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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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I love the NFL Draft. I know it’s boring to a lot of people. They see it as nothing more than a televised HR meeting. For me though, it is like a graduation ceremony for college football, which is my favorite sport. The Draft is appointment viewing for me every year.

This year I was especially excited, not just for the draft itself, but because ESPN finally realized that intelligent college football commentary was missing from its panel in the first round. The Mothership added Kirk Herbstreit from College Gameday, and for those of us that prefer the college game, it made a world of difference. It separated ESPN not only from the NFL Network, but also from its own draft telecasts of years past.

One thing that especially stood out to me was how much Herbie seemed to understand his role and was able read his partners for the night. That is what inspired today’s column. Herbstreit was willing to defer to Mel Kiper Jr. often. He seemed to listen with genuine interest when Louis Riddick talked about the realities of the war room on Draft Day. For the first time in years, it seemed like the guys at the center of ESPN’s draft coverage genuinely liked each other.

All of us have been in partnerships where we really like the person that sits across from us. We’ve all been in working relationships where we kind of can’t stand that person too. Do you let the listeners know that is the case? You might, even if you don’t do it on purpose.

Think about the NFL Draft on ESPN the last two seasons, when Jon Gruden was in the chair that belonged to Herbstreit last week. Gruden and Kiper clearly didn’t see eye to eye, and although they tried to end every disagreement with laughter, it came across as exactly what it was – over the top, fake, and meant to distract you from the discord that so clearly exists.

We’re all adults in this business, but we all have egos and feelings. Can you put out a great product if 50% of its success depends on someone you simply do not get along with? I think you can. If the best you can hope for is that you two don’t hate each other, but just aren’t really friends, then you and your partner have to exhibit a level of maturity and respect for one another despite your personal differences.

First, remember that if it happened on-air, it probably wasn’t personal. Anyone that thinks they are being funny can go overboard and that is usually when feelings get hurt. Address it quickly and calmly. The less time these moments have to fester, the better.

If you are the offending party, acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are valid. Don’t tell them to get over it or accuse them of being a cry baby. A quick apology and acknowledgement that you were in the wrong can diffuse tension.

Next, if there is an off-air problem, confront it. Be open and honest about why there is tension. Again, it doesn’t make sense to let these things fester. In this case, no one really has to even apologize. Just do each other the courtesy of letting the other know what is wrong. I know this seems like it would be very uncomfortable, but remember that being awkward about these things significantly hurts your show.

This part will sound like a rule in a 3rd grade classroom, but it is really important. Don’t talk about your problems with your partner behind their back. If you need to have a mediator of some sort, fine. Your PD, or even HR if it gets to that point, can fill that role. You don’t need the show’s dirty laundry aired in a way that creates an environment of “you have to choose sides” in the hallways of your office. Who does that help?

Your gut probably tells you that if you are part of a larger cast that tension with one member is no big deal. That is simply not true, especially if you are constantly talking about that tension behind your partner/adversary’s back. Then you are creating that “you have to choose sides” environment within the show itself. Why would you want to do that?

Finally, don’t bring the bullshit on air, especially if all it is is an accumulation of bullshit. It sounds childish. Moreover, it’s genuinely hard to listen to. Most listeners aren’t prone to take sides if tension exists in your show. They are more likely to seek out an alternative.

I hope this column is one that is not necessary for the majority of people reading it. I was just so overwhelmed by how much more pleasant ESPN’s NFL Draft broadcast was this year, especially because the reason that was the case was so obvious.

A show may be made up of several different personalities. Your listeners may even have favorites or favorite aspects of each individual character. Remember though, the show will always be THE SHOW first and foremost in your listener’s mind. You want to be honest and entertaining, but you also want to protect what you have built. Don’t let personal differences derail your professional accomplishments. Show a little maturity and respect each other enough to be honest and you can avoid the pitfalls that come along from simply being two very different people.

BSM Writers

Domonique Foxworth Is ESPN’s Most Interesting Talent

“Foxworth has that certain star it quality that can be hard to name. Even if you can’t identify what it is, if you identify someone that has it, you have to do all you can to hold on to them as tight as you can.”

