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Eric Byrnes’ Mom Didn’t Care If He Got An F

“In life – it’s so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When you’re uncomfortable – that’s when growth happens.”

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The term “Offseason” means different things to different people.

To most people who work in baseball – the winter is a time for R and R.  Maybe a trip to some place tropical.  Some personal downtime before the summer rolls around and brings with it MLB’s marathon of a schedule.  

That’s not Eric Byrnes.

Image result for eric byrnes

On a snowy Thursday in his home just south of Truckee, CA – Eric’s day includes a nearly 200 mile trek on his exercise bike.

“It’s been kind of a low effort session,” the MLB analyst declares with all the sincerity in the world.  

He senses my smile through the phone.

“Seriously!  I’ve been able to talk to you this whole time, haven’t I?”

While it’s impossible to sum up who and what Byrnes is – that exchange comes close.  He’s one of the most driven and genuine people you’ll come across in any industry.  His addiction to hard work and ability to connect with others propelled the UCLA all-time hits leader to a decade in the big leagues and another ten years as one of the game’s most charismatic analysts.  

Growing up in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco, Byrnes always wanted to do two things – play sports and talk about sports.  His lifelong plan hit the smallest of speed bumps in 8th grade when he turned in an essay detailing his goals.

“The teacher handed the paper back to me and said ‘everyone wants to play professional sports and everyone wants to be a sports broadcaster – come up with something else.’”

Stunned, Byrnes returned home to a mother who was not pleased with her son’s story.  The two immediately went back to school where Mrs. Byrnes reissued the paper to the teacher exclaiming; “I don’t care if he gets an F, this is Eric’s paper.”

Stories like this tend to stick with people – particularly with those as successful as Byrnes.  No one would blame the young man for turning that experience into proverbial bulletin board material.  Fuel to support his ambition.  Eric doesn’t look at it that way.

“We all make mistakes.  We all say things we shouldn’t say.  Maybe I just caught her on a bad day, you know?”

As for what sport he’d pursue – that remained unclear for a while.  Eric was a gifted athlete – fast and competitive.  He loved just about anything that involved running around with his friends.  It wasn’t until he was 13 that baseball took the lead.

His parents bought him an Iron Mike Pitching Machine.  Naturally, he immediately cranked it up to 90 mph and began taking cuts.  He whiffed for days and weeks, but eventually started getting a piece of the ball.  Not long after he was connecting on the occasional line drive.  

Three years later he was a sophomore called up to varsity for St. Francis High School.  In what might’ve been his 2nd or 3rd game on the squad, Byrnes found himself in the lineup against Serra High’s Dan Serafini.  The 6’1” lefty would soon be a first round pick by the Twins – but that day he was Eric’s pitching machine.  One by one Serafini fanned the St. Francis lineup but he couldn’t figure out the sophomore.  Byrnes finished with three base hits right up the middle.

“I had been hitting Serafini for three years in my backyard,” explains Byrnes through a cracked smile.

A stellar high school career eventually earned the Bay Area native a spot on UCLA’s roster.  As a Bruin, Byrnes amassed a Hall of Fame career that eventually got him drafted following his senior season.  Having turned down an offer from the Astros the summer before, Eric knew his window to make the majors as a 22-year-old was short.  He was also battling a bit of a superficial challenge.

Eric Byrnes Named to UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame

“Nothing I ever did on a baseball field was pretty,” admits Byrnes.  “Everything I did looked like I was working hard for it.”

Baseball is an aesthetic sport.  The stark contrast of the infield dirt with the outfield grass, the unique features of every stadium in the country – and the players.  Scouts (especially 20 years ago) put stock in how comfortable a player looks on the field.  Swings should be effortless.  Fielding should be fluid.  Anything different and the player is surely overextending himself.

As he freely admits – Byrnes was a grinder.  He ran on his toes and put his whole body behind his throws from the outfield.  He never cared how he looked – he was only concerned about the results.

