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Will Cain has Opinions Not Hot Takes

Brandon Contes

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Will Cain is more than a conservative voice for ESPN. While watching Cain on First Take and listening to him weekdays from 3 – 6pm ET on ESPN radio, you’ll quickly learn political ideals do not define Will Cain as a sports personality.

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At a time when many media platforms attempt to talk politics hoping to generate a buzz, Cain, a former political analyst, wants to focus on sports and enjoys doing so.  Cain is passionate about sports, but more than that, he’s passionate about being inventive, offering opinions, debate, and learning from others.

Cain’s time as a political analyst fueled his desire to find mediums which would allow him to offer honest opinions through debate and helped groom him as an entertaining media personality in any format.  After joining ESPN in 2015, his rapid rise at the network now sees him as a regular contributor to First Take, one of ESPN’s most successful television shows, and hosting his own daily national radio show, which launched earlier this year.

Cain’s goal is to make the listener think by engaging in unique, entertaining conversations.  I was able to sit down with Will and have an interesting conversation of our own about his growing role at ESPN.

Brandon Contes: The radio show is about 10 months young now, is it going how you would like it to go?

Will Cain: A radio show is a living breathing thing, every day is different and I can’t hope to achieve perfection every time.  I have lessons to take home at the end of a three hour show and we’re always thinking of ways to get better, but the core of who we are and what we want to do on this show has largely been established.

First and foremost, I want to talk about sports and we do that every day.  We, meaning me and all the guys who work on this show…we love football, basketball, baseball, we love sports and our goal every day is to have conversations that the audience is in on, but in interesting and unique ways.

Second, I do think I have a perspective, maybe a worldview or a way of thinking that’s different than most people in this business, so I hope that I can bring unique angles, frames and thoughts to the radio show.  Essentially, our identity has been established, day in and day out we’re true to ourselves, but have we achieved perfection and do I walk home every night saying another one over the fence?  No.

BC: You said your plan every day is to talk sports, so did you find that transition difficult at all going from your political background to talking sports…not only from your perspective, but the audience’s perspective from a credibility standpoint?

WC: From my perspective, I didn’t find it difficult at all.  I found it refreshing.  One of the interesting things that we’ve experienced is a lot of people in sports, and not just in this company, but the sports industry in general…seem to have a desire to talk politics.  I came from the other direction, I came with a desire to talk sports.

Maybe I got it out of my system, maybe I know what I signed up for, but I don’t find it difficult at all. I find it fun, exciting and refreshing when I wake up every day to think, why is that quarterback doing awesome and that one over there sucking.  I never want to talk about the latest tie-in to the political news cycle that I can find.

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Is it difficult for the audience? Maybe on the surface… I don’t know…honestly, I don’t concern myself with other people’s opinions too often.  I know that sounds like an easy, popular, cool thing to say, but I certainly can’t go about my days worrying what others might think about me because…I would just be a weather vane.

BC: I’ve asked that question to athletes before, because someone like Jalen Rose, the audience knows him because he played basketball.  So if they see him talking football or baseball, a lot of fans look at it and say…what does he know about those sports, he played basketball.  It doesn’t necessarily make sense, but he still needs to earn the trust of listeners. Did you ever find yourself trying to come up with a unique angle or hot take…just to prove you’re all-in on sports?

WC: No, I just don’t do things to try and prove it to other people.  I don’t.

But, you asked about a unique angle. I certainly want to come every day with that, I don’t believe in hot takes.  By the way…will you define hot takes for me?  What does that mean?

BC: An opinion you’re not necessarily all-in on yourself, but know it’s going to generate a reaction from the audience.

WC: Okay, I’ve never done that, not one time.  Not one time, three hours a day, five days a week, I’ve never done that.

BC: I think you do get it a lot in radio, not you personally, but I think plenty of hosts do it.  Probably less often with solo hosts, you’ll hear it more with co-hosts because they feel the need to have a different opinion and argument for the same topic.

WC: I think you’re right by the way, that’s the popular definition of a hot take.  It requires you to know someone else’s motivation and intention.  When you accuse someone of a hot take, you’re not just saying what I am saying on its face is a hot take, you’re saying that I’m doing it to get attention, that I don’t believe it.  I can look you deep in the eye and tell you that I have never once done that on First Take or this radio show…that doesn’t mean I’m not accused of it.  I’m accused of it all the time.

I think what a lot of people yell hot take at are opinions that they’ve never even considered.  If it’s outside of their traditional line of thought or constricted world view, and I’m talking about the person that’s yelling hot take, if it’s outside of those things, then they think it must come from a bad place of motivation.  So I generally hate the term hot take because I think people use it to yell at thoughts that they’ve never even considered.

BC: When you were in the media as a political analyst, did you have a desire to get into sports?  Or did you think you would be doing political shows for the rest of your career.

WC: I probably thought I would be doing political shows.

The true line for what I do in the media, and this sounds generic, but I don’t care…I want to have interesting conversations.  When I first got into this, I was an entrepreneur and created a television pilot that I thought I’d try to sell to CNN or somewhere.  I hadn’t really sent out a resume and tried to get a job in media. The pilot I created had nothing to do with politics, it had to do with ideas. Deeper ideas like what is taxation, or where are we with race in America.  Those are interesting conversations for me.  Politics became the vehicle for a lot of those conversations.