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Craig Barritt/Getty Images for EPIX

There are a lot of companies in the sports media world where you can say that a podcast is the most entertaining product they offer. It is rare though that a breakthrough podcast can be subdivided by days of the week and one individual day’s offering stands above not just the rest of the podcast, but everything else under the company’s umbrella.

Enter The Right Time with Bomani Jones. The ESPN podcast enjoyed tremendous growth during the Covid-19 pandemic and as a result, the network asked Jones to expand his offerings from two days per week to three. That gave birth to the best thing ESPN does on any platform – Foxworth Fridays.

Courtesy: Gabe Basane

Of course Domonique Foxworth makes The Right Time better. He has had a habit of making everything he touches with the ESPN brand on it better since joining the company in 2016.

Rarely does any network find a talent that has the ability to hang in every conversation and be relatable to everyone on whatever set he is on. Foxworth has that certain star it quality that can be hard to name. Even if you can’t identify what it is, if you identify someone that has it, you have to do all you can to hold on to them as tight as you can.

Domonique Foxworth has a unique background. He was an All-ACC defensive back at Maryland before being taken in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He then spent seven seasons in the NFL, playing in Denver, Atlanta, and Baltimore. He was the youngest player to become vice president of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee, and in 2012 became one of the youngest players to be elected president of the NFL Players Association.

When his playing days were done, Foxworth went to Harvard to get an MBA. Then he became COO of the NBA Players Association.

Everything he says comes from a place of knowledge and conviction. He also has a wicked sense of humor. That means Domonique Foxworth can make ESPN’s talking head shows smarter and he can make its smart shows and prestige platforms more fun.

I always enjoy seeing Domonique show up on Get Up. That show is loaded with ex-NFL players. Foxworth keeps the proceedings from turning into an echo chamber though. He is the only one that is on the show regularly that can speak to what it is like to walk into camp not knowing if or when his name was going to be called to come to the coach’s office and turn in his playbook. He is the only one that can talk with experience and intelligence about collective bargaining agreements and what the realities are when labor disputes happen.

As of this writing, these are the places you will see, hear or read Domonique Foxworth regularly on ESPN: The Undefeated, Get Up, The Right Time with Bomani Jones, SportsCenter, Around the Horn and Highly Questionable. He also shows up on other podcasts when needed.

That is a lot of work. ESPN doesn’t seem to be in the habit of paying talented people more to do more these days. So if the network wants to see Foxworth’s profile continue to grow, what more can they do with him?

My gut instinct is radio. On his Foxworth Friday appearances with Jones, he has proven to have a casual delivery and a quick wit. He is also a great storyteller. I am skeptical though that ESPN and Foxworth could find the right formula to get the dynamite product he delivers for just 40 minutes one day per week when the demand is two-to-three hours per day, five days per week.

Are you putting Bomani back on the radio with Foxworth and giving them the same producers to recreate the environment they already thrive in as much as possible? Even that is no guarantee burnout doesn’t set in. Do you pair him with someone like Mike Golic Jr? I think they would make an interesting duo, but GoJo and Bo are two very different personalities. That could mean you get a very different version of Foxworth.

Maybe we have to consider that as ESPN and other linear TV networks value talking heads less and live play-by-play rights more, Foxworth will have to look elsewhere to fully blossom into a media star. Certainly there are more employment options than ever before for a guy like him.

Domonique Foxworth Signs Multi-Year Extension with The Undefeated - ESPN  Press Room U.S.
Credit: Randy Sager / ESPN Images

I remain hopeful that a guy as talented as Domonique Foxworth finds a way to continue to thrive with a promotion machine like ESPN behind him. People with unique perspectives need to be on the biggest platforms available. It is not just good for their brand, it is good for sports media in general. It keeps the business from becoming a echo chamber of takes.

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ESPN Deserves Praise For Handling Of Christian Eriksen Collapse

“Raw but professional. That is how I would describe what I saw.”

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We have seen crazy moments happen at sporting events. We have seen wilder, more inexplicable moments. It is hard to think of something more frightening than what happened on the pitch in Copenhagen on Saturday afternoon.