Fortunately for him, he was drafted the one franchise who completely shared his philosophy – the Oakland A’s.

“I loved what the whole organization was doing from top to bottom right when I entered.  It was moneyball!”

Drafted in 1998, Byrnes made his MLB debut with the A’s in August of 2000.  For the next 5 years he was a key member of the storied team that changed the way baseball teams were built.  

He was never the best player on the field, but it was personality and hustle that made Byrnes a fan favorite in Oakland.  Productive on the diamond, it was in the clubhouse that Eric might’ve done his best work.

“I always prided myself in being a good teammate, and a clubhouse can be a very divisive place.  There’s guys from all different cultures and countries – I always tried to connect with everyone.”

Image result for eric byrnes As

Once he cracked into the Show in 2000, Byrnes decided to invest a few winters in the Dominican Republic to keep his game sharp.  He didn’t realize it, but the decision to play winter ball in the Caribbean helped much more than his physical skills.

“Having spent 5 Winters down there, I knew what it was like to be the foreign player in a place where you didn’t speak the language.  That experience made me want to connect with my Latin teammates back in the states.  That and it kept my Spanish strong.”

It was that attitude that earned Eric a favorable reputation around the league.  He understood the value of finding common ground with people.  It’s a skill that would serve him greatly in the next phase of his life.  

The Redwood City product’s big league career wrapped up in 2010 with the Mariners.  He had a couple offers to keep playing the sport that had already given him so much, but Byrnes was ready for a new challenge.  He had fulfilled one half of his 8th grade prediction – now it was time to talk sports.

He was contacted by his old friend and pitcher Kyle Peterson who had already made the transition to color analyst for ESPN College and LLWS games.  Peterson recruited Eric to do some work in the booth for a College World Series regional and the rest was history.

“I did something like 7 games in 3 days and I loved it.  I had never experienced that rush of live TV – I knew it was for me.”

To no one’s surprise – Byrnes was a natural on television.  In no time he was making appearances on the freshly launched MLB Network breaking down the game he loved.  

As they tend to do in the industry, one job led to more opportunities.  In 2011 he accepted a position hosting the 7-10 pm slot for KNBR in San Francisco – the same station he used to call into as a kid.  Hosting a 3 hour radio show solo is tough wherever you are, let alone a top 10 market with very little media experience.  Byrnes recognized the challenge and took it on anyway.

“In life – it’s so important to be comfortable being uncomfortable.  When you’re uncomfortable – that’s when growth happens.  That’s where you develop.  I don’t think there was a single day I walked into that KNBR studio feeling 100% comfortable – but I learned how to make it work.  After that experience for about a year, I knew anything I was going to do in media was going to be easy.”

Take the word “easy” with a grain of salt when it comes out of the mouth of Eric Byrnes.  After all, he’s the man who casually bikes roughly the distance between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe while chatting on the phone.  The guy who played 420 holes of golf in 24 hours last Spring setting a world record in the process.  

Image result for eric byrnes 420 holes of golf

Since his playing career wrapped up, Eric has grown both as a broadcaster and a community leader.  His foundation “Let Them Play,” advocates public schools re-investing in physical education across the country.

“As a kid growing up with ADHD, activity was the only thing that ever stimulated me.  I understand with shrinking budgets – PE, music and art are the first things to go.  I just want to do what I can to promote exercise for kids.”

As for the ever-evolving world of media, Byrnes points to the importance of having a digital presence.  He recognizes how we consume our sports is changing year to year and even month to month.  What the landscape looks like in another 10 years?  He’s as unsure as the rest of us.  

“One thing though, for sure,” the triathlete breaks for a rare breath on his pedals.  “No matter your platform; TV, radio, podcast or an article.  Whatever you do has to be authentic.  If you’re authentic you’ll resonate with people, you’ll make an impact.  I just try to be authentic.”

Image result for eric byrnes

The 43-year-old father of three never made baseball look easy – but he sure makes his extraordinary life look effortless.  

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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