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Escapism From Debate Hell Found In Usual Places

“As the next moderator seeks a mute button, America can get away to a LeBron-dominant NBA Finals, the quick-out MLB playoffs and … oops, the NFL and college football are in a predictable Covid crisis.”

Jay Mariotti

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As our hearts pound in horror, our stomachs tumble in nausea and our heads throb in disgust, we ask: What now, fellow Americans? In a nation lampooned wherever laughter exists on this planet, a country where the President is a cartoonish hooligan who won’t condemn white supremacists while his Botox-ed rival stoops to name-calling and Elks Club-level taunting (“Will you shut up, man?’’), no one is sure where we turn next, man.

The best answer is a permanent move to Croatia or Kyrgyzstan, but short of that, I suppose we escape again to sports. You might argue, of course, that Donald Trump and Joe Biden have become our only sport, a hybrid of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and the classic MTV hoot, “Celebrity Deathmatch,’’ where two claymation figures batter each other in a ring. A hundred or so cable channels allow daily visits to the unflushed Trump-Biden toilet bowl if you so choose, until a first Tuesday in November that can’t arrive soon enough, when the conversation shifts to tampering and fixing and whether a crane or bulldozer will be required to extract Trump from the White House.

Our President can’t even claim his usual ratings victory — the debate numbers were down appreciably from 2016 — which suggests the next moderator have a mute button similar to the one on my old ESPN show, “Around The Horn.’’ Clearly, people were tuning out. To quote Vladimir Putin, which is appropriate in the aftermath of the Cleveland disgrace:  “When people cross certain boundaries, boundaries of decency, they don’t look strong. They look weak.’’

Or, there is convenient solace in a barrage of meaningful sports events (courtesy of Trump) that, alas, come with the relentless medical risks of Covid-19 (also courtesy of Trump). In a dizzying week in American history, as the NFL is slammed by its first major coronavirus outbreak, escapism is available in the round-the-clock form of another LeBron-centric NBA Finals and the quick-out Major League Baseball postseason, among other options. Trump’s fantasy of winning re-election via football is crumbling in a heap of positive coronavirus tests, including campus outbreaks that already have broken the college season. Anyone foolish enough to think the sport was immune to the pandemic — hello, American South — can stop writing me after I predicted a Covid crisis in August on Paul Finebaum’s ESPN show. What NFL quack assumed the Tennessee Titans would be safe from a heap of infections — nine total, including four players — because they didn’t allow their Covid-ridden outside linebackers coach, Shane Bowen, to travel with the team to Minnesota? And what NFL doofus continues to think the Titans can play the Steelers on Monday night in Nashville, which sounds like a blueprint for a coronavirus spread? Just as we saw MLB struggle outside a restrictive environment with a flouting of protocols, we’re seeing NFL coaches refuse to wear masks and Raiders players not wearing facial coverings during a charity event in Las Vegas. You snooze, you lose.

You sneeze, you lose worse. And if the coaches don’t follow the plan? The league is threatening to sock them with suspensions and lost draft picks, which sounds much like local governments that issue warnings of prosecution to maskless Covid-iots, only to stop short of enforcing the so-called policies. All of which feeds the political invective that has turned America into the hottest of messes — and one that put LeBron James at the intersection of sports and society one night after a debate that hopefully is a one-off, for the sake of our collective wellness.

It’s much too simplistic to say James is en route to a fourth NBA title with a third team, the Lakers, or even that he’s honoring the memory of the late Kobe Bryant. As witnessed in Game 1 against the refreshing but already battered and lost Miami Heat, this one will be easier to navigate than past roller-coaster rides, armed with a deadly accomplice in Anthony Davis. James’ aim is to combine a 2020 championship — which would be the most unique and challenging ever won by a sports legend — with the demise of Trump, a mission he has plotted for years via his belief that the President is a racist. “PLEASE VOTE!!!!!’’ he tweeted after the debate in his native northeast Ohio, where his 2016 comeback triumph with the Cavaliers was assumed to be his career touchstone … until this hellish year.

Suddenly, almost 36 and only a year after he looked ready for retirement and a Hollywood mogul’s life, he is looking at an unprecedented survivalist takeover: overcoming three months in a depressing Bubble, a dissension-plagued franchise, the helicopter crash that killed Bryant before they ever had a chance to meet for dinner, his polarizing embrace of activism and Trump-bashing amid the police shooting deaths and Black Lives Matter protests, a geopolitical flap in which he was widely ripped for his pro-China view after Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong tweet, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Luka Doncic and a faux Clippers team that splashed LeBron-mocking billboards throughout Los Angeles — remember “We Over Me’’ — when James was the one who united a team. Oh, and he also made “Space Jam 2,’’ though it won’t open in theaters until theaters can be opened.

Do not make the mistake, as some have already, of declaring LeBron as the Greatest Basketball Player of All Time if he pulls it off. Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T., no recall vote permitted. But Jordan, I dare say, could not have withstood the year’s non-stop trauma and drama — never bearing the burden of activism during his playing career, for instance. James is about to slay not only the Heat, but opponents — attrition, mental and physical health, isolation, American misery — never tackled by his all-time brethren in sports.

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” he said of central Florida confinement, which keeps him from his just-purchased $36 million Beverly Hills mansion. “I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the Bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough. But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship.

“That was my mindset once I entered the Bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. Then, right from my first practice, my mindset was to — if I’m going to be here, make the most of it and see what you can do and lock in on what the main thing is. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship. So that’s just been my mindset throughout these — I don’t even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years. I’ve been as locked in as I’ve ever been in my career.”