During the 43rd minute of Denmark’s opening match of the Euro 2020 tournament, the national team’s star midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. It wasn’t a contact injury. It wasn’t one of soccer’s theatrical ploys to get a penalty called. He just staggered forward and collapsed on the field. The referees were called over to check on Eriksen. They then called out the medical staff and for the next twenty plus minutes, we held our breaths.

Denmark's Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field against Finland. - The  New York Times
Courtesy: Martin Meiser

You can search out the video of the collapse for yourself. It is strange at first glance. It is disturbing when you know what the next few minutes held.

The match was eventually suspended and that put ESPN in an inconvenient situation. The network had to fill more than an hour with studio programming it hadn’t planned for and really couldn’t look to any road map to follow. The end product wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect for the moment, striking the right balance of human emotion and reaction to what Eriksen’s predicament meant in both the present moment and moving forward for the tournament.

ESPN’s coverage was divided into two teams. Sebastian Salazar lead the team of former Austrian defender Christian Fuchs and former Scottish midfielder Craig Burley at the desk. There was also a less formal set where host Kelly Cates was joined by English soccer legend Steve McManaman, American forward Taylor Twellman and referee Mark Clattenburg gathered in recliners to discuss the action. Both groups did an excellent job of not only reacting, but holding my attention. It was the desk crew, led bu Burley’s utter disbelief at what was happening, that was the real standout though.

Craig Burley absolutely earned my respect as a broadcaster and analyst. He was the antithesis of the stereotype of a “Scottish soccer hooligan,” giving detailed and emotional explanations of how the moment effected him. He said plainly that this was the most disturbing thing he had ever seen happen at the Euro tournament. He openly struggled with how to make sense of Christian Eriksen, laying motionless and receiving CPR and hits from defibrillator paddles while all his girlfriend could do was stand on the Danish sideline and watch.

Probably his most skilled and astute moment came when he was asked what UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, should do about the match between Russia and Belgium that was supposed to start after the conclusion of Denmark vs. Finland. There wasn’t an ounce of doubt in Burley’s response. The only correct answer in his opinion was to cancel that match. After all, five players scheduled to take the pitch in that match were current or former teammates of Eriksen’s in his club career.

“It’s difficult around here,” he said, making it clear that the thought of starting a second match was absolutely absurd. “Human beings are involved. People are not robots.” 

Burley and Fuchs react to Eriksen collapsing during the Denmark vs. Finland  match | Watch ESPN
Courtesy: ESPN

McManaman said something similar from his recliner. He also could not believe we were talking about trying to play another match today. Instead of speaking on the emotions of the players involved, “Maca” tried to give the viewers an idea of the difficulty this situation puts on managers and UEFA officials. He found the balance of human emotion and explanation of the strategy involved in trying to get a team ready for action in an emotional atmosphere like this one.

Raw but professional. That is how I would describe what I saw. Twellman, a rising star at ESPN beyond just the network’s soccer coverage, came under fire from some fans for what they perceived as Twellman speculating about Eriksen’s diagnosis. Twellman made it clear that he was telling the audience what he heard from a doctor watching the events unfold. In my mind, that isn’t very different from any network turning to their medical correspondent or injury expert. The only difference is the information was being filtered through a third party.

He also caught heat for what some thought was criticizing the reaction of the paramedic staff on hand, taking nearly two minutes to begin administering CPR. That one is a little harder to defend, but my argument would be that we were all scared for Christian Eriksen and trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed. Taylor Twellman just had the misfortune of going through those emotions and reacting on live television. Can’t he and ESPN be forgiven for a misstep in the moment?

Over at the desk, Sebastian Salazar did a masterful job of leading the conversation and making sure the viewers that were flipping over to ESPN after learning about what happened to Christian Eriksen had all of the most up to date information. He was the one that first revealed the photo of Eriksen sitting up, seemingly responsive as paramedics took him off the field. His state had initially been in question, because medical professionals and Eriksen’s Danish teammates formed a barricade and used curtains to keep cameras from seeing everything that was going on.

