Cooperstown, New York is the home of baseball’s immortal legends of the game. A place in which the greats from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth; Tom Seaver to Pedro Martinez; Ted Williams to Jackie Robinson – and more are enshrined. Approximately 1% of all players who have taken the field at the major-league level have been granted membership into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
This is more than just a building; it is a pinnacle of achievement in the game of baseball – and it recognizes more than just former players. Throughout the museum, commissioners, front office staff, coaches and other team and league personnel are honored for the contributions they have made to America’s Pastime, and artifacts from all facets of the game are on display. That, of course, includes within media, and as the means of distribution and content demands have shifted over the years, those working in the profession have adapted to find new and innovative ways to cover the game both on and off of the diamond.
One of those members of the media – Tim Kurkjian – was honored this weekend by receiving the highest honor bestowed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA): its career excellence award. Kurkjian has worked in the game of baseball for over four decades, developing an affinity for the sport from the time he was a child. But at that time, he never thought he would be reporting about the game across multiple platforms despite having ambitions in journalism.
Kurkjian attended Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, the eponymous education locale named in honor of former Washington Senators starting pitcher Walter Johnson. Fittingly so, the school newspaper was named The Pitch, and Kurkjian contributed to the publication throughout his time there, serving as both a writer and the sports editor. At the time, Kurkjian was a novice in journalism but possessed a deft knowledge about baseball, empowering him to continue to pursue his dream of working within the walls of a ballpark even when times became difficult.
“I was a terrible writer in high school,” Kurkjian said. “After one especially bad story, one of my gym teachers told me: ‘Tim, that might be the worst story I ever read in the school paper. I hope you’re not planning on making this your life’s work.’”
Baseball was the vernacular for Kurkjian as a child, especially with his dad and brothers having played the sport. While he played both baseball and basketball at points in his childhood, he knew that it was unlikely he would ever make it professionally – not because of not possessing enough passion for sports. Instead, he felt he was simply too small, graduating high school at 5-foot-2 and weighing 110 lbs.
Through repetition, persistence and a determination to succeed, Kurkjian eventually made it to the big leagues as a writer – but not after several different stops along the way. Just as basketball legend Michael Jordan was left off of his high school varsity team and Orel Hershiser was cut from both his high school and college baseball teams, Tim Kurkjian experienced plenty of rejection early in his career. In his freshman year at the University of Maryland, he applied to write for the college’s newspaper The Diamondback, and was rejected. The next year, he re-applied and was rejected again. That pattern held for both his junior and senior years of college, leaving Kurkjian no choice but to find an opportunity off of the school campus.
“Instead of showing up every day to say ‘I need to work here,’ I just kind of said, ‘Alright, if you don’t want me, I’ll go and work somewhere else,’” Kurkjian said. “I went to The Montgomery Journal [and] it was critical that I got to write as much as I did.”
“It’s like anything else,” Kurkjian affirmed. “If you want to be a great free throw shooter, you have to shoot a lot of free throws. If you want to be a great shortstop, you’ve got to take a lot of ground balls. If you want to learn how to write, you’ve got to write as much as possible. That’s what The Montgomery Journal gave me was a chance to write, and I took it.”
After graduating college in 1978 with a journalism degree, Kurkjian was resolute in his pursuit of a job in journalism, so much so that he pleaded with management at The Washington Star to be hired by following up with the publication eight times. His final attempt was successful. He was hired to cover high school sports as a freelancer; however, he also answered phones, ran errands late at night and documented game statistics, scores and sports news. Kurkjian did whatever it took to succeed in sports journalism, learning mostly through observation and recurrence.
In January 1981, Kurkjian was brought on as a full-time staff member reporting on sports, an exciting and rewarding moment in his career. By August of that year though, the newspaper had gone out of business and Kurkjian was unemployed. While he was quickly able to pick up another job writing at The Baltimore News-American, that newspaper also folded a mere two months later because of financial shortcomings.