I cared less about who would win the Nevada senatorial race, I cared more about the ideas that dictated those outcomes.  Being naïve drove me to think I could have these honest, deep conversations, but as time went on it became clear there are very few mainstream outlets where that happens.  I think it’s happening more now with podcasts and YouTube shows.

When it came to sports, which I was a fan of since I’ve been six years old, it just became the next vehicle for me to have interesting conversations, and ones that I was already having with my friends.

BC: So how did you get from those political shows to ESPN and what led to the quick rise?  You got here in 2015 and here you are on First Take, one of the most successful TV shows they have and then you’re hosting a daily three hour radio show.

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WC: How did I get here…it’s actually not a very interesting answer because the way I got to ESPN is through relationships, agents and talent evaluators.  I don’t mean that’s not cool, but Rob Savinelli is head of the talent department here and saw me on CNN, he saw something in me he thought would translate across different topics, he’s the main reason I’m at ESPN, but agents also played a big role.

A long time ago, I was brought in to shoot a radio pilot with Tony Reali, which now that I think about it, was probably in this studio.  That was my first relationship with ESPN.

BC: How long ago?

WC: Maybe 12 or 13 years ago?  Then time passed, we both moved on, but in 2014 and 15 the communication started again and still a lot of that is driven by agents and Rob. I met with the president, John Skipper. During that whole time period, I’m proving if I know sports, it’s a pretty mechanical process…

Why the rise?  Because I’m really good at what I do…

And earlier you asked about credibility, the most common feedback I get from this radio show, which I love, is ‘I hated you, but now you’re my favorite at ESPN.’  I think that has to do with the credibility question, because they think of me one way…they think of me as political or conservative, argumentative or just the guy on First Take that’s always debating Stephen A.

The audience comes with these ideas, but if they take some time to listen, maybe it’s the unique way I look at sports or the fact that I can laugh at myself. I take what I say seriously, but not myself seriously…whatever it may be, after they spend some time and I become a human being to them, the credibility comes in what I say.

You also mentioned Jalen and talking about football, I understand somebody at first saying…wait he’s a basketball player talking about football…but if you give him a minute and listen to him, you judge him on what is actually coming out of his mouth.  I get a lot of people to judge me and if they spend a little time, I’m comfortable with where they come down on my credibility and quality of what I do.

BC: You said you’re really good at what you do…what are your goals going forward?  Stephen A. is a superstar on TV and the radio, but he still talks about wanting to move First Take into primetime and possibly trying a late night talk show again, so what would be the next step for you?

WC: First of all, I want to be doing what I’m doing now, I want to have a daily, solo radio show.  I want to build an audience that understands who I am and comes here knowing what this is…it’s a place where your thoughts and ideas will be challenged.  I think that’s really lacking in society.  I think we’re in the process of building walls around our opinions and identities and protecting ourselves from anything that might threaten in anyway.  That’s not what this show is, this show is where you come to have everything you are and everything you believe challenged, including me…and I love radio because that’s where you can do that.

But I do want more.  I think that place in the media is wide open.  I want to create more platforms, I’m not sure what yet, but maybe it’s debate, maybe it’s on TV, but I want to be entrepreneurial in finding ways to have challenging, entertaining, fun, provocative conversations.  I know those are a bunch of generic buzzwords, but I can’t emphasize enough that I feel like everything the media has moved toward is just giving people what they already believe.

BC: Does First Take help fill that wide open space in media for debate and honest conversation where the audience is aware of any preconceived views?

WC: First Take is the best debate show in traditional television. It’s honest, it’s real, and it’s competitive. And it’ll make all the usual suspects insane to hear it, but news media would do well to learn from it.

BC: Is First Take a valuable form of promoting your radio show?

WC: First Take is one of the highest rated shows, and importantly, most relevant shows in all of sports. Athletes, owners, other media members and fans all watch First Take. It sets the agenda for much of sports talk. It’s an incredibly valuable promotional vehicle for my show. But I love First Take and did so before I had the radio show. I like the format, the people, and the concept. I love debate.

BC: Did you ever have a radio show before joining ESPN?

WC: I did a Saturday morning radio show co-hosted with S.E. Cupp for about a year.

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BC: So still very new to the radio industry?

WC: Absolutely.

BC: Being that Max Kellerman and Stephen A. have been so successful in radio and you’re on First Take regularly, do you ever pick their brain about radio?

WC: Max and I are friendly, we enjoy each other’s debate, we haven’t talked a lot about radio.  Stephen A. is someone who has been a sounding board for pretty much everything I do, meaning radio, TV, behind the scenes career stuff, I’m not going to pretend he is necessarily my mentor, but if I have on-air things that I am worried about, he would be the first person I will call.

BC: How involved are you in developing topics for the radio show?

WC: I don’t want to say I’m 100% responsible because it’s a team effort, but it’s definitely all driven around my opinion about whatever is going on.  The night before, we start emailing each other about stories we want to do or think we’re going to do tomorrow.  We have our meeting before the show where we narrow in on the four or five big topics we’re going to do on the show and frame them.