Salazar was also the first to read the statement from UEFA that told fans Christian Eriksen was at the hospital. The Danish star had been stabilized. It was no longer the life or death situation that had us all on the edge of our seats.

“That is the best outcome we could have seen today,” Burley said. He was talking about Eriksen’s healthy. Surely, that deserves all of the focus and excitement here, but it is also fair to say that “the best outcome we could have seen today” is the only fair description for ESPN’s effort in difficult and upsetting circumstances.

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BSM Writers

T-Bone Found His Groove And Has Been Going Ever Since

“I think, obviously, you have to have some level of talent to do what we do, but I think there are far more talented people than me that for whatever reason, life’s circumstances prevented them from sticking around.”

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The hate mail was consistent. Sometimes intense.

It kept coming and coming…for six months, according to Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith, who had the unenviable task of replacing a popular sports host in Columbus, Ohio, named Scott Torgerson, after he was fired for a controversial tweet involving Desmond Howard in October 2012.

Fast forward to the soon-to-be summer of 2021; no more hate mail (at least on that subject), and it’s eight and a half years of success (the ratings back it up) for “Common Man and T-Bone,” the afternoon show that anchors the successful (the ratings back that up, too) 97.1 The Fan.

Common Man and T-Bone and Monster at Kroger Brewers Yard on November 23,  2018 | The Fan 97.1 FM
Courtesy: 97.1 the Fan

Barrett Sports Media scored an interview with “T-Bone,” the “round mound” of Columbus sports radio. It soon became clear that the path to afternoon show stardom was one-third talent, one-third hard work, and one-third “good fortune” for T-Bone.

Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith is a Columbus kid, born-and-raised, who would play basketball outside, then come inside and turn on the radio to hear the Fabulous Sports Babe, Paul Harvey and Dan Patrick, among other radio stars.

“I had always been interested by the idea that you could talk in the microphone and have a bunch of people hear what you had to say,” T-Bone said. He said by the age of 10, he knew he wanted to be on the radio, “some way, somehow.”

In the seventh grade, he listened attentively as a twelfth-grader at his small Liberty Christian Academy school read the morning announcements. That twelfth-grader eventually got a job working at Columbus radio station WUFM 88.7, a Christian rock station. T-Bone followed in the same footsteps. T-Bone started reading the morning announcements as an eleventh-grader, and after high school, he knocked on WUFM’s doors to volunteer on the street team. But the receptionist there had other ideas.

“She said, ‘Do you want to be on air or do you want to do the street team?'” he remembered.  “It’s OK, we’ll train you,” she said, after the 19-year-old radio rookie said he wanted to be on-air but had no experience.

By December 2001, six months after donning the high school cap and gown, T-Bone was on the air. During his six years at the station, he did afternoons, nights, and had a stint as the promotions director, too. He had been attending Ohio State, but exited the school to focus on his on-air work full time at WUFM.

Feeling that the religious format was no longer a good fit, coupled with his desire to do more of a talk-based show, he left WUFM in 2008. With no college degree, T-Bone took a customer service job with BMW (yes, that BMW) Financial Services. He was on the phone, a lot, but he liked to talk, a lot, so…it worked out. Plus, it made him more money than what he was making at WUFM. Still, he yearned for that talk-show style program. So T-Bone started a podcast that focused on his love of soccer. His studio? A spare bedroom in his Columbus-area home.

Turns out, Ivan Lee of 1010 WINS in New York City heard his podcast, and offered to air it on a little-known streaming entity called Chat About It, which no longer exists.

Slowly, T-Bone’s name was getting out there.

He swears he got his next radio job, as an afternoon show producer for Sports WONE-AM (980) in Dayton, Ohio, because he had that Big Apple reference on his resume. T-Bone would drive, each day, from Columbus to Dayton (60 miles) to produce and then later host a sports show. After a year of racking up thousands of frequent driver miles, he left Dayton for good in 2011. And he almost gave up his dream of having a long on-air career in radio for good.

“I told my wife, give me a year to get something better (in radio) and (if not), I’ll get a degree, get a better job, give up on the radio thing,” T-Bone told BSM.

