Baseball once had an old-boy problem, a network of ownership cronies who ruled the sport’s inner sanctum via backroom politics and finer cigars. Now, it has a bro-dude problem, a sabercreep problem, a new fraternal culture that somehow enabled Jared Porter to remain a coveted young executive for four years after texting a photo of his erect, naked penis to a female reporter.
It’s highly improbable, given the loose lips in Major League Baseball, that someone in the Chicago Cubs’ hierarchy didn’t know about the 2016 sexting story involving Porter — then their 36-year-old director of professional scouting — until this week’s ESPN expose. The time gap is disturbingly long, the length of Donald Trump’s presidency, and Porter’s career never should have been allowed to ascend to the high-profile point where the shamed New York Mets finally fired him Tuesday as general manager.
How could this happen? How could the Cubs and the rest of MLB not know? That’s what the Cubs are claiming — and it should be underlined here that the savior-in-charge during the 2010s, Theo Epstein, resigned two months ago. In the story by Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan, ESPN reports “a baseball source” tipped them to Porter’s conduct in December 2017, more than a year after his uninvited barrage of suggestive text messages and lewd photos to a woman who’d moved to the United States to cover baseball. That source was one of several people who reportedly knew about the texts — including, stunningly, a Cubs employee from her home country.
The reporter, fearing reprisal from Porter and unsympathetic people in her native land, said she was connected to the Cubs employee by a lawyer referred by her media bosses back home. According to ESPN, that employee contacted Porter, who said he wanted to apologize in person — a request she rejected. By this point, she also had alerted a major-league player from her native country, seeking further advice.
Come on. How did the Cubs not know? Are we supposed to believe that a team employee, acting independently, didn’t tell anyone at Wrigley Field about the allegations other than Porter? That Epstein, who had groomed Porter as part of his bro-dude posse with the Boston Red Sox, didn’t know a thing about the story? That current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, part of the same Boston posse, hadn’t heard a word? How did team owner Tom Ricketts not know? How did the commissioner’s office, with its expansive security and surveillance detail, not know?
Or did they know?
“This story came to our attention tonight and we are not aware of this incident ever being reported to the organization,” the Cubs said in a Monday night statement to ESPN. “Had we been notified, we would have taken swift action as the alleged behavior is in violation of our code of conduct. While these two individuals are no longer with the organization, we take issues of sexual harassment seriously and plan to investigate the matter.”
The investigation should extend to the MLB office, where Epstein was hired last week as a consultant to commissioner Rob Manfred. In any event, this is a troubling indictment of the industry’s bro-dude culture, given Porter’s career arc since the sexting-and-photos flurries. After apologizing to the woman via text and thinking he was home clear, he became assistant general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2016 offseason, after Epstein and the Cubs had broken a 108-year drought and won the World Series in a festive Chicago. Last month, not vetted by the Mets, Porter was named GM in multibillionaire owner Steven Cohen’s new regime — the same Steve Cohen whose investment firm was accused of harassment toward women in 2018.
“We have terminated Jared Porter this morning,” Cohen wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”
Then why didn’t Cohen spend more time investigating Porter before hiring him? Making phone calls? Asking around? The owner is new to the sport, but baseball operations boss Sandy Alderson is a baseball lifer — straight from the old-boy network, in fact — and he also whiffed badly here. After Porter’s firing, Alderson delivered a wishy-washy response, suggesting extensive vetting isn’t always possible. It’s 2021, Sandy. Your boss is one of the richest people in America. Don’t pass the buck.
“This is a wake-up call. It clearly suggests something like this can be out there in connection with almost anyone,” said Alderson, back for another tour of Mets duty at 73. “We have do to our best to make sure we know about that information, but there are limits to what we can actually get. I don’t think this reflects a fundamental flaw in the process. I think this is a very unfortunate circumstance that we wish we knew about, but didn’t.”
In covering his own tail, Alderson said the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Red Sox praised Porter during his discussions with team executives. Keep in mind that an Epstein link threads through all three franchises. “There really wasn’t a dissenting voice, so from my standpoint, I was shocked. Eventually that gives away to disappointment and a little bit of anger,” Alderson said. “There’s always a risk associated with hiring. There was no disclosure of this conduct. I don’t think we would have hired Jared if we had known about the conduct beforehand. Should we have known? We did a background check. We asked if there was anything else we need to know.”
He didn’t ask enough.
In a case of extreme sensitivity, credit ESPN for resisting any journalistic temptation to report what it knew and corroborated in late 2017. Realizing it could be accused of sitting on explosive information and protecting Porter and the network’s high-priced partnership with MLB, ESPN rightfully ceded to the female reporter’s request to not publish the story then when, according to Kimes and Passan, she had “concluded her career would be harmed if the story emerged.” As the aggrieved party, her wishes took precedence.
