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What Does Skip Bayless Owe Damian Lillard?

“Dame made it! He crossed the superstar threshold a couple of years ago, and yet Skip refuses to afford “the code” the appropriate level of respect in the name of what? Advanced analytics?”

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As members of sports media, I believe we have an inherent obligation to the fans we serve, as well as the athletes we cover. The sports fan deserves the most factually compelling content we can produce, while the players and coaches are entitled to objective and just critique of their performances.

Inside the locker room's peskiest opponent: the media scrum, and the  cliches that come from them – The Athletic

Furthermore, given the scope and magnitude of the contributions of their labor; the men and women who have committed their lives to the blood, sweat, and tears required to compete at the highest levels have earned our sincere deference. The onus lies on us to be mindful of what we say and write regarding these individuals.

As sports broadcasters, commentators, and journalists, occasionally the prism through which we view the teams and players we cover can distort our reality given the level of access we are customarily afforded and the relationships that can allow us to form. However, it would serve us well to keep in mind that many in our business have not made the necessary athletic sacrifices, nor been fortunate enough to take advantage of comparable performance opportunities. It is human-nature to get too comfortable I suppose; yet, this very nature can compromise our professional credibility at times, while simultaneously offending the athlete and more.

The most recent example of this is evident in the tiff between reigning All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard and Fox Sports 1’s Skip Bayless, who continues to question Dame’s superstardom. BSM’s Brandon Contes spotlighted this exchange the other day. We all know Skip is no stranger to conflict with athletes, including some quite recognizable names such as Jalen Rose, Terrell Owens, LeBron James, and most recently Charles Barkley…again.

Let me first say that I have never met Skip nor communicated with him in any way. I only see and hear what you see and hear on national television every day. Overall, I like him and both respect and admire his professional achievements, along with the way he appears to live his life. 

There’s a good chance we’ve all heard or thought at some point of time, that Skip can’t possibly truly believe some of the positions he takes on the Undisputed debate desk. Some may be of the opinion he has profited and risen to such notoriety as a contrarian, that he couldn’t stop assuming that role now if he wanted to. Who knows Skip’s true on-air intentions and motivation?

My big gripe is with Bayless’ adherence to certain data points or statistics which can at times be inconsistent, lack objectivity, and occasionally make a debate point personal regarding an athlete. His occasional stubbornness to defer to the perspective of individuals who have actually performed these athletic feats we analyze can be absolutely maddening at times too, thus, the vehement push-back from the likes of current and former players such as Damian Lillard, Matt Barnes, and Sir Charles.

“I have never been buying nothing about you fam. You a joke. And after our private convo full of back pedaling you will never have my respect.” That is from Damian Lillard’s verified Twitter account.

“Skip, I love you man, but that shit was weak what you did. To say you were frustrated and mad at Dame because your job or FOX’s longevity depended on it. You don’t put all that on him,” FS1 colleague and former NBA player Matt Barnes said in a post on YouTube.

“He has concerns, he addressed his concerns. Dame has never spoke like anybody but Dame– never tried to be LeBron, never tried to be no one, never tried to team up with no stars. Dame is Dame. So, as a former player, and all of the players in the league respects when he speaks because he rarely speaks in the first place. So, for you to try to come shit on him with these bullshit ass analytics– analytics are made up by people who can’t dribble and chew gum at the same time, analytics mean nothing. It’s the eye test with Dame. Dame hits big shots, he misses big shots, but he’s always going to take them, he’s one of the most clutch players we’ve ever seen in the NBA. Cut the bullshit out.”

During a highlight of Lillard hitting a three-pointer, Barkley said, “Take that, Skip Bayless, with your punk ass” on Tuesday night’s edition of Inside the NBA.

Why such animus towards Skip Bayless by these guys? For the sake of ego? To protect Dame? Not necessarily.

I suspect something much deeper. These sentiments are aimed at preserving a very long-standing competitive code of sports. A methodology instilled in us dating back to our earliest days competing athletically. The stress and anxiety of having our talents constantly compared and contrasted daily against our peers. Year-by-year that talent pool is shrinking as the game says goodbye to the friends and teammates who have been closest to us along the way. The pressure of representing an entire community, state, or region is constantly being reinforced with your performance. The hours of sacrifice and commitment in hopes of finally proving yourself worthy of the notoriety, financial compensation, along with warranted respect, which is granted at certain levels of athletic achievement can be isolating and mind-numbing.

This is why Damian Lillard and others are upset. He has paid all the dues. Dame made it! He crossed the superstar threshold a couple of years ago, and yet Skip refuses to afford “the code” the appropriate level of respect in the name of what? Advanced analytics?

3 Point Quick Hitter vs 2-3 Zone - FastModel Sports

No, Skip Bayless did not disrespect Damian Lillard by calling him out of his name, as Skip has done with other athletes. In this case, he has nitpicked the man’s game to reinforce a narrative that Dame is not yet elite – a narrative that those who know best, players, coaches, scouts, GMs, and majority of sports media simply don’t corroborate. 

Skip Bayless is certainly entitled to his opinion. On some level, I really respect his courage to go against the grain. However, I hope that he considers the gravity of his unfounded criticism and the unintended consequences associated. As I’m certain Skip will attest, this business will thicken one’s skin. I imagine Mr. Lillard would agree. That’s probably why they call it “Dame Time.” He’s earned it! 

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 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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