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College Football Crashes, Just As Sports Was Fun Again

“Without the game that serves as our national lifeblood from autumn into winter, it’s time to concede, even after a memorable golf major and various Bubble triumphs, that the COVID-19 minefield is destroying the American soul.”

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God still might be bigger than the coronavirus, but college football and the American South are not. The sport that has been most delusional about the global pandemic, channeling President Trump’s continuing view that it’s merely a bug, finally is prioritizing the health of vulnerable young men over the wealth of TV billions. This is the week when a country grasps what I told Paul Finebaum a month ago on his program, a comment that subjected my otherwise tame Twitter feed to cultural warfare.

Football is the last game that should be played amid a COVID-19 storm, the sporting equivalent of 100 maskless morons dog-piling at a rave. ESPN tried its damndest to brainwash the masses and rescue the sport it literally owns and operates (and the billions it’s about to lose), but commissioners and school presidents from Power 5 conferences are forced to concede that liabilities are trumping the lie. Dabo is devastated, Saban is gobsmacked, Harbaugh is being sized up for a straitjacket and boosters will have to find other people to pay off, but who really cares?

I’m concerned about our national condition.

Without the lifeblood of football — and the NFL can protect a $15-billion season only so long before pulling the same plug — is this where America’s collective psyche turns to mush? Will the legions of COVID-iots who’ve tried to ignore the death toll and ongoing ravages now realize what an autumn without football represents? It means the carnage is staying for a while, with no departure date, leaving the economy in a shambles, our sense of freedom violated and our mental health like so much road barf as we await an absurdist election that will make us a bigger international mockery. With football in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, Happy Valley and Death Valley, and an accompanying pro season, there was a chance to maintain an equilibrium.

Now what?

There is pushback from Gen-Z types who don’t know better, such as the current face of college football, Trevor Lawrence. Stunningly, with his sport teetering, the Clemson quarterback tweeted, “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities, where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football.’’ He makes fine points. What he doesn’t mention is the lack of social distancing on a college campus.

Can I at least enjoy Collin Morikawa’s exhilarating victory at the PGA Championship for a nanosecond or two?

Apparently not. College football’s shutdown only reminds us that Major League Baseball is a sickening minefield, dangerously continuing a foolish season as the virus sidelines the Cardinals for a third week. Manager Mike Shildt said some of the infected nine players and seven staff members were hospitalized for brief periods, which should be the breaking point for so-called MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who might want to look at college football and follow suit. Instead, he proceeds with this shameful stagger toward potential tragedy. At least MLB players are paid as they dodge virus droplets — including their own. Protocols still are being flouted even after the outbreaks of the Cardinals and Marlins, with the A’s and cheatin’ Astros engaging in just the kind of wild, dugouts-clearing brawl that spreads the virus. Oakland’s Ramon Laureano, a former Astro, reportedly responded to a mother-related slur from Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron and attacked the Houston dugout.

“Get back to the dugout!’’ umpires shouted, their cries echoing through the empty Coliseum.

They were ignored, just as the players ignore Manfred. He should have foreseen this might happen, considering A’s pitcher Mike Fiers snitched on the Astros, his former team, in what launched the electronic sign-stealing scandal that tarnished Houston’s 2017 World Series title. Look, I realize everyone is bitter about the Asterisks and wants payback. Joe Kelly already exacted it for the Dodgers. Enough. Finish the game before a brawl becomes a superspreader. What exactly does Manfred do again, anyway?

Then there was Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac, who left the team hotel and went out in Chicago after beating the White Sox. The Indians made him drive back to Ohio in a rental car, this after Plesac said recently, “Any time you can maintain social distancing, it’s going to be what we focus on. There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking — doing stuff that shouldn’t be important to us right now.’’

Will the Indians be the next team shelved by a virus outbreak? It’s daffy to think a hollow crackdown — Manfred claims he’ll ban offenders from the postseason — will compel all players to wear masks in dugouts and stop fighting, high-fiving, spitting, hugging, remaining in seats on planes and going out at night. Earlier in the Astros series, the A’s mobbed hero Marcus Semien, with Austin Allen leaping high to join the scrum. If MLB somehow outlasts a shotgun regular season, there’s no chance, without a Bubble, that an expanded postseason will survive when an infected team simply can’t be shut down for a week.