I used to talk to Ryen Russillo about this in terms of radio conversations.  You know the difference between a Jackson Pollock painting and wallpaper?  A frame…one is put into a frame and called art, the other is put on a wall and called wallpaper.  I don’t mean to diminish Jackson Pollock as an artist, but the frame becomes very important.

Think about what your eyes take in on a daily basis vs. a photograph. The difference is the photograph has a frame around it.  Every conversation we have has to be put into a frame. You can’t just take a game from the night before and say let’s talk about the game.  What frame are you putting it in? That’s how you create conversations on the radio.

BC: How about the First Take topics you contribute to? Being that it’s a debate format, the show needs to offer the audience different opinions. If a topic is presented and everyone agrees with it, does it just get thrown out?  Or do you need to take an argumentative stance regardless?

WC: I have a ton of input in developing the topics I contribute to on First Take. I want to say something and be clear about it. A lot of people believe First Take debates are manufactured, fake or we are acting. 100% false…We either have disagreement, or it doesn’t go in the show.  Now, sometimes it takes work to find angles of disagreement, while other times it’s obvious and there is very little discussion ahead of time. In those cases, someone will give their opinion and his opposition will just say, “Put it on the board”. As for me, I send in thoughts and takes by email the night before so they can see what I think and where I’ll fit.

BC: Did you have radio hosts that you listened to that you looked up to?

WC: Well obviously Howard Stern is the greatest of all time.  I was a massive fan of The Ticket in Dallas when growing up and I still listen to them.  The Morning Musers, George Dunham, Craig Miller and Gordon Keith, who I think is a genius at radio.  Later in my life, I’ve started to listen to LeBatard and I think he is really good at what he does.  I take lessons from him even though we’re not doing the same kind of show.

BC: One of the things Howard Stern does better than anyone else, is making the audience feel like they’re part of the show, like a fraternity…do you feel a connection to your audience 10 months in?

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WC: I do, and that’s part of the unfinished process.  You asked me where I am 10 months in and what I want going forward…I want to have an audience that knows why they’re coming to where they are and what they’re going to get.  First of all, we’re talking about the greatest of all time, and second, we’re talking about a guy who has been doing it for decades, but it’s enviable, that should be all of our goals to create something like that.

The callers that call in to tell me I’m wrong and say ‘I disagree with everything you say, but I love hearing you say it…you make me think’…that’s important.  Also Howard’s, and this is harder for me sometimes, but the exposure of his personal life, his vulnerability as a human being.  The incorporation of the people around him and their personal dynamics…that’s all important as well.

BC: Is it ever difficult being in Connecticut?  You’re near the New York and Boston markets where there are great local stations.  The public is talking about Yankees, Red Sox, Jets, Giants, Patriots, but then you’re not on terrestrial radio here, so you might need to be talking about college football.

WC: No, I don’t feel like everyone around here is interested in something that I’m not.

BC: So you’re able to completely separate the community you’re building in radio vs the community you live in.

WC: Yeah, definitely.  My personal life and career have been modeled on being in places where I’m different.  Texas kid who wanted to go to school in California, small town Texas conservative Christian that moved to the upper west side of New York.  You can’t make me be in a more different place and I like that.

BC: Do you have a preference, TV or radio?

WC: I don’t think I should have to choose.

BC: Is one more pressure than the other?

WC: I don’t think so, but I also don’t have my own TV show.  First Take is very near and dear to my heart, and I feel a part of that family, but it’s not my own.

BC: But you’re still on it regularly, you have specific segments you need to debate, it’s more scheduled.  Whereas radio, certainly still has pressure to be successful, but you have more freedom, more of a creative release.

WC: Yep, and more responsibility.  This is my thing.  It’s my name on this, I will ultimately be the person responsible for the success or failure of the radio show.

BC: You would not consider your show a conservative sports show, it is just a sports show, right?

WC: Absolutely! (Will said emphatically)

BC: Is it relevant that some refer to you as a conservative host?

WC: Other people think my politics are more important to me than I do.  They’re just part of who I am, but they’re below my world view.  I do have a world view, so does every radio host and every human being, but my world view isn’t also my political view.  If you put a bunch of conservatives in a room together, they’re still going to disagree on things like parenting, cheating and sports.

This idea that conservative is at the top of the definitions of who I am…other people feel that way, I don’t feel that way. Now…is it a slice of the pie for me? Yeah, I’m a traditionalist to some extent, but I’m also a risk taker. I’ve started companies and all of these things go into the opinions I have on whether or not Odell Beckham Jr. is embodying good leadership…not my politics.

BC: If you were the same person, the same show, same opinions, but you were never on CNN or on shows as a political analyst, I don’t think the conservative narrative would be discussed much.

WC: They would start thinking about things like, where are you from, what’s your family like, how did you grow up, what are your values, and those are all big parts of me.

And by the way, I’m not running from this idea that I’m conservative, because I feel like media fails right out of the gates with this.  What’s our job?  To tell the truth is our number one job and I think 95% of the media stumbles on that by lying to the audience and trying to tell them you don’t have an opinion or bias, that you’re objective in telling it the way it is.  BS…you’re not.  So I try to be honest, this is who I am and this is what I believe.

