It might be easier to cure COVID-19 than separate politics from a Colin Kaepernick discussion. I will try anyway. The problem with signing him to an NFL roster, pointing him to the field as the avatar of social justice and letting him kneel as long as he damn well pleases — with Mark Bradford commissioned to paint history’s portrait — is what follows when the “Star-Spangled Banner’’ ends and he starts taking snaps.
At best, he is a serviceable quarterback.
At worst, he is a lousy quarterback, someone you wouldn’t draft on your fantasy team.
What legions of Kaepernick supporters conveniently forget, assuming many actually have seen him play, is that he hasn’t been the evolutionary, cover-of-GQ, freak-out-defensive-coordinators performer since, oh, 2013. And with his level of competence in doubt, not to mention his emotional and physical framework, common sense suggests that all 32 teams will — and should — continue to avoid him, knowing Kaepernick’s addition would create even more hysteria within a community than clubs were willing to absorb before the sickening police murder of George Floyd. Were he a failsafe difference-maker, by all means, give him a fair contract and watch him perhaps rally a franchise and a city as Hollywood writes the script. But face it, Kaepernick remains a wild, spinning-wheel risk who might show up at practice wearing socks with pigs dressed as police officers.
Do we want that as a nation? No. Even as ESPN abandons its stick-to-sports policy to accommodate fast-and-furious commentary on race, we cannot let race become our foremost sports event. And teams shouldn’t feel obligated to sign Kaepernick as a hurried response to our collective outrage and grief. The current push to return him to the NFL feels knee-jerk-like and impulsive. Yes, there is hell to pay in this country after the succession of hate killings, the unending pain of racial inequality and police brutality. But returning Kaepernick to football, much as it would be a symbolic triumph over unspeakable societal ills, doesn’t make things right in America.
“I still don’t think (the NFL has) gotten it right. Until they apologize, specifically, to Colin Kaepernick, or assign him to a team, I don’t think that they will end up on the right side of history,” said NFL veteran and Players Coalition co-founder Malcolm Jenkins, speaking for black America on CBS. “At the end of the day, they’ve listened to their players, they’ve donated money, they’ve created an Inspire Change platform; they’ve tried to do things up to this point. But it’s been one player in particular that they have ignored and not acknowledged, and that’s Colin Kaepernick.”
Apologize? A question: Which free agent would I prefer, Cam Newton or Kaepernick? Newton, as most would agree. Of course, amid an explosive and defining moment in time, leagues and teams should aspire to any right side of history, but that isn’t realistic in this case. Aren’t owners trying to win a Super Bowl for cities that use tax money to build stadiums and fans who purchase season tickets? Or are we supposed to ignore that the NFL is a $15-billion-per-year industry wrapped around the ideal of clutching a championship trophy in February? In that vein, does anyone honestly see Kaepernick doing much more in the league than standing on a sideline in a ball cap? Such a sight only would further infuriate his advocates, figuring the NFL and his team still were punishing him for launching the peaceful kneeling protests that changed the world.
The grotesque Floyd visuals, followed by a landmark video featuring Patrick Mahomes and numerous star players, forced a sudden, dubious about-face from commissioner Roger Goodell in his weakest blindspot: relations with African-American players. Now, the NFL “condemns racism and the systematic oppression of black people.’’ Now, the league “was wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourages all players to speak out and peacefully protest.’’ Now, “We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter.’’ So how does that translate to Kaepernick signing with a team before the 2020 season, if and when it takes place?
And why should it translate? Because the Rev. Al Sharpton says so? At Floyd’s funeral in Houston, Sharpton not only delivered the eulogy but demanded the NFL give Kaepernick a job — in the same speech. “It’s nice to see some people change their minds. The head of the NFL said, `Yeah, maybe we was wrong. Football players — maybe they did have the right to peacefully protest.’ Well, don’t apologize. Give Colin Kaepernick a job back,’’ preached Sharpton, commanding a standing ovation.
“Don’t come with some empty apology, take a man’s livelihood, strip a man down of his talents and four years later, when the whole world is marching, all of a sudden you go and do a FaceTime talking about (you’re) sorry. Minimizing the value of our lives. Your sorry, then repay the damage you did to the career you stood down. Because when Colin took a knee, he took it for the families in this building. And we don’t want an apology. We want him repaired.”