“I don’t know what our future looks like at this point,’’ said Cardinals president John Mozeliak.“For all of the optimism we had a couple days ago, it’s frustrating for everyone involved.I haven’t slept in days.’’     Any wishful thinkers still left in sports? Still want to accuse me of negativity when realism is the word? It’s a shame, because before Sunday’s barrage of news, I felt something comforting, almost assuring, about having the remote control in my hand again all weekend. Sports wasn’t “back.’’ But it was there, after a long absence, as I remember it well.

Push a button and there’s Big Boy Golf in San Francisco, where Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka should have been striking bodybuilding poses while Bryson DeChambeau was channeling his inner Mark McGwire. Weird as it was watching Hans and Franz on the links, it was weirder amid the unearthly silence of a municipal course, where leaders kept track of rivals’ scores not by crowd roars but phone apps and video boards. Still, it was a major sports event, at long last.

And we were talking about it, especially the part about Koepka telling the world how his supposed friend, Johnson, gags with 54-hole leads in majors. Of course, Johnson did just that in a mad scramble that had seven players tied for the lead at one late point. But Koepka imploded himself. So, who broke out of the pack? Not Hans, not Franz, but 5-foot-9 Morikawa, more poised than all of the aforementioned, maybe because he has been working with a sports psychologist since he was eight. Abusive, perhaps?Not when you saw him chip in from 40 feet to take the lead on No. 14, then rip a monster drive to set up an eagle at No. 16. Behold the lowest final round by a PGA champion in 25 years, the youngest player to break 65 in the final round of a major victory — ever. Was a legend born at Harding Park, not far from where Morikawa starred at Cal? The last three players to win the PGA at age 23: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

Too bad there was no gallery to salute him. He was left to sit with his girlfriend, beside a lonely parking lot, waiting for the victory ceremony — where he dropped the lid off the trophy. What a shame that his glorious drive, which might become the launching point of a legacy, was greeted by just a few claps instead of a monstrous noise blast. “This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” Morikawa said. “I heard some claps but not a ton.’’

Let’s hope he’ll hear many roars in the future.     

And that fans can deliver them.

Even if seasons are fleeting and the coronavirus ultimately shuts down ballparks and Bubbles throughout North America, sports had managed to keep us talking about … sports! Flip the channel to see Mike Trout hammer another home run, change another diaper and suffer another loss with a scandalous franchise that doesn’t deserve him. Flip again to watch the transcendent Luka Doncic one-upping Giannis Antetokounmpo, prompting his lucky Mavericks coach, Rick Carlisle, to literally applaud, compare him to Larry Bird and say this after his 36-point, 19-assist, 14-rebound freak show: “Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play.’’ He meant inside the NBA Bubble, where there is no paid admission, but you do have the Clippers trolling Damian Lillard, the Raptors thinking repeat and the greatness of T.J. Warren — T.J. Warren? — in tech-enhanced, pixelated visuals that look crystalline.

Oh, and are Western Conference teams actually plotting against the Lakers, trying to finagle the scary Trail Blazers into the No. 8 seed and put LeBron James out of his sequestered misery with a first-round postseason ouster. “I miss the hell out of my family,’’ said James, whose team clearly has Bubble issues beyond homesickness. “My wife, my kids, my mother. And so on and so on. So, it’s a huge challenge. You can’t replicate actual presence when you’re waking up and you’re in the living room or you’re in the kitchen or you’re outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys. I’m not there.’’

On one end of the cable programming block, Tiger couldn’t putt, which is tough when he’s nearing 45 and still four major titles shy of Nicklaus. “It’s getting tighter and getting harder to win events,’’ said Woods, 21 years older than Morikawa. On the other end, Connor McDavid was losing in his home arena to the mediocre Blackhawks and costing the NHL a chance to market him. Cars and horses were racing elsewhere, commingling with UFC fighters. And is that a live shot of a 43-year-old wellness entrepreneur throwing a football in Tampa?

This would seem to be a sports fan’s pleasure beach, a cornucopia of events power-blasted your way at all hours of the day and night, even if it requires an extra $5 for a “Spectrum TV Sports Pack’’ in Los Angeles when zero refunds were issued during months of two-decades-old game reruns. Some of what we’ve seen is damned impressive, such as the quality and intensity of competition. I saw Devin Booker, on a weekday afternoon, drain a spinning, turnaround jumper while smothered by Paul George as the buzzer sounded and his rear end dusted the floor. He has been so good that Draymond Green, moonlighting for TNT, was fined $50,000 for tampering when he said, “Get my man out of Phoenix. It’s not good for him. It’s not good for his career.’’ The NBA and NHL — along with golf, the ultimate in sports social distancing — are giving us content that sometimes seems as good as the norm. Is it because athletes have nothing else to do, no longer dealing with previous everyday demands? Is it because 20,000 people aren’t booing and cursing their moms that NBA players are hitting higher percentages of free throws and corner three-pointers inside the Bubble?