The Lakers are far from perfect, which is why Heat leader Jimmy Butler said before Game 1, “Not going to say that we’re any better than anybody else, but I just don’t think that we’re underdogs. I don’t.’’ LeBron’s cast includes hotheads who go off for the wrong reasons and three-point shooters who often don’t go off when needed. But after all the Miami injuries and all the obstacles he has overcome, LeBron isn’t going to falter now? With emerging star Bam Adebayo nursing a shoulder strain after a collision with Dwight Howard and Goran Dragic finished with a tear in his left foot, the Heat could be swept. Plus, there’s the Miami grudge factor. James is facing Heat patriarch Pat Riley, who brought him to South Beach, then seethed when he returned to Cleveland. And Erik Spoelstra, the coach he initially didn’t accept in Miami, who since has become a strategic wizard and master developer of homegrown pieces Adebayo and Tyler Herro.

Losing to the Heat, before they are ready to win championships, would be devastating to LeBron’s legacy. It would make him 3-7 in the Finals, this one against a team he was favored to beat. Only a catastrophe can stop James and Davis, by far the best two players in the series, from winning the Lakers’ 17th NBA title. “To be back in the Finals against Miami, I think, means a lot more to him winning this than anyone else,” said Davis, who dominated Game 1 with 34 points and backboard domination. “I think this championship is probably second behind Cleveland, being able to get this one for him.”

All considering, this one would trump Cleveland.

Pun fully intended.

The baseball diehards have their dream playoff-o-rama, with whatever happened in a shotgun, Covid-dinged regular season rendered meaningless beyond seedings. Being a lower seed hasn’t mattered yet to those cheatin’ Houston Asterisks, who didn’t have to steal signs to eliminate the Twins and give America a hating interest — especially in L.A., where the Dodgers won’t be waiting but Dodgers fans know the team bus route. “I know a lot of people are mad. I know a lot of people don’t want to see us here,’’ Carlos Correa said. “But what are they going to say now?’’ On the lovable side, admire the Marlins, who have the Cubs on choke alert again without benefit of Steve Bartman. And don’t we love lower scores — the balls have been dejuiced! — such as Trevor Bauer and Max Fried in a scoreless duel in what became a 13-inning, 1-0 Atlanta victory. The networks desperately need the Yankees, who are slugging again — past 1 a.m. this morning in Cleveland — to advance to a monster divisional series against the Rays. TV also needs the Dodgers, who have no reason not to finally win the World Series, though that was said much of the last decade. Like L.A. neighbor James, manager Dave Roberts thinks winning in 2020 would mean more because of the whirlwind circumstances.

“It’s kind of World Series-or-bust every year,” Roberts said. “This year, I think, certainly would be more special. We’ve all gone through a lot. The whole industry has.”

Imagine if the Rays win it all, giving Tampa Bay at least two champions in the Covid era — in a state, Florida, that doesn’t take the virus seriously.

“For the most part, it’s been a really cool experience,’’ said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who can state that as a champion when the experience sucked for also-rans who wasted weeks in Bubbles. In lieu of a traditional parade, players and coaches boarded trolleys for a ride to Amalie Arena, where a private team-only ceremony was held. If the NHL can be believed, more than 33,000 coronavirus tests in the two Canada igloos produced zero positive outcomes, furthering two 2020 sports truths: (1) The leagues with Bubbles avoided major Covid drama, and those with no Bubbles have been slammed; and (2) We all should move up north, where the virus has been controlled. Unlike the NBA, which is adamant about a 2020-21 season with fans in all 30 arenas, the NHL is exploring a season with four to six Bubbles in states that will allow spectators inside arenas. Could it by the embattled Gary Bettman will be remembered, along with the NBA’s Adam Silver, as the commissioners who figured it out when others flopped? A big difference: The NBA’s experiment has been fascinating; the NHL’s was boring.

Certainly, college football’s Power Five commissioners aren’t showering themselves in glory. They’re just grabbing whatever TV money falls their way, regardless of the rash of positive tests, as many top programs hide behind privacy laws that protect infected players. I applaud Missouri’s new coach, Eli Drinkwitz, for calling out the SEC and its lack of transparency about test results. “It’s kind of a free-for-all,’’ he said. I also applaud Notre Dame for trying to explain how 18 players tested positive last week, which led to 39 players being isolated or quarantined.

“Throughout our entire time together, we had not had one meal where we sat down together. Everything was grab and go,” coach Brian Kelly said. “We get into our game situation where we have pregame meal together, and that cost us. Big. We had somebody who was asymptomatic, and it spread like wildfire throughout our meeting area where we were eating and then it got guys in contact tracing.”

Why that wasn’t understood to begin with — do not eat team meals together — is beyond me. And when a player vomits on the sideline, don’t assume he’s dehydrated when, sure enough, he tested positive for the virus. “It becomes very tricky,’’ Kelly said. “Just being vigilant and understanding this thing can hide in so many different areas make it a tricky proposition, even if you’re doing all of the right things.”

Or, everyone could just go home and wait until next season. Oops, here come those Southern trolls again.

It brings to mind a comment by Our President during the Great American Cluster Dump. “By the way, I brought back Big Ten football,” he said. “It was me, and I’m very happy to do it, and the people of Ohio are very proud of me.’’ The people of Ohio might be proud of LeBron James. But Trump?

Proud probably is the wrong word.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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