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Suspicious Watson Case Not So Elementary

What could be another conduct nightmare for the NFL, as it announces a new broadcasting windfall, also could represent a slippery agenda against the star quarterback by a flamboyant Houston attorney.

Jay Mariotti




America doesn’t need this, not now, not as it tries to jab 330 million arms and heal from an apocalyptic 2020. The NFL doesn’t need this, either, as the league achieves new prosperity with $100 billion-plus in broadcasting deals.

But here it comes, out of Houston like a hurricane, a national debate about whether a prominent Black quarterback is guilty of sexually assaulting at least three women — and as many as nine — as charged by a headline-hungry, social-media-wielding attorney once described as “a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big.”

Attorney of Deshaun Watson Accusers Posts Messages Between QB, His Clients

The Deshaun Watson case is anathema to a country that was beginning to escape cable-news-show hell. Now, Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon have their fresh catnip, Chris Cuomo has a convenient topical diversion from his brother’s legal problems, and a more pressing crisis — anti-Asian hate — moves aside in the media tempest. The lawyer, Tony Buzbee, will be bombarding the American consciousness with constant appearances in coming days. And the NFL, which has avoided high-profile legal dramas since Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence case four years ago, has yet another legal nightmare that challenges whether commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy is robust enough.

“I am extremely proud to represent those who have no perceived power against those who have PERCEIVED power,” Buzbee wrote on a Facebook post. “Things are changing in this country, in this great state, and in this great city. And I feel like it’s for the better, for all of us!

“Too many times women have put up with behavior that we all know no one should put up with. Should we make excuses for the famous? Or those who hold special positions, or quarterbacks on a local professional football team? I don’t think so! All people are equal, and all deserve dignity and respect.”

If Watson is guilty of a series of crimes against massage therapists — including one who says he forced her to have oral sex three months ago — he obviously would face bigger life issues than his future in football. But I’ll plead once again as I always do: Before the amateur judges and juries of a recklessly condemnatory America cast guilt upon an accused public figure, they should exercise a period of trolling restraint.

In Watson’s case, it would include these questions: Why are we just now hearing about his “inappropriate conduct” during massages from masseuses that allegedly occurred last year — on March 30, Aug. 28 and Dec. 28? And would three adjoining civil lawsuits ever have been filed this week in Houston if Watson wasn’t demanding a trade out of town, disgusted by what he views as incompetent management that has poisoned the NFL’s most bedraggled and dysfunctional franchise, the Texans? Rather than routinely ruin the life of the latest famous man ensnared by a #MeToo accusation, can we, for once, try pausing? And examining all angles, including the nefarious nature of sports when a team is embroiled in a perception war against a wildly popular figure?

Before the current offseason, Watson was the most celebrated athlete in a city once filled with sports stars. If he wasn’t Patrick Mahomes, he wasn’t far behind, a sensational, multiple-threat playmaker who would keep the Texans positioned as Super Bowl contenders for 10 or 12 years. But when he wasn’t consulted about the ill-advised trade of DeAndre Hopkins, then was omitted from the process when owner Cal McNair and mysterious front-office svengali Jack Easterby hired Nick Caserio as general manager, Watson tweeted the four words that ended the local love affair in January.

“Some things never change….”

At which point Watson became a ghost, though not before making it known publicly that he no longer wants to play for the Texans. This was a devastating blow to a city already reeling from the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal, which tarnished their 2017 World Series title, and James Harden’s demand to be freed from the Rockets, who dealt him to Brooklyn and have sunk into the NBA abyss, losing 11 straight games by double digits. The beloved J.J. Watt also asked to be released from his contract, fleeing the Texans for Arizona. Suddenly, Houston devolved from a proud title town to a ridiculed tar pit.

Enter Buzbee, a flamboyant character who wears blue linen jackets, throws wild parties at his mansion, threatens to shoot anyone who steals his art and compares himself to a shark, right down to the tattoo on his forearm. “The great white controls the ocean. We go for it. No fear,” he told Texas Monthly before a failed 2019 attempt to win Houston’s mayoral race.

Could Tony Buzbee Defeat Sylvester Turner in the Houston Mayoral Race?

Buzbee claims in the first lawsuit that Watson “committed civil assault” by touching a massage therapist with his penis at her home, which she uses as an office. According to the therapist, he wanted “a massage for only one reason — sex” and exposed himself before touching her, claiming Watson “purposely touched (her) hand with the tip of his erect penis.” When she asked him to leave, she says he threatened her with this comment: “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” He then left her house, she said, later apologizing to her via text message.

The second lawsuit also accuses Watson of assault, claiming his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.” He allegedly used Instagram to book a massage with another masseuse and flew her from Houston to Atlanta, where, during a session, she said he ignored her requests to cover his private area with a towel and also touched her.