I’m not running from the idea that I might have some conservative political beliefs, but I want the audience to know that and then if they disagree with me, they can discount that bias by having the full knowledge that it’s there.  I’m not going to stumble out of the gates by lying to them.  Here’s who I am, now you can do with it what you want.

BC: Before joining ESPN, could you have envisioned sports and politics getting intertwined as much as it is now?

WC: I certainly didn’t see any of that coming. I didn’t see politics becoming such an important part of every piece of entertainment.  Would I have thought in 2015 that my world view might have been unique? Yeah, I might have thought that. And that could contribute to some interesting conversations, specifically in places like First Take that’s centered around debate. Stephen A. and I might see something differently.  Not even a big important issue, but little issues – again, is this good leadership by Odell Beckham Jr..  We might see it differently because of our worldviews, but I never thought about that as like… Well, my politics will come in handy here.

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BC: How does a sports host balance politics and sports, knowing that you can be at risk for alienating an audience?

WC: What you’re asking is a judgement call and it’s a judgement call made every day on every topic by every host and my judgement is this: am I doing this for me or am I doing it for the audience?  Is this a topic of interest to the audience that put ESPN on that day for a reason, or am I doing it because I have some things near and dear to my heart that I need to get off my chest? If I’m doing it for those reasons, then I’m not making the right judgment call.  Now if it’s why the audience is here, or maybe even around it in some way, then now we’re talking about something we should entertain.

I think our job is to be able to try and have those conversations in the least partisan way that we can.  I don’t want to do any partisan talk. I do want to talk about issues – I will talk about that when they’re connected to sports and I think the audience is interested in it, but stay away from left, right, Republican, Democrat.

BC: That’s not a question just for your show, I think that’s a question for anybody talking sports right now just because it is intertwined, at times, with social issues.  That balance of how do you navigate talking about those issues and still making sure that your show is giving the audience what they’re tuning into ESPN for is important.

WC: 100% correct…and I would add one more thing to that.  If we do get into areas where we’re talking about those kinds of topics, I think it’s important, and this goes back to the identity of this show, it’s important that it is an open conversation. Here is my point of view – I’ve talked to you about my bias, you’re aware of who I am. I will tell you that I think you’re wrong on this, but I’m not closing you out, I’m not demeaning what you believe.  There’s the phone number, here’s the Twitter feed, you can join the conversation and I will entertain the idea that I’m wrong and I will hear your point of view out. So many shows, channels, mediums, close out and dismiss from the conversation, people who disagree with them, or things they didn’t consider. That’s not what this show is.

BC: I think that’s the beauty of radio.  Even if one listener with a different opinion doesn’t call, someone else will call or you’ll have a guest on that has a different idea, so multiple viewpoints are always represented.

WC: We go out of our way to find people who disagree with us, especially on these kinds of topics.

BC: Which brings it back to being entertaining and prevents a show from alienating an audience – If the opposing point is represented, they’re not going to change the channel, even if it’s not the host’s point.

WC: I think that’s one of the reasons…and maybe this takes us full circle, why I will hear that biggest compliment, ‘I disagree with so much what you say, I used to hate you, but now you’re my favorite.’

Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.

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BSM Writers

Who is Next if Charles Barkley Leaves NBA Television?

“Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Charles Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games.”

Jason Barrett

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Say it ain’t so Charles! TNT’s shaky future with the NBA has pushed Charles Barkley to the brink of exiting television. Though it’s possible his remarks on Friday night were voiced to put pressure on the league to do business with TNT or to increase offers from other networks, if he is being truthful, next season will be the last hurrah for Sir Charles on Inside The NBA. With no Barkley on the show, it likely creates additional changes as well.

Should Barkley depart, many will be sad and disappointed. However, once time passes, the love and appreciation for what Inside The NBA delivered will be remembered forever. Simply put, it’s one of the best shows ever created on sports television.

The NBA’s move away from TNT opens the door for NBC and Amazon to build their own NBA programs. ESPN meanwhile will likely fine tune their roster and approach to try and seize the opening created by TNT’s best show going away.

But subtraction doesn’t always lead to addition for networks. There still needs to be something special to entice viewers to watch. A perfect example is this year’s NBA crew on ESPN. Mike Breen is still exceptional but the chemistry with Doris Burke and JJ Redick isn’t close to what existed with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson. When people know each other, like each other, and understand what each brings to the table, chemistry is produced. That is the special ingredient that has made Inside The NBA a hit for decades.

Many entertaining and interesting analysts grace the television airwaves today, but none are Barkley. His exit would create a massive issue for the NBA as it would take away its top TV star, and the league’s best program outside of games. Increased rights fees can be celebrated all day long, but being talked about before and after the games is vital. That’s what Inside The NBA delivers unlike any other NBA program.

So that raises an important question, if Chuck leaves, who’s next?

Draymond Green is an obvious choice, and the odds on favorite. TNT has been including him on shows for a while now so he can blend in with Shaq, Kenny, and Ernie. He’s a champion, well spoken, unafraid to speak his mind, and is an accomplished host at The Volume. His familiarity with younger viewers is another advantage. The only issues, he’s not as funny as Barkley, and he may wish to continue playing. If he does, that creates a problem. Should he choose to retire after the 2024-2025 season, and if the Warriors part ways with Steve Kerr, could Green’s coach join him on set? Kerr did work for TNT before heading to Golden State.