Someone should explain journalism ethics to WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts, who accused ESPN of just that: sitting on the story for years. Passan responded in kind on ESPN Radio in New York.
“There’s another radio station in New York that’s been pretty damn irresponsible today about its coverage of this, and I hate giving them any shine because they don’t deserve it,” Passan said. “But the notion that ESPN has been sitting on this story since 2017 is the most giant load of irresponsible garbage that I’ve heard in a long time. We have duties as journalists to protect our sources and to look after the people who give us the stories that we get to tell. It is their story, it is not ours. And the idea that we have been sitting on this, because this woman, who went through a horrendous thing with somebody in a position of power and ended up having to move back to her country and get out of journalism because of it, the idea that she wasn’t ready at that time is perfectly rational and normal and the type of response that I think any of us could go through. She wasn’t ready.
“The story waits for when the person whose it is, is ready to tell it. And so, she waited, and she left the industry where she was worried she was going to have backlash and potentially have her job harmed. And she saw Jared Porter’s rise to general manager of the New York Mets, putting him in a position of great power and great authority, and thought to herself, ‘This man, who has his dream job, ended up facilitating me losing my dream job. And I didn’t do anything … I didn’t do anything.’ And so the idea that this story, four-and-a-half years after this incident happened, has any less resonance, has any less importance, and has any less right to be told — anybody who thinks that needs to shut up.”
And, no, ESPN was not obligated to alert MLB, the Cubs, the Diamondbacks or the Mets about what Kimes knew, though we’re not stupid. Enough people knew about the story to circulate it around a gossipy industry.
Carton also didn’t do his homework about Passan, accusing the baseball insider of knowing about Porter’s texts when he praised his hiring last month. Passan said he only recently was assigned to report the story with Kimes — after Porter was hired. “The issue isn’t about protecting the victim. Of course you do,” Carton tweeted. “Issue is that Passan endorsed Porter said he had the perfect ‘temperament’ for NYC knowing he was a stalker and had harassed a woman.”
ESPN sometimes flouts journalistic rules. Not this time.
When Porter was named Mets’ GM, the woman decided to go public with her story, telling ESPN through an interpreter, “My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else. Obviously, he’s in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry.”
Porter’s “apology” came after she had asked the major-league player from her home country to help compose a response. She subsequently wrote Porter: “This is extremely inappropriate, very offensive, and getting out of line. Could you please stop sending offensive photos or msg.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” Porter responded.
“I will stop.”
He stopped texting. But his career carried on, the perpetuation of which is the latest crisis in a sport that cannot get out of its own way. Here we thought Epstein might rescue MLB from its self-destructive plague the way he smashed curses in Chicago and Boston.
Now, he might be baseball’s newest problem. Why didn’t he know? And how couldn’t he have known?
The Best Defense Against An Ornery Subject Is A Good Question
With the right question, a reporter never has to assume an antagonistic stance or role.
A question should be constructed to get the best answer possible.
This was the guideline I learned as a newspaper reporter, which makes sense. You don’t hear the questions in a story. You don’t usually read them. The questions operate off-stage, the unseen lever that pries out the good stuff from the subject.
The dynamic changes when the interview is conducted in public, though. I learned this first-hand when I transitioned from reporter to radio host in 2013. Suddenly, my questions were part of the content being consumed. This is increasingly becoming the reality for anyone covering pro sports now. Not only have the press conferences themselves become a part of actual sports programming, but those press conferences are increasingly the only access to professional athletes, given post-pandemic locker-room restrictions.
But any time I start to think that it’s important to consider how a question sounds to the audience, instead of focusing on the answer it gets from the subject, I will inevitably be reminded of where that thinking leads. This week, it was Jim Matheson, a veteran Canadian hockey reporter in Canada, confronting the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl over being non-cooperative.
On the one hand, this kind of tension has existed for decades in pro sports. It’s inevitable, really, that the people paid to play the games will at times be at odds with the people paid to critique their performance. The difference now, as Ian Casselberry pointed out here at BSM yesterday, is that the tension is increasingly visible.
Personally, I love these moments. Seeing someone get sensitive in public is catnip to my shallow sensibilities. But professionally, there is something to be learned here by going back to the question that started each impasse. Let’s start with Matheson.
“Lots of reasons for why the Oilers are playing the way they are, in terms of winning and losing,” Matheson said. “What do you think is the number one reason for the losses now? Is there one thing, in your own mind, that you’re saying, ‘We’ve got to get better at that’?”