“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,’’ Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni marveled. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night. You get your shooting, depth perception and all that. It’s pure basketball. You see some of the talents these guys have, are coming out. I think it’s only going to get better. The playoffs are going to be terrific.’’

As for Trout, again the talk of baseball? “I was hoping now that Trout was a dad, the dad bod might have snuck up on him, but that isn’t the case,” Mariners manager Scott Servais cracked.

A jerking knee wants to ask, then: Is sports, miraculously, adapting to the coronavirus and positioned for a long haul of completing seasons and crowning champions?

Your conscience, balanced by a daily life fortunately not governed by that remote and the screen it controls, is quick to interrupt and beg the usual restraint. College football and baseball interrupted, too. It reminds the jerking knee: The resumption of games is still very funky and fraught, with TV ratings ebbing and flowing, and if you think otherwise, continue to imagine hundreds of 3 1/2-hour scrums where sweating, panting, spitting, bleeding and colliding football players are practicing the very antithesis of distancing.

The lords of college football are concluding the season is unplayable, with the Mid-American Conference becoming the first FBS league to postpone an entire season and Colorado State suspending the sport indefinitely amid reports of racism and verbal abuse. The NFL should be next, especially when Aaron Donald, among the league’s most feared defenders, reveals himself as a raging COVID-iot so unfazed by the virus that he refuses to wear a league-recommended face shield. “Once you are out there grinding with the guys, you kind of block all that out and it’s just football again,’’ Donald said. “I need air when I’m out there running around and breathing with them, long drives and stuff. I feel like, we’re out there, we’re playing up close. There is nothing you can really do. If a guy got it and I tackle the guy, then I probably got it because he is going to be sweating and spitting and slobbering all in my face.’’

photo credit - PGA Championship

If you don’t believe me about the lunacy of it all, ask Tiger. Captured by a boom mike on the course, Woods and McIlroy sounded like talk hosts while discussing sports and the Big Corona. “Once one person has it in in (an NFL) locker room, they’re all going to get it,” Woods said.

“MLB is doing well,’’ said McIlroy, who must be living in a cave.

“If they have one more outbreak, they’re done,” Woods shot back.

So, um, yeah, the biggest error one can make is getting used to Sports In A Pandemic. Enjoy and savor it, while you have it, but also know it’s the very definition of temporary and makeshift, uneven and volatile, and that any of it could end at any time for any reason — even chicken wings at a strip club — in a catastrophic year on Planet Earth when the worst still could be ahead. I’m not even referring to the direct spread of COVID-19 possible in all corners and nooks of sports leagues. The danger is the accompanying weariness that comes with the oppressive, stifling, 24-7 challenge of playing hide-and-seek with an invisible monster that doesn’t care about sports.

Fatigue is the lurking saboteur. The mental health of thousands of athletes and support personnel is at risk, which increases the chance of a protocol violation, intended or not, that could cause the one outbreak that bursts the NBA Bubble or melts an NHL Igloo or ends a baseball or football season. We’re actually expecting athletes to remain isolated, some for months, with little more than wine shipments, video games, ESPN/TSN and league-organized activities for entertainment? Hasn’t the chirping of a proximity sensor — when venturing within six feet of another human being for 10 seconds, the pandemic version of traveling — already gotten old?

We’re barely a week into August. The NBA season ends in mid-October. And who’s grumbling all the time? The one icon the league is depending on most in the Bubble. “It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said. “I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground.’’

Funny how Doncic doesn’t care about such issues.

It’s the mental exhaustion, the limitations of humanity, that could bring down the grand sports plan. This is a marathon, and the participants are just passing the 3-mile mark of a 26.2-mile race. If I’m Manfred, I’m heeding every word uttered by Trout, who didn’t have to return to the Angels after his wife delivered their first child but did anyway. Trout, who has wanted daily COVID-19 testing from the beginning, reiterated his thoughts that MLB could doom itself with every-other-day swabbing.