LeBron James will likely be pursued too, likely even more than Green given his star power. But are networks going to want to pay the game’s most popular player Tom Brady money to work on a pre/post game show? Is that really what LeBron wants to do? If the cast involved LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or a mixture of LeBron’s friends, maybe that gets his attention. But James can create his own content and make millions off of it. There’s also no guarantee he leaves after next year especially if his son doesn’t get drafted.

Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are two other talented stars with strong chemistry who could sit opposite Shaq and command the viewers attention. They’re not Barkley, but they’re stars with chemistry who alongside Shaq could speak the same language. Pierce especially has shown he’s unafraid to speak his mind. Plus networks do like personalities with ties to popular teams such as the Lakers and Celtics. I personally can’t see the network turning to Paul and Kevin to fill Barkley’s spot. If LeBron and Draymond are still playing though, and nobody can fill Chuck’s shoes, adding championship players with chemistry isn’t a bad Plan B.

Vince Carter, Jamaal Crawford and Steve Smith were mentioned by Barkley as guys he could potentially pass the baton to. I can’t see that happening. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Robin Lopez, Kevin Love, and Andre Iguodala may also be options if they desire to work in TV. Each offers insight, personality and an ability to speak and present themselves well on camera. Most are accomplished and familiar to NBA fans too. Steph Curry will also be courted by networks when he stops playing. I just can’t see him leaving in a year. He’s more reserved, though his dad has excelled as a television analyst in Charlotte.

Barring something out of the box being done such as a network luring Michael Jordan to television, Bill Simmons being hired or the next crew featuring coaches such as Kerr, Erik Spoelstra, and Doc Rivers or the Van Gundy Brothers and Mark Jackson, replacing Barkley is a tall order. His exit likely means Kenny and Ernie go too. Shaq is the one of the four who could transition to a new cast. He has more years ahead if he wishes to stay involved.

All good things do eventually come to an end but there’s plenty of gas left in the tank for Barkley and Inside The NBA. Holding on to the show for a few more years makes the most sense right now. The league is in even stronger financial shape following new rights deals with networks. As big as those wins are though, they’ll feel much less special if its flagship program and top television star are gone after next season.

Barrett Media Music Update:

Last week I revealed that Ron Harrell, Robby Bridges, and Kevin Robinson were joining our Music Radio writing team starting July 15th. Today, we have two more additions to announce. I’m thrilled to share that Bob Lawrence and Keith Berman will join Barrett Media as weekly columnists when we launch on July 15th.

Bob currently serves as Market Manager for Seven Mountains Media overseeing the company’s Parkersburg, WV/Marietta, OH markets. His radio resume includes previously serving as GM of the RAB’s National Radio Talent System, Corporate VP of Programming/Content at Saga Communications, CEO of Pinnacle Media Worldwide, and Market Manager for New South Radio in Jackson, MS. Adding Bob’s experience and perspective will help folks in management, programming, content, and sales.

Keith meanwhile has great history writing in this arena. He spent 7 years at Radio and Records working as a format editor, news reporter and features writer. After R&R shut down, he teamed with Kevin Carter to launch RAMP (Radio and Music Pros), spending 3 years co-writing daily issues until leaving the site in 2012. His passion, knowledge, and love for the industry remains high, and I’m excited to have him on board as we make our move into the music radio space.

In addition to adding Bob and Keith, I’ll have an announcement soon later this week regarding our editor. It’s been an extensive process, that’s involved a lot of phone conversations. I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone the past few weeks, but have made my decision. With the launch less than 30 days away, there’s plenty to do and the right leader is important.

Lastly, I’m hiring a few features reporters and have interviewed some excellent people. Our job post on the website and LinkedIn produced nearly 200 applications in one week. I’ve got a specific plan for how I want to lay this out, so I’m hoping to nail things down with interested writers this week, and have a final announcement next week. We’re almost there.

Thumbs Up:

Sports Radio 610: I loved the creativity from Sports Radio 610 in Houston last week. The station took June 10th and turned it into 610 Day. Shows welcomed back former hosts Nick Wright, Rich Lord, and Josh Innes for conversations, which included stories and behind the scenes details about specific issues. Innes in particular hadn’t been on the station in more than 10 years, so it was a very cool moment. The buzz even led to Houston’s Mayor John Whitmire declaring June 10th, Sports Radio 610 Day. Great work by Parker Hills and his team.

X: Social media platforms have their fair share of warts but X made an improvement this week. Elon Musk’s company made Likes private. After doing so, an increase of activity followed. I’ve never liked seeing high profile people torn to shreds based on what they clicked like on. Assumptions get made and they’re often overblown. Individuals deserve to use their accounts how they wish. The only ones hurt by this move are the media outlets looking to generate traffic over it. If you think losing an opportunity to play Peeping Tom on people’s activity is still an issue, remember, the thought still lives in their head, even if you saw it on X.