Thankfully, the radio gods didn’t make him wait that long. In September 2011, he heard that WBNS-FM, 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, was looking to hire an afternoon show producer for “Common Man and The Torg,” Mike Ricordati and Scott Torgerson. T-Bone applied, and got the job. He told BSM that he could feel the chemistry between the three sports-crazed men, and that made it all the more difficult for T-Bone when, just five or six months into producing the afternoon show, T-Bone thought about applying to become the host of “The Buckeye Show,” which aired after “Common Man and The Torg.”

“I remember, clear as day,” T-Bone said of his walk with Torgerson to get lunch at Chipotle in the spring of 2012, “I said to Torg, ‘I’m thinking of applying to that because I would like to do on-air stuff, but I wouldn’t do it unless you guys are cool with it because I came here to be your producer.’…He said, ‘Ah, dude, you should definitely do it.’ He was very supportive. Mike was very supportive. Torg even said, ‘Hey, you may not get it, but at least it shows them that you’re interested.'”

T-Bone ended up getting the position. He hosted The Buckeye Show from the summer of 2012 until December of that year, when Ricordati hinted to T-Bone that he wanted T-Bone to become the permanent co-host on the afternoon show, after Torgerson’s dismissal from the station.

January to June of 2013 was a true test of resiliency for T-Bone. He was in the more prominent time slot, paired with the more established host (Ricordati), replacing the popular guy known by one syllable — “Torg.”

Columbus radio host Scott Torgerson fired for controversial tweet

“Scott (Torgerson) is a really interesting guy. I had a different kind of personality that I think took some getting used to for some people and that’s totally understandable,” T-Bone, who considers “Torg” a friend to this day, told BSM. “After six months or so, things settled down…and I was able to find a groove and we’ve been going ever since.”

“Common Man and T-Bone” are a consistent top-three in the Men 25-54 demographic. The two fellers have an all-comers appeal — not too old, not too young…they can get serious about the Buckeyes and then laugh about Nick Castellanos’ antics on the baseball field…the show isn’t fast-paced and cutthroat like many shows in the Northeast, but never puts you to sleep, either. To steal a line from Adult Contemporary Radio, “Common Man and T-Bone” is that show that “everyone at work can agree on.”

“We’re going to pay more attention to the culture and the conversation around the games as opposed to the actual in-game everyday (nuts and bolts),” T-Bone told BSM.

And the conversation that’s created by Ricordati and T-Bone gives the two a chance to show off their similar senses of humor, as T-Bone described it.

The Columbus market has a little bit of everybody. While the Buckeyes are the No. 1 draw, people come from all areas of Ohio and beyond to call Columbus home. T-Bone said after Ohio State, NFL talk is what interests most sports fans in Columbus. It doesn’t have to be just about the Browns or Bengals, though Browns fans are more dominant in Columbus. T-Bone believes the Indians have more fans in Columbus than the Reds these days, though it wasn’t like that in the late ’80s and early ’90s, according to T-Bone, when the Reds were busy going wire-to-wire and winning the 1990 World Series. Columbus sports fans also like to discuss what’s happening with the Blue Jackets and Crew.

Sometimes, Jonathan “T-Bone” Smith walks into the 97.1 The Fan studio and may have to pinch himself. At age 38, he’s living out his dream, hosting a sports radio show, on one of the highest-rated sports stations in the country, in his hometown.

“I think, obviously, you have to have some level of talent to do what we do,” T-Bone told BSM, “but I think there are far more talented people than me that for whatever reason, life’s circumstances prevented them from sticking around. Talent is very important, but I think availability is extremely important. An ability to shake off your bad days is really important because I’ve had a ton of them. Talent matters, but the ability to stick with it is what matters more.”

T-Bone at Harry Buffalo on March 15, 2018 | The Fan 97.1 FM
Courtesy: 97.1 the Fan

T-Bone added this note to aspiring on-air talents: “When an opportunity presents itself, if you’ve done the work, if you’ve prepared, if you have talent, then you can step in and hopefully hit a home run; or a single, if that’s what they’re asking for…just don’t strike out.”

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