“I’ve said this from Day 1: If you don’t have testing every day, it’s going to be tough,’’ he said. “You’re always trying to catch up and trying to catch it. You know, if we get tested Friday, we have to wait two days to get the results back and you don’t know what’s going to happen in between. You’ve seen it with the Marlins. You’ve seen it with the Cardinals. It’s definitely scary for baseball. I’ve been saying this the whole time, it only takes one person to screw this up.’’

Say, Zach Plesac.

The racial injustice scenes have been proud and emotional throughout sports, even in unusual places such as hockey rinks and NASCAR tracks — and loaded with expected vitriol from the White House. Pulling out his playbook from the Colin Kaepernick years, President Trump used “Fox and Friends’’ to rip the NBA for its emphasis on Black Lives Matter and sideline kneeling protests after he helped open doors for the league’s restart.

“I think it’s disgraceful,’’ Trump said. “We work with (the NBA). We work very hard trying to get them open. I was pushing them to get open. And then I see everyone kneeling during the anthem. It’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. And the ratings for the basketball are way down, if you know. And I hear some others are way down, including baseball. Because all of a sudden, now baseball’s is in the act (of kneeling). We have to stand up for our flag. We have to stand up for our country. We have to stand up for our anthem. And a lot of people agree with me. Hey, if I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. OK. And that’s OK with me. But I will always stand for our country and for our flag.”

You knew what was coming next. “The game will go on without his eyes on it,” James said of Trump. “I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could care less.” When told of Trump’s remark that he has done more for Black people than any U.S. President “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln,’’ James said, “You trying to make me laugh right now?’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too, responded in kind, referring to Trump’s stance as “disgraceful.’’

photo credit - Fox News

For the record, ratings for basketball aren’t “way down,’’ but they aren’t what they were before the pandemic. Baseball ratings were in the crapper to begin with. That said, it’s important that sports understands this about 2020: Now more than ever, people need games to escape the strife, not exacerbate it. That’s what we’ve discovered this sinister summer. As the world burns, we still care about Collin Morikawa, the over-under on Aaron Judge’s home runs and why an NBA Finals featuring Giannis and Luka — the world’s two best players? — might be the most fun. The coronavirus can’t bury sports conversations.

But it can bury sports.

BSM Writers

Why Charles Barkley Is Sports Television’s Most Valuable Personality

Barkley is a larger-than-life personality. His analysis is sometimes way out there, but it either makes you think, scratch your head or laugh.

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Once the Western Conference Finals end, so will the season for Charles Barkley and his TNT crew. Inside The NBA has become ‘must watch’ television over the last few years. In my opinion, it is the best of its kind in any sport right now.

The chemistry displayed on the ITN set is unparalleled. Charles Barkley is one of the biggest reasons to tune in. He’s unfiltered, he’s real and he’s always himself.

I’m not the only one that feels that way. Former ESPN boss and current Meadowlark Media front man, John Skipper, recently appeared on the Dan Patrick Show to sing the praises of Barkley. Skipper puts him among the greats in broadcasting.

“I think there are only three or four people in the history of broadcasting that you can
genuinely say people tune in to see them. The late, great John Madden, who just recently
passed, was one of those guys. Barkley is the guy right now in all of sports that you can say
people will tune in to see him.” Skipper said.

John is on to something here. Barkley is a larger-than-life personality. His analysis is sometimes way out there, but it either makes you think, scratch your head or laugh.

Sometimes all of those things happen at the same time. Barkley’s commentary is usually the stuff that floods the internet that night, and is the talk of your office, or friends the next day.

Seemingly if you miss it, you’re a little behind the times. I mean, the man made a grand entrance to the set the other night in Dallas. He rode to the set on a horse just before Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals between the Mavericks and Warriors. Shaquille O’Neal joked that to carry Barkley’s body, the horse had to have “a strong back” and he kept saying “please fall!” as Barkley had a little trouble with the dismount. Leading Barkley to exclaim, “I grew up in Alabama, brother, I know how to ride a horse.”

This is one of the reasons I think Skipper believes what he does. Barkley is always up to
something, no matter how silly it may make him look or how outlandish it might be. This guy is confident in pretty much everything he does, with the possible exception of his golf game. He can dish it out for sure, but Barkley can take it as well, which usually results in something hilarious. He has personality and its genuine. That makes him likable whether you agree with him or not.

Barkley is also the best kind of humorous, the unintentional kind. It works.