Steve Stone: Simplicity can make a big difference in branding when used right. This 30 second video promo from Steve Stone is a great example. I saw it on LinkedIn last week, and thought it was easy to follow, highlighted what’s provided, and the tag line at the end (More Than a Voice, An Advantage) was excellent. Steve’s attention to detail for marketing himself always stands out in a strong way. A great lesson for today and tomorrow’s leaders.

Pablo Torre’s ‘The Sporting Class’: The conversations between Pablo Torre, John Skipper and David Samson are always must-listen/watch if you enjoy sports media business content. The past week’s discussion on WNBA rights was smart, interesting, and the type of insight you look for if trying to learn and understand what’s going on in the industry. Just a fantastic show that should be on your radar each week if you work in the media business.

Thumbs Down:

Tim Cato: When coaches or athletes take the media to task, many like to rip them for it. But sometimes it’s justified. That was the case last week when Dallas Mavericks Head Coach Jason Kidd put The Athletic reporter under a heat lamp for a ‘long ass question’. Too often writers and hosts use questions to show how much they know or they’ll tiptoe around sensitive issues or combine 3-4 questions at once trying to get everything in. The problem with that, it rarely results in good answers. Less is always more. It may not feel as deep but better responses come from short questions built around Who, What, Where, Why, When and How.

KC Morning Sports Radio: Kansas City listeners have had the luxury of waking up, driving to work, knowing that Nate Bukaty would be alongside Steven St. John on WHB, and Josh Klingler would be mixing it up with Bob Fescoe in 610 Sports. Yet in the span of two weeks, Bukaty and Klinger each announced they’re stepping away from FT hosting. That leaves Fescoe and St. John either operating solo, utilizing contributors or working with new partners.

It’s strange to see both shows change at the same time. However, if there’s one advantage, it’s June, and football season is still nearly three months away. Hopefully each show gets stronger, but for today, KC radio listeners have lost something from the shows they’ve consistently depended on.

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Eavesdropping: Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

“To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno.”

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Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick

Back in March, it was announced that two popular names in the sport of basketball would be coming together to produce a new basketball podcast. The co-hosts are LeBron James, considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, along with ESPN NBA analyst JJ Redick, who was the 2006 National college player of the year and played in over 900 NBA games mostly with the Orlando Magic, the LA Clippers and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The podcast is produced by James’ company Uninterrupted as well as Redick’s ThreeFourTwo Productions. Redick said back in March, “It’s meant to be a very free-flowing conversation about the sport and about the game. If you look at it in a very simplistic way, it’s just about basketball.” So as the NBA Finals are going on, I decided to eavesdrop in on Mind the Game with LeBron James and JJ Redick.

Before I get to the episode, I should point out that since the podcast was first launched, the Los Angeles Lakers fired their head coach, Darvin Ham, and Redick’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement, especially now that Dan Hurley has turned down the job to remain at UConn. This adds another layer to the podcast and is something Stephen A. Smith has called an “an egregious thing to do. I am not talking about the podcast itself, I’m talking about the timing.”

Smith believes James wanted to showcase Redick’s knowledge of the game and that the podcast is somewhat of a ploy by James to get the Lakers to hire Redick. Smith thought with Ham on the coaching hot seat, the March debut of the show made it obvious to him there was more meaning behind it than just these two guys deciding to do a podcast together

Regardless of the reasons for it, there is really only one way to describe the podcast when you listen in, and that is that it’s a Masterclass on basketball. This is not two talking heads sitting around generally analyzing the two teams and then making predictions on the NBA Finals series between the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks.

Interestingly, although the title of the episode is “NBA Finals” and it is billed as an NBA Finals preview, the Eastern Conference finals had not concluded yet. This led to a humorous line from Redick at the beginning when he said they were recording the episode with the Mavericks up 3-0 in their series with the Minnesota Timberwolves. “We are going to go a little bit on the assumption that Minnesota will not be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit,” he said. “Could happen. I’m not saying it couldn’t. In which case this whole episode is fu**ed.”

Fortunately for them, but not so much for the Timberwolves, they did not come back, and Dallas did move on to play Boston in the Finals. However, with Minnesota still involved at the time, it allowed for Redick to ask James about Anthony Edwards and the comparison between himself and Edwards as both made deep playoff runs at the age of 22.

“I didn’t even know what was going on,” James said. “I was 22 years old; I’m trying to take in as much information as I possibly could. But more importantly I just wanted to go out there and not overcomplicate myself with information and just go out and play free. As a 22-year-old I felt like that’s what I should be doing.”

James said it was a little bit like playing with house money. Nobody expected his team to be where they were, they were the clear underdogs in a series against the veteran San Antonio Spurs, and James felt complete freedom just to go play the game, which Edwards was experiencing as well.

From there, you really get to see why this is not just your regular old basketball podcast for fans. This is a high-level course and if you have not taken the prerequisite courses (meaning you really understand the game), you may not even understand what it is they are talking about.

One of the major features of the show is Redick working on his coaches’ white board and actually drawing up plays. In this case he started out with a set the Boston Celtics are known to initiate their offense from and goes through many of the various options they have out of this configuration.