We all hear Sharpton. Yet I wish he was sitting with me in various NFL press boxes during Kaepernick’s second-to-last season in the league, when I covered him as a San Francisco columnist. The experience was unwatchable, so wretched that he was mercifully replaced by BLAINE GABBERT. Even as one who suffered Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, Craig Krenzel, Cade McNown and Jonathan Quinn as starters in Chicago — poet Carl Sandburg should have called it the City Of Weak Shoulders — the 2015 Kaepernick debacle was the ugliest QB stretch I’ve seen. He improved the following season, but not enough to impress the new 49ers’ braintrust of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, who chose to release him two years before they established undeniable credibility by reaching the Super Bowl.
Does anyone remember this? Rather, does anyone want to remember this? Well, you should. Because it’s not nearly as simple as crying racism and concluding that every franchise has blackballed Kaepernick. Unless I was asleep the day his name was placed in the same breath as “`Hall of Fame,’’ we’re talking about a guy who wouldn’t start for most teams right now and would want a truckload of money to be a backup; he demanded $20 million per season, you might recall, from the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. And while he can’t be faulted for inactivity, the fact remains he hasn’t taken a snap since the 2016 season and will be 33 in November. All you need to know is the first sentence of his Wikipedia bio: “Colin Rand Kaepernick is an American civil rights activist and American football quarterback …’’
Activism first, then football.
The proper order in 2020.
Nor can it be ignored that late last year, the NFL attempted to arrange the unprecedented: an in-season tryout for Kaepernick. The idea was hatched by the famed rapper Jay-Z, Goodell’s new social justice advisor. All teams were invited to an on-field workout and interview at the Atlanta Falcons’ facility, but Kaepernick’s camp was suspicious — why was it scheduled on a Saturday, as general managers and personnel directors were preparing for Sunday games, instead of a Tuesday off-day? A half-hour before the tryout, he abruptly left the site — he said he didn’t trust the private nature of the workout or a league liability waiver — and forced scouts and media to drive more than an hour to a high school field, where he conducted a public session for the eight evaluators who showed up. The others went to the airport, wanting no part of the circus.
“I’ve been ready for three years. I’ve been denied for three years,” Kaepernick said afterward. “We are waiting for 32 owners, 32 teams and Roger Goodell to stop running. Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people. We are ready to play. We are ready to go anywhere.”
In the process, he shunned the basic protocol for any job-seeker: At least respect the process of those doing the hiring, or they won’t hire you. Said the league’s most powerful owner, Jerry Jones: “That situation probably from the get-go had a lot more that wasn’t about football involved in it, and consequently we got the results of that dynamic.”
Yet the Kaepernick defenders ramble on, aware that it’s the popular and woke approach to take. Said late-night host Jimmy Fallon: “The NFL feels so badly that they’re this close to scheduling another fake workout for Colin Kaepernick. Here’s a fun fact: I just said Colin Kaepernick’s name one more time than Roger Goodell did.”
Difficult as it is to compartmentalize race, Kaepernick remains a football issue. Others who have kneeled on NFL sidelines — including his partner in San Francisco, Eric Reid — have continued to make sizable league salaries because they’ve been more reliable and relevant at their positions than Kaepernick had been at his. He also is a victim of the role he plays as a quarterback — face of the franchise, most important berth on the team — and how that is conflated by his status as the most visible civil rights activist of his time. He’ll never stop being Colin Kaepernick, the peaceful kneeler, and whatever upside there is to signing him — the scant chance he might reclaim stardom — is weighed down by owners fearful that a Kaepernick media frenzy would swallow their teams whole.
As we’ve seen, sports owners will sign ex-cons if they can help win championships. Kaepernick is one of the proudest Americans of his time, but there’s no assurance he wants to play football as much as advance his much larger platform as a historic martyr. I remember chatting with him, in a group of writers, weeks before his abysmal 49ers season. Unprompted, out of nowhere, he said he didn’t need to play football, that his life would be fine without it. That proved to be true, and I must ask, why should that change now?
America needs a racial reckoning. That doesn’t mean America needs Colin Kaepernick to play football.
Mike Greenberg Asked a Fine Question, But He Can Do Better
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.