While Skipper is dead on about Barkley, it does beg the question, would Charles be as popular
without his cohorts on Inside the NBA? It’s like asking if the talented lead singer of a band, would be as popular as a solo artist. In this case, I wonder. You’ve heard of ‘system
quarterbacks’, right? I think the formula works for Barkley, in part because of the surrounding
cast. While people may tune in to see Barkley, they can’t help but notice the other guys on set and understand why Charles can be Charles. It’s because the entire dynamic works.

Take Barkley off the show, it’s not as good. Take Kenny off the show, same. Take Shaq off, also same. Take Ernie off, well you get the picture here. They each have unique personalities and the ability to be themselves and work as a group. Each brings something to the table, but the key ingredient is not taking themselves too seriously. They all enjoy being there.

Skipper saw that part of the equation as well and knows why the show is what it is, a success.

“It’s because they look like they’re having fun. They know what they’re talking about. They’re
willing to be provocative, they’re willing to mash it up, and it’s great.” said Skipper to the Dan Patrick Show.

The former players mesh like they are family. EJ is the patriarch that lets the guys be guys and jumps in when it looks like it may go off the rails. Fighting is all part of it. Heated arguments take place from time to time with strong, opinionated former players each thinking he is right. In the flow of the show, it’s actually entertaining to watch. It helps that all of the panelists had successful and in a couple of cases, Hall of Fame careers. Even if they have an interesting way of explaining their points, they each bring a knowledge base to the show.

I think by their mere presence, the group makes Charles better. Not always agreeing with him, challenging him, or calling him out if you will, makes for much more entertaining television. You can tell that Barkley feels comfortable with the group he is on the set with. It really allows him to let more of his big personality out. But it is all about that comfort and everyone being comfortable with who that other person is and what their strengths are on the show. It works so well.

Think about the popularity of the show and how many other studio crews are taking elements of it and adapting it to their own shows. That includes TNT’s NHL on TNT pre/post/intermission shows. The formula works, but you have to have the right people on the set. The NHL version is growing into something of its own, this being its first season.

Now, just to throw a wrench in here, if and when Barkley were to leave the show, it would be a big blow. Right now, he’s the one guy they can least afford to lose. But, the Hall of Famer has hinted at calling it quits recently. TNT held a conference call just before the All-Star Game in February, in which Barkley and the Inside the NBA panel appeared. At the end of the call, Barkley was asked how much longer he’ll continue to be a broadcaster.

Via the Dallas Morning News’ Brad Townsend, Barkley said he has 2 years left on his contract
“and that’s probably going to be it for me.” Barkley continued, “It’s been a great, great thing. I love Ernie, Kenny, Shaq and everybody we work with. But I just don’t feel the need to work until the day I die. I don’t, man. I’ll be 61 years old if I finish out my contract. And I don’t want to die on TV. I want to die on the golf course or somewhere fishing. I don’t want to be sitting inside over [by] fat-ass Shaq [waiting] to drop dead.”

Barkley is must see television, mainly because of the environment he’s surrounds himself in.
There’s a strength in the numbers, not just the stats these former players have amassed, but
the bond they’ve formed. It makes for terrific, not terrible (in Barkley voice), television.

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BSM Writers

Rob Parker is a Hall of Famer and a Pioneer

Rob Parker began his career by starting a sports-only newspaper at his high school and now he’s a Hall of Famer.

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Twitter/@RobParkerFS1

On the outskirts of the borough of Queens in New York City, lies the neighborhood of Queens Village. Located about nine miles to southeast of Citi Field, the neighborhood was founded in the 1640s and is viewed as quiet and residential. Queens Village is the home to Martin Van Buren High School, which opened in 1955. In the year 1980, Rob Parker recognized a dream inside the walls of that school with an idea that was well before it’s time. He wanted to start the first all-sports newspaper.

The idea came out of Parker’s frustration with the school paper, The Beeline, for which he wrote. The 16-year-old Parker had an intense hunger for a future in journalism, but didn’t love the fact he would write an article on the basketball team in the fall and it wouldn’t be published until baseball season. He wanted to run a paper that was more timely and solely dedicated to sports. The idea was shot down before it even started.

“I went to the school principal and said I wanted to start an all-sports newspaper that came out on time every month,” said Parker. “He was like, ‘no, the kids are only going to throw it on the ground as trash’. That was the first response out of his mouth. Could you imagine that? An educator telling a kid that?”

The school principal also said there wasn’t enough money to pay for another newspaper. But Parker wasn’t going to just turn away. He then asked if the idea could be a go if he raised the money to pay for the printing. Reluctantly, the principal agreed. 