Redick and James say the set is called a ‘Horns 2’ or a ‘V2’ set up. Redick explains. If you are watching the show on YouTube, you will see definitions put up on the screen which helps you follow along on what the two hosts are talking about.

For this particular setup, the definition explains a ‘Horns’ set as “a half court set in which two bigs set ball screens on both sides of the ball handler with one big rolling to the rim and the other popping above the three-point line.”

The next subject brought a great question from Redick to James about the difference between being an underdog in a series versus being the favorite.

“Going into a Finals when you’re the underdog, you definitely have a different demeanor you have a different feeling,” James said. “It’s a different weight that’s on your shoulders and in your mind and on your back and on your chest. You can feel less anticipation. I have been on both sides. I have been the favorite and lost and have been the underdog and won.”

There are some laughs between the two hosts who have really good chemistry together. But mostly it is just straight, high level, basketball talk. Almost like two coaches sitting in a room watching tape and talking to one another in a language only some can understand. The show, however, is filled with little nuggets you can learn to be a better basketball fan and to understand why teams do things in certain situations.

One discussion on the episode was about whether a team should foul late in a game when they are up three and the other team has the ball. The idea, of course, is that they can only score two points from the free-throw line. This is something that has been talked about by many analysts over the years. However, on Mind the Game, James and Redick go into a discussion about why you should consider fouling when you are up six points, and the other team has the ball. James said the idea here would be to keep things as a two-possession game and not allowing the other team to potentially hit a 3 and make it a one-possession game.

As the two got more into the Celtics-Mavericks matchup, Redick asked James what the absolute best thing was the Celtics did that the Mavericks would have to contend with. “Passing and dribble penetration,” James answered. This brought the white board back out and Redick and James broke down the Celtics offense. “The spacing is what starts everything for them offensively,” Redick said about Boston as he diagrammed on his board.

At this point, video clips are introduced and add to what James and Redick described. First, Redick would draw up a few things Boston may do offensively and then video would play showing exactly what they had talked about. This led into the discussion of how Dallas could stop Boston’s offense and James said, “You can’t give the other team too much of the same.” He described switching up the defensive looks and even talked about how pushing an offensive player slightly off their spot can change things in a big way.

The hosts will often refer back to things they have talked about or reviewed in previous episodes, but if you are not familiar with terms like the aforementioned ‘Horns’ or ‘V2’ set or what a flare is, or a thumb up/thumb down play or what it means for the defense to blitz an offensive player, you may have a tough time keeping up.

Fortunately, James and Redick do speak the same language and as long as you can follow along with their high-level basketball IQ’s, you will enjoy their uncanny recall of players, games and even certain plays. So far, the YouTube channel for the show has 653,000 subscribers and this particular episode had been viewed over 789,000 times at the time I tuned in, so obviously it is something basketball fans are enjoying.

As the show wrapped, both hosts threw out major flowers to James’ former teammate Kyrie Irving who has been playing well for Dallas. This is another great thing you hear during Mind the Game, which is what someone like James thinks about other players in the league. “I would call him The Wizard all the time,” James said about Irving. “There was nothing on the basketball floor that Kyrie couldn’t do. Sitting here watching him, I’m so fu**ing happy and so proud to watch him to continue his growth. At the same time, I’m so fu**ing mad that I’m not his running mate anymore.”

Redick said Irving can be an X-factor in the Finals and James replied, “To have a guy like Kyrie Irving as the ultimate wild card, that’s like having a ‘Draw 4’ in your hand every time someone deals you cards in Uno. …he’s the most gifted player the NBA has ever seen, he has the best gifts I’ve ever seen of any NBA player.”

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Chase Daniel Making YouTube Content as Unique as His NFL Career

Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

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Photo of Chase Daniel at NFL Broadcast Boot Camp
Photo Courtesy: Chase Daniel X Account

Chase Daniel had a well-documented, somewhat unparalleled NFL career. 13 years, five starts, 273 career passes and over $40 million in compensation. He has been called a ‘Backup QB Legend’ by some and the ‘Backup QB GOAT’ by others. A former Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Daniel went to Missouri after having been named the EA Sports National High School Player of the Year. He has always competed, always been one of the hardest working people on the team and generally succeeded beyond expectations.

As his NFL career was winding down, Daniel started doing work for the NFL Network. In 2022, he did 30 shows for the network while he was still playing for the Chargers. He did not play last season and did say that while he has not yet filed the paperwork, it was ok to “break the news” he has retired from playing.

As for the work he did with the NFL Network while still playing, Daniel said, “I think that just sort of scratched the itch a little bit as part of their Monday post-game show. It was really valuable reps, valuable from what I was able to learn.”

Daniel credits his on-air teammates, Omar Ruiz, Adam Rank and DeAngelo Hall for teaching him a lot about television. He said his first full year away from the game, he didn’t want to go all-in, rather dipping his toes in as he was acclimating to home life and being ‘Dad’ and ‘Coach’ to his kids.

“But I ended up loving doing that stuff. I did Total Access on Fridays, and I was on all their draft coverage and all their combine coverage which was awesome.”

Daniel was also doing two different podcasts, one with The Athletic and one with Trey Wingo. And while he still plans to be a part of a national television platform, it is something else that he started on his own and continues to do mostly on his own, that has been drawing a lot of attention his way.