Thankfully for Kurkjian, his former boss at The Washington Star had landed a new job as the sports editor at The Dallas Morning News, and he was able to offer Kurkjian a sports reporting job that eventually transitioned into being the publication’s beat reporter for the Texas Rangers beginning in the 1982 season. In this role, he was replacing Skip Bayless, who had recently switched publications, and began the daily routine of following a team, interviewing its personnel and spending long days at Arlington Stadium and on the road.
Before the 1986 season, Kurkjian moved back to Baltimore, to cover the Baltimore Orioles as a beat writer for The Baltimore Sun, a role he would keep through the 1989 season. Even though the team was not always the most exciting to cover in terms of its success on the field, Kurkjian began evolving into even more of a sought-after talent and continued to enhance his career as a journalist. In fact, from the 1982 season-on, Kurkjian has had the opportunity to cover every World Series game for the outlets by which he was employed.
“It was the greatest job I’ve ever had; it was the hardest job I’ve ever had, and it prepared me for every other job I’ve ever had since then,” Kurkjian said of working as a beat writer. “It was so difficult because you’re away from home all the time, and even when you are home, you’re at the ballpark every night. You’re writing four stories a day; you’re writing on deadline; the pressure is enormous especially with the competition of the other newspapers. Once you do that, I think you can do anything else in this business.”
Following the conclusion of the 1989 Orioles season, Kurkjian was hired by Sports Illustrated (SI) as a baseball writer, continuing to cover the players, coaches and other personalities associated with the game. By 1997, Sports Illustrated and CNN had merged to create a sports news network called “CNN/SI,” and Kurkjian and his colleagues were delivered a message straight from upper management.
“The SI people told the writers, including me: ‘All you guys are on TV now,’” Kurkjian said. “I said: ‘I don’t want to do TV.’ They said: ‘You don’t have a choice – we’re doing TV now.’”
And thus, Kurkjian’s career as a television analyst and reporter began, requiring him to learn on the job how to transition his sports reporting, generally written and edited, into transferable, multi-platform content. One year later, Kurkjian made the move to ESPN to serve as a senior writer and a reporter for Baseball Tonight and expected to finally receive the assistance he was anticipating to learn how to work in television.
“I just assumed when I got to ESPN that they would tell me: ‘Okay, we’re going to teach you how to do television,’” Kurkjian said. “[Instead,] they said: ‘Look, there’s no time. You’re a reporter; you’re a writer; you know how to do this,’ and bang, I was on TV every day.”
Kurkjian credits his time working as a baseball beat writer for allowing him to seamlessly make the transition to television, notably his ability to write on deadline. In that instance, the ability to disclose information in a clear and concise manner, while also continuing to remain precise, accurate and fair, was a challenge he was acutely aware of and ready to take on.
“Get to the point and get out of there,” said Kurkjian. “That’s what TV teaches you – efficiency. But I’ve learned to love TV because it’s so spontaneous. For a newspaper, I’d have to wait until the next morning to see my work; at SI, I’d have to wait a whole week to see my work. Now on television, I can weigh in on a World Series game right now, and there’s something really cool about that.”
Journalists who have risen through the industry prior to significant development in the digital age are almost always finding ways to build their own brand and disseminate their content across multiple platforms, regardless if it is written or spoken. Peter Gammons, who began his career at The Boston Globe before moving to Sports Illustrated and ESPN, was, according to Kurkjian, the first writer to appear as a contributor on television while still writing, a practice that has become common.
“To me, Peter is the greatest baseball writer of all-time, and I can’t even begin to tell you the influence he had on me,” Kurkjian said. “….I’ve kind of followed Peter around – and my thinking there is: ‘There’s no better person to follow around than Peter Gammons.’”