The third lawsuit, based on an alleged incident in a Houston office building, accuses Watson of barely covering his buttocks with a small towel and, in the middle of a massage, turning over on his back and “forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.” He then forced her, she alleges, to perform oral sex, with the lawsuit stating she “was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.”

To hear Buzbee, he’s just getting started, claiming to represent nine women prepared to sue Watson with more details forthcoming. The NFL’s investigative arm contacted Buzbee on Thursday, he said, and wants to interview him and the accusers as part of its own probe.

I don’t know Watson. I don’t know if he’s a creep. I don’t know if he was protected for months before his trade demand flipped the script. And the police haven’t been involved and aren’t commenting — an important reminder that no criminal charges have been filed. But I do know this about Buzbee: This week on social media, he referred to McNair as “my neighbor.” He did so in a post recalling how he once purchased billboards in the Houston area, urging the Texans to draft the since-disgraced Johnny Manziel. Above one such billboard — which screamed “Keep Johnny football in Texas!” beside a mention of a site — Buzbee wrote, “Remember this? @jmanziel2 Seven years ago I put ten billboards around Houston asking my neighbor Mr. McNair to draft the greatest college football player ever. Obviously, it didn’t happen.”

Which begs a fair question, given the wretched internal workings of the Texans: Do the civil suits, involving mistreatment of women, act as a strategic advantage that now makes it easier for McNair to trade Watson? In that sense, is Buzbee doing his “neighbor” a public-relations favor? Or, might the situation serve to keep Watson in Houston if interested NFL teams back away?

Smith: Cal McNair failing Texans fans as Deshaun Watson requests trade

Enamored of Manziel as Buzbee continues to be, we’re obviously not dealing with someone with a keen current knowledge of football. Or someone with a steady equilibrium. But he is hellbent on convicting Watson, writing: “My dad was a butcher. My mother drove my school bus and worked in the snack bar. Knowing what I know now: My momma had more dignity in her pinky finger than most executives or coaches or politicians or famous athletes have in their whole bodies! This case we just filed against Watson isn’t about money — it’s about dignity and stopping behavior that should be stopped, NOW! Stay tuned for details. LET ME SAY THIS. I’m a Marine. I’m not easily intimidated. If you have info or have been part of this, contact my office.”

That quickly, the teams named by Watson as preferred destinations — New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins — had reason to think twice about troubling red flags. And that quickly, I believe, the chances of Watson remaining in Houston rose exponentially.

All of which prompted Watson to seek a Texas attorney, noted sports fire extinguisher Rusty Hardin, but not before taking to Twitter himself, claiming Buzbee earlier had demanded a six-figure settlement. “As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me,” Watson wrote. “I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I Have never treated any woman with anything than the utmost respect. The plaintiff’s lawyer claims this isn’t about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me — it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”

Said Hardin, in an ESPN interview: “I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts … (He) has a great reputation here in the Houston area and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”

Only days ago, we were poised for a historic quarterbacking shakeup in the NFL. But Russell Wilson remains in Seattle, with the Seahawks rejecting a Chicago package that reportedly included three No. 1 draft picks, forcing the Bears to sign retread Andy Dalton. And Dak Prescott signed a deal he hasn’t earned: a maximum value of $164 over four years, including $126 million in guaranteed money with a no-trade clause and no-franchise-tag provision. For now, Watson isn’t going anywhere, either, at least until his cases are resolved and the NFL decides his fate.

In 2021, a reputable massage business would have video cameras on the premises. And the claim that he apologized with a text is easy to investigate, as well. So, knowing the American legal climate involving celebrities, I predict a quiet settlement for larger sums than what allegedly have been demanded.

Houston Texans release new statement confirming NFL investigation into  Deshaun Watson lawsuits

And I predict that, yes, Deshaun Watson will be quarterbacking the Texans next season, arm in arm with Cal McNair.

In which case, Houston wins and a franchise superstar loses. Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Who are you s—ing, Sherlock?

BSM Writers

Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?

“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”

Demetri Ravanos




Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career. 

Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff. 

Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.

Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.

Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country. 

Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.

Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.

Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance. 

Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!

A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.

FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan.  MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team.  I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”

JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions. 

“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).

“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”

MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”

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BSM Writers

Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.

Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.

But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.

The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.

As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.

Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.


The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.

Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!

But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)

That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?

We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!

The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.

Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.

Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)

Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.

We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.

When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?

If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.

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BSM Writers

There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle

“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”

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Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.

The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.

Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark. 

It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.

Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.

Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.

One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.

It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.

It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.

One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.

Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”

There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.

We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.

The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.

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