Parker went home and grabbed his typewriter. He realized his idea was only going to happen if he made it happen, so he hustled to find a way to make it a reality. He wrote three letters to the three publishers of the three New York newspapers, in hopes of just one of them agreeing to help his new venture. The Daily News did not write him back, which was unfortunate because that was Parker’s favorite paper. The New York Times wrote back, but sent a letter saying it was against their company policy to help other people start newspapers. 

“As if a 16-year-old kid was competition,” laughed Parker. ‘I was shocked somebody actually said that and wrote that letter.”

Call it luck, call it fate, but the New York Post responded. 

“I opened up the envelope and there was a check for 50 dollars to start my newspaper,” Parker said. “Rupert Murdoch was the publisher. That’s really what catapulted my career and gave me the belief in journalism to get started. That was the start of it all.”

That small gift by Murdoch and the New York Post sparked a Hall of Fame career for Parker. His all-sports newspaper, Sports Line was a huge success at Martin Van Buren High School. So much so, that even after he graduated, multiple editors carried on the legacy of the paper. It wasn’t the turnout the school principal thought it would be. 

“This is 1980 and I think the first all-sports newspaper debuted in the United States in like 1989,” Parker said. “I’m really proud of that Sports Line paper. That’s my lasting memory of Van Buren High School.”

This week, 42 years after his sports media career officially began, he’s walking the same halls where he had a big idea and empty pockets. This time around, he’s being honored by being inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

“It’s been like a year and a half because of Covid,” said Paker. “But at the time, it came out of nowhere. I still pinch myself, I gotta be honest.”

Parker has enjoyed an incredible 36-year career as an acclaimed writer and a national host on both radio and television at the biggest networks in the industry. He’s a pro, but it still hit him in a way he didn’t expect when his co-host Chris Broussard of The Odd Couple on Fox Sports Radio, which can be heard from 7-10 p.m. EST, referred to him by his latest honor in the opening segment of the show on Monday.

“When Chris said The Hall of Famer it was just awesome,” Parker said. “I always remember calling the late Al Kaline in Detroit The Hall of Famer, so that’s what I think about. The fact people are saying that to me is pretty special.”

“Rob’s induction into his high school Hall of Fame is absolutely well-deserved,” said Broussard. “He’s excelled in virtually every aspect of journalism – print, beat-writing, column writing, TV and radio. And he’s also been a mentor and door-opener for dozens of young journalists. I couldn’t be prouder for my radio partner.”

It’s been a week of reflection for Parker and the opportunity to be present for the induction has been humbling for him. But what would that 16-year-old version of Parker think about this?  

“No way, no how, would this be possible,” Parker said. “Just a kid growing up with a dream of being a newspaper reporter, since I was nine-years-old. All I ever wanted to be is a sports writer. To be down this road and go from writing to national television and national radio it’s very humbling and fulfilling. The one thing I will say is I don’t feel like I’ve left any stone unturned and I was able to experience all the things I wanted to experience.”

This isn’t the first honor Parker has been given during his sports media career. Far from it, actually. Parker was named the National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force Journalist of the Year in 2018. He was also the first Black sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press when he was hired in 1993 and the first Black sports columnist for Newsday in New York. He’s broken barriers in his career and it’s one of the many reasons why a plaque will be forever enshrined at Martin Van Buren High School. 

All of that started by one random act of kindness. It happened because the editor of a newspaper decided to send a check for 50 dollars to an unknown kid in the city. Parker has never forgotten what Murdoch did for his career. It’s probably even a driving force as to why he’s helped mentor more than 50 journalists. 

“A couple of years ago I was on the set of Undisputed and I was able to tell Rupert that story,” Parker said. “He was amazed by it. He was like, did that really happen? I said absolutely.”

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BSM Writers

Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix

“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”

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For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.

Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.

I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?

In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?


Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?

Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.              

I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.                    

I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled. 

DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask. 

RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.              

The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.           

I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense. 

DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”? 

RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.                   

He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.                       

I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona. 

DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.             

I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be? 

RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.              

There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.                 

Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.                          

I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance. 

DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future? 

RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.                

Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.                         

If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both. 

DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR? 

RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products. 

DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day? 

RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.                      

Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell. 

DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.            

So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space? 

RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.             

I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.                        

We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.                 

There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community. 

DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this? 

RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.                 

What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?           

Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of. 

DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR. 

RH:  We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.                  

Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.  

The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives. 

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