As his time at ESPN continued, Kurkjian hosted a special edition of SportsCenter featuring two other baseball writers, Buster Olney and Jayson Stark, to report the news from the perspective of those who work in the press box. Working with both Olney and Stark, Kurkjian learned how to better dissect box scores and be more deft in searching for interesting statistics or notes about the game. From there, he had the opportunity to work on both Wednesday Night Baseball and Monday Night Baseball, and has contributed to Little League World Series coverage across the network, taking his talents into the broadcast booth and, sometimes, adjacent to the dugout.
“I just love being a part of a baseball broadcast because you’re in on every pitch,” said Kurkjian. “….I just hope I get more and more opportunities to do that. I do games on the radio too, [and] I’ve loved every bit of that because I grew up listening to games on the radio like every other dinky little kid in the ‘60s with a transistor radio to my ear.”
This past Sunday, Kurkjian’s family got to watch him receive the honor of a lifetime when he accepted the 2022 BBWAA Career Excellence Award in Cooperstown, officially cementing his place among the legends of the game. Learning he won the award constituted a moment he would never forget, especially receiving the news from former Cincinnati Reds catcher and Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, and the weekend was surely emotional and memorable.
“It’s the greatest achievement of my professional career, and there is not a close second; there will never be a close second,” Kurkjian stated. “This is the greatest honor that a writer can achieve, and to be on the same list with so many great writers over the years from Shirley Povich to Roger Angell to my dear, dear friends Dan Shaughnessy, Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, Rick Hummel – all these guys. There are so many days that I just wake up thinking: ‘This can’t be happening to me.’”
As the game of baseball continues to evolve in its presentation and style of play, Kurkjian hopes that fans appreciate the action on the field rather than being distracted by other debates or small details, including sabermetrics and player valuation. The atmosphere of the ballpark and the unpredictability of the action have nurtured Kurkjian’s love of the game for so many years and it has been the catalyst for all of his other endeavors, including authoring three books.
“I think it’s so critical that we never lose sight that the games are all that truly matters,” Kurkjian said. “….Nothing makes me happier than being at the ballpark and watching a game, and now calling a game or writing about a game. It is still why baseball is the greatest – is the games separate themselves.”
For aspiring journalists who look to cement themselves in the sports media industry, showing up and working hard may seem jaded pieces of advice, but their importance truly cannot be overstated enough. The differentiating factor for Kurkjian that comes from his innate proclivity towards baseball is his curiosity to learn more and be scholastic in his reporting. The writing figured itself out in the end and now Kurkjian is immortalized in a village in upstate New York that oozes a passion and love for the game.
“When something happens, ask yourself: ‘What happened there? When’s the last time I saw that? I need to understand that,’” Kurkjian said. “Then, go ask somebody, preferably the manager or a player: ‘What happened on that play? I need to learn about this.’ That’s the most important thing beyond being prepared and working hard – all the clichés – and it’s just [to] be curious. Open up your eyes and open up your ears to what’s going on around you. You’ll learn an awful lot if you keep doing that.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
In Defense Of Colin Cowherd
“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”
I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.
Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.
Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.
Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?
A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.
That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.
The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.
Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!
This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).
“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.
On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.
Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.
You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?
It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.
Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?
I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.
School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.
Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…
Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.
“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman. “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”
Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.
Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.
This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.
She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.
“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”
Waldman has also changed the industry.
She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.
Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.
“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”
Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.
For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.
“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”
There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.
Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.
It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.
“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”
Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.
And many of these people were co-workers.
“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman.
It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.
She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.
“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t. You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”
There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.
“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”
While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.
The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88. I just wish he were here.”
Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.
Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.
“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.
“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports. You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming. I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”
And made it she did.
And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.
“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman.
Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.
“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.
She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.
“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer. That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”
And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.
But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.
Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.
“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women. I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.”
During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.
But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?
“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”
To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words
“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “
For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.
If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.
So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.
Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.
Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.
Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.
As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.
Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.
When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.
On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.
You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.
Pot, meet kettle.
I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.
Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.
And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.