It’s a bad question for two reasons, the first being that it is actually two questions. “Double-barreled” is the term used by John Sawatsky, a Canadian journalist, an absolute prince of a man, and an unrivaled expert in improving interview skills. In two days, John taught me more about good interview tactics than I’ve learned in 20 years of weekend workshops and workday brownbags. This won’t be the last time I mention him in my posts here at BSM.
The best piece of advice John offers is also the easiest to institute and provides the most immediate results: Ask one question. Just one. If you add a second question — either out of nervousness or because you try to phrase it better — it will confuse even a cooperative subject. If you have an uncooperative subject, it provides an out. An opportunity to answer the less difficult question and then stare right back at you to indicate it’s your turn.
That is exactly what happened to Matheson. Here was Draisaitl’s response: “Yeah, we have to get better at everything.”
Matheson asked if Draisaitl was willing to expand; Draisaitl was not, adding a sarcastic aside that Matheson could add to it because he knew everything. Jameson then asked Draisaitl why he was so “pissy.”
“Hmmmm,” Draisaitl said, raising his eyebrows as if he hadn’t heard.
“Why are you so pissy?”
“I’m not,” Draisaitl said. “I’m just answering your–” at which point he was cut off by Matheson.
“Yeah, you are,” Matheson said. “Every time I ask a question.”
Now, it’s likely that Draisaitl’s issue has nothing to do with the question Matheson asked. It’s possible that no question Matheson asked was going to get a good answer. But because that question was poorly constructed, it left Matheson cornered into the choice of accepting Draisaitl’s terrible answer to his poor question or creating a confrontation. He chose the latter, and while I don’t think it was wrong, per se, or crossed any lines, Matheson looked like the aggressor. And I suspect that will be the last piece of useful content he ever receives from Draisaitl.
This is the point where my column was initially going to end. Then I saw Ian’s post, which included an exchange between Gary Washburn, a reporter at the Boston Globe, and Celtics guard Dennis Schroder, who was every bit as uncooperative as Draisaitl. It provides the perfect example to see how a better question changed the nature of the impasse.
Let’s go to Washburn’s first question: “Dennis, in Philly, you had one point, but the game before in Indiana, you had 23. It seems like you’ve been up-and-down a little bit. Are you starting to feel comfortable? You had the COVID protocol, you had a lot of things happen this week, are you starting to feel a little bit of comfort in the offense?”
Washburn’s question wasn’t perfect. There are technically two queries, though I’d argue he really just restated his question about being comfortable. It was also a yes-no question, which doesn’t tend to be as powerful as a question that seeks an answer about how or why something has occurred. I’m nitpicking, though. The strength of this question was revealed when Schroeder bristled.
Schroeder: You with us or you with Philly?
Washburn: No, I’m just asking.
Schroeder: You with Boston? You work for us?
Washburn: I cover the Celtics. I’m just asking if you’re feeling any more comfortable over the last couple games.
Schroeder: It’s just a stupid question.
Washburn: My fault. Are you feeling any more comfortable? How did you feel like you played today?
Schroeder: Not good enough for you, huh?
Washburn: No. I’m asking about the bounce back.
Schroeder: We won, so that’s all that matters. I’m a team player, so end of the day if I’ve got 40 points or one point and win the game, I’m going to be happy with it. So end of the day, I’m a team player, trying to win some games. And in Philly, we didn’t come out right, we played right, and that’s it.
Washburn: Thank you.
At no point in that back-and-forth does Washburn have to do anything other than restate his question: Are you feeling more comfortable? Schroeder has the choice whether to answer it, and ultimately talks around the quesrion without addressing it.
Washburn never has to say he was dissatisfied with the answer or call out Schroeder for being uncooperative. He never has to assume an antagonistic stance or role. He’s courteous and even accepts responsibility for a question Schroeder doesn’t like. In the end, Schroeder’s defensiveness speaks for itself. And that is important given how many people are now watching not just the answers that athletes provide, but the hearing and in some cases seeing the questions that provoke them
When Ian wrote about these situations on Thursday, he concluded with a very poignant observation: “Tensions are now out in the open, when they might have previously happened in a corner, away from everyone’s attention. And when these dialogues become public, people feel the need to take sides with the reporter or the athlete. Which side you’re on as a fan likely depends on your perception of the media.”
He’s absolutely right, but I would provide one addition to that. A well-constructed question is your best defense against not only an ornery subject, but also those audience members predisposed to blaming you for antagonizing the athlete.
What is The Next Evolution For Nickelodeon And The NFL?
“The NFL and Nickelodeon are a perfect marriage. An expanded package of games is the ideal next step.”
No matter how you look at the results, the NFL has hