESPN has been sitting on this story since 2017 is the most giant load of irresponsible garbage that I’ve heard in a long time. We have duties as journalists to protect our sources and to look after the people who give us the stories that we get to tell. It is their story, it is not ours. And the idea that we have been sitting on this, because this woman, who went through a horrendous thing with somebody in a position of power and ended up having to move back to her country and get out of journalism because of it, the idea that she wasn’t ready at that time is perfectly rational and normal and the type of response that I think any of us could go through. She wasn’t ready.

“The story waits for when the person whose it is, is ready to tell it. And so, she waited, and she left the industry where she was worried she was going to have backlash and potentially have her job harmed. And she saw Jared Porter’s rise to general manager of the New York Mets, putting him in a position of great power and great authority, and thought to herself, ‘This man, who has his dream job, ended up facilitating me losing my dream job. And I didn’t do anything … I didn’t do anything.’ And so the idea that this story, four-and-a-half years after this incident happened, has any less resonance, has any less importance, and has any less right to be told — anybody who thinks that needs to shut up.”

And, no, ESPN was not obligated to alert MLB, the Cubs, the Diamondbacks or the Mets about what Kimes knew, though we’re not stupid. Enough people knew about the story to circulate it around a gossipy industry.

Carton also didn’t do his homework about Passan, accusing the baseball insider of knowing about Porter’s texts when he praised his hiring last month. Passan said he only recently was assigned to report the story with Kimes — after Porter was hired. “The issue isn’t about protecting the victim. Of course you do,” Carton tweeted. “Issue is that Passan endorsed Porter said he had the perfect ‘temperament’ for NYC knowing he was a stalker and had harassed a woman.”

ESPN sometimes flouts journalistic rules. Not this time.

When Porter was named Mets’ GM, the woman decided to go public with her story, telling ESPN through an interpreter, “My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else. Obviously, he’s in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry.”

Porter’s “apology” came after she had asked the major-league player from her home country to help compose a response. She subsequently wrote Porter: “This is extremely inappropriate, very offensive, and getting out of line. Could you please stop sending offensive photos or msg.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Porter responded.

“I will stop.”

He stopped texting. But his career carried on, the perpetuation of which is the latest crisis in a sport that cannot get out of its own way. Here we thought Epstein might rescue MLB from its self-destructive plague the way he smashed curses in Chicago and Boston.

Theo Epstein saved the Red Sox. Now he's rescuing the Cubs. Here's how.

Now, he might be baseball’s newest problem. Why didn’t he know? And how couldn’t he have known?

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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