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Sack Brennaman – And Guillen – For Anti-Gay Slurs

“For MLB ever to emerge from its cave and become a socially responsible institution, there can be no leeway for Thom Brennaman, whose likely TV dismissal should be followed by that of Ozzie Guillen.”

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Perhaps you just scrolled through my recent column, titled, “Hot Mics Another Hot Mess For Baseball.’’ I warned that Major League Baseball was vulnerable to a disaster with its vulgar culture of F-bombs, dropped non-stop by players and managers inside quiet pandemic ballparks where all sounds are TV-audible. I even suggested someone might use the N-word or an anti-gay slur.

Who knew it would happen only two days later?

The offender was not on the field. Thom Brennaman was in a press box in Cincinnati, where he was calling a Reds-Royals doubleheader in Kansas City via broadcast remote. Not heeding the industry’s golden rule — always assume the microphone is live, even if it appears you’re in a commercial break — the Reds’ veteran voice delivered a random commentary about the LGBTQ+ composition of a city that may or may not have been Kansas City.

“One of the fag capitals of the world,’’ he said, returning to the air in the seventh inning of the first game.

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You know my feelings about cancel culture. In theory, Brennaman should not lose his career because of one major mistake — reprehensible as it is — after 33 years of calling major-league games on the regional and national levels. But in 2020, it’s much more complicated than that, with selective punishment from a flurry of conduct cases creating unacceptable double standards across the media landscape. To break down the events of this month, if (1) NASCAR racer Kyle Larson loses his driving gig after using a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual race; (2) NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy is forced out amid allegations that he fostered a culture of racism and homophobia; and (3) Charlotte Hornets broadcaster John Focke is suspended indefinitely and headed toward a dismissal for posting a tweet containing the N-word, tell me, how do the Reds and Fox Sports possibly keep Brennaman?

And, in the same domino effect, how does MLB allow NBC Sports Chicago to keep Ozzie Guillen as a White Sox studio analyst after giving him a wrist tap years ago? That’s when, as the team’s manager, he referred to yours truly — then a Chicago columnist and regular ESPN panelist — as a “f——— fag’’ during a rant that follows Guillen to this day. If we’re raising the standards of tolerance and stability, NBCUniversal can’t pardon Guillen for past transgressions when, in effect, it has run off an executive suspected of similar insensitive conduct under the same corporate umbrella. Then again, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — Guillen’s protector — owns a 50 percent majority interest in NBC Sports Chicago, meaning the network, for now, is keeping Guillen in the chair despite his gay-disparaging past. Guillen and NBCSC boss Kevin Cross have refused comment when asked about the “f——— fag’’ comment and how Guillen still is employed on a sports network.

Brennaman was removed from the air by the Reds but not until the fifth inning of the second game, after social media had exploded. The team suspended him indefinitely and released a statement that hinted at an imminent dismissal: “The Cincinnati Reds organization is devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark made this evening by broadcaster Thom Brennaman. He was pulled off the air, and effective immediately was suspended from doing Reds broadcasts. We will be addressing our broadcasting team in the coming days. In no way does this incident represent our players, coaches, organization, or our fans. We share our sincerest apologies to the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, Kansas City, all across this country, and beyond. The Reds embrace a zero-tolerance policy for bias or discrimination of any kind, and we are truly sorry to anyone who has been offended.’’

Fox Sports Ohio was more critical, saying the crude comment was “hateful, offensive and in no way reflects the values’’ of the network.

To his credit, Brennaman understood the magnitude of his blunder. He looked into a camera and said, “I made a comment tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of. If I have hurt anyone out there, I can’t tell you how much I say from the bottom of my heart, I am very, very sorry. I think of myself as a man of faith. I don’t know if I’m going to be putting on this headset again. I don’t know if it’s going to be for the Reds. I don’t know if it’s going to be for my bosses at Fox. I will apologize for the people who sign my paycheck, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with, for anybody I have offended here tonight. I can’t begin to tell you how deeply sorry I am. This is not who I am. It never has been. And I’d like to think I have some people that can back that up. I am very, very sorry and I beg for your forgiveness.’’ With that, he said field reporter Jim Day would “take you the rest of the way home.’’

It’s hard to imagine Brennaman’s career surviving in a small market where the Reds have served as a form of pride for decades. The memories were recorded for decades by Brennaman’s legendary father, Marty, who had his spicy moments on the air but never anything of this enormity. A few years back, Thom had a hot mic moment when he was heard whispering, “This guy sucks,’’ after a Pittsburgh pitcher walked Reds shortstop Zach Cozart. I knew Thom in Chicago when he was broadcasting Cubs games and befriending the team’s star first baseman, Mark Grace, who was suspended five games by the Cubs’ broadcast network this week for referring to his ex-wife as a “dingbat’’ during a rambling story. Put it this way: Brennaman, like so many who drop slurs, is a product of an 20th-century environment as outdated as it is insensitive. 

In Cincinnati, where the Brennamans are sports royalty, the backlash already is divisive enough to keep his absence permanent. “It was incredibly disappointing to hear Mr. Brennaman use such language when our country is begging for unity,’’ tweeted Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay City Council member. “The Brennaman family are Cincinnati sports icons with a powerful voice in our community, which makes it even more disgusting and totally unprofessional to hear such language used. The Reds have been proud supporters of their LGBTQ+ fans, and this language cannot be tolerated. Period.”

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But Chicago is a different animal. Other than Jim O’Donnell of the Daily Herald, who has questioned NBC Sports Chicago about Guillen, the sports media are an embarrassing extension of the city’s sports franchises and have given Guillen a pass, at times applauding him for slurring me because they didn’t like how I dominated the city for 17 years. It’s hard to believe some local media were calling for the Cubs to fire Grace while continuing to worship Guillen, which speaks to the homerism and two-team divides in an intense baseball town. I am not gay, but my sexual orientation Isn’t the point — why do NBC and Reinsdorf allow Guillen to represent a media corporation and a baseball franchise after such hideous behavior, which included a series of episodes that would have triggered his firing if they happened in 2020?

The minute Thom Brennaman is fired, Ozzie Guillen should be fired.

If not, Reinsdorf is an even bigger fraud than I thought.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

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.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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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.

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