Daniel, like many former athletes, started a YouTube show, The Chase Daniel Show. Initially it was going to be an interview-style presentation, but Daniel had an idea he thought could really hit if done the right way. “I knew in the back of mind, if I could somehow find a way to break down quarterbacks in a way that really hadn’t been done before, there would really be a market for it,” he said.

While he said it took him a while to figure out how to draw on video like an NFL analyst working on a telestrator, once he did it didn’t take him long to see he did have something many people were interested in. His first breakdown video of Justin Fields, then with the Chicago Bears, was viewed over 160,000 times and at the time Daniel had less than 1,500 subscribers on the YouTube page. He is now nearing 50,000 subscribers.

“Well, this is a hit, let’s start doing it,” Daniel said he remembered thinking. He said by October of last year he really had it the way he wanted it and continued to crush it with breakdown videos.

“I never want to come across as condescending or smug, I want to be a teacher,” Daniel said when asked why he chose to do this style of analyzing football. “I want to be able to further the game of football from a standpoint of your mother-in-law and the nerds of football can both understand what I’m talking about. It has been such a fun thing. It’s probably the thing I am most proud of, the YouTube channel.”

As for what is to come this season and how he plans to grow the channel and the content, Daniel said he is not quite ready to reveal all of what is to come but he has a lot of big plans in the works.

“We are just excited to continue to make this better,” he said. “It is a very big, strategic mission for me this year, to make it even better and to get it to 100,000 subscribers. I think you’re going to see even more in-depth breakdowns. I think you’re maybe going to see some live breakdowns.”

Daniel mentioned the possibility of airing live shows this season on YouTube and also on X. He also talked about the possibility of doing some alternate broadcast style shows where he brings others on to his platform to break things down with him.

Daniel also is very active on social media and says he tries to reply to as many of the comments he gets about his videos as possible. His whole goal is to really have a one-on-one relationship with those tuning in for this content.

“I tried to base my whole YouTube channel off of ‘you and me.’ I’m in one person’s computer screen or on one person’s phone, but I am talking to you. If you’re watching my video, you are inside an NFL QB room with me, and we are watching the game the day after we played it, and this is what my QB coach is going to say for 12 plays. And this is what is going to be said in a meeting room and I am going to teach ball.

“I know from being around two hall of fame coaches to being around a hall of fame quarterback, to being in seven different quarterback rooms. I know what is actually being coached. And I love breaking down film.”

As for what exactly he’ll be doing on the network television side this fall, those conversations are still ongoing as he and his representatives with Rubicon Talent work through the various options. In April, Daniel and 23 others were chosen to attend the NFL Broadcast Boot Camp where they had the chance to meet and get coaching from media executives from all of the different NFL broadcasting partners.

“I wanted to go because I want more opportunities and I wanted more coaching on how to call games,” Daniel said. “I think that is one of the more difficult things to do. Because you may think you are going to call it one way, but the game may play out much differently. I feel like that’s where I am good. I feel like I can see something happening in real time and automatically understand from a strategic standpoint what is happening and why it is happening.”

Daniel said he got great feedback from a lot of high-level executives and that a lot of it now is just about timing and “getting in somewhere.”

In explaining what the boot camp was, he said, “It was two and a half full days. I am a note taker, and I took copious amounts of notes. We had Fred Gaudelli (Pete Rozelle Award winning NFL TV producer) teach a class for 90 minutes talking about what it’s like to call a game and telling us what is expected of us. He reminded us, “You serve an audience.”

“They did this for podcasts, talk radio, game calling on radio, game calling on TV,” he said. “They taught you everything for the first two days with panels and groups, then the last day is ‘Let’s see what you learned.'”

Daniel said that last day consisted of calling parts of a game, getting feedback and doing it again before getting more feedback. That continued throughout the time with the various sections of the industry they were working on. He said while calling a game, he was getting feedback from NBC Sunday Night Football coordinating producer Rob Hyland.

Daniel said, “I’m a football player at heart, I like to be coached. A lot of times you don’t get coached in TV. That was the best part of it was all the feedback and coaching that I got.”

As for which direction he’d prefer to go as it relates to working in the studio or calling games as a color analyst, Daniel said he would like to do both and can see himself excelling at both.

“I love to grind, I love to be in it,” he said. “I enjoy it and I see the value in it. There aren’t a lot of people who root themselves in pure facts and film. I can have my opinions, but I deal in what I see on film, and I say what I see. Thats what I try to base my opinions off of.

“I see the value that I can bring to networks where I will crush it in the studio and would be the most prepared guy out there if they put me in the booth. For me, there’s a fire that burns deep to be out there and wanting people to see what I see as I coach ball.”

Daniel says he tries to be his own style but does point to the way Tony Romo started talking “in front of the play” as a way to describe what he likes to do. He says he watches a lot of old games and will listen intently to the broadcasters and sometimes he will turn the sound down and call the game himself.

Daniel, now 37 years old, says he was raised “old-school,” and that he was taught from a very young age that he was to work hard at every single thing he does. While his media career is just getting started, in typical Chase Daniel fashion, his hard work is already putting him out ahead of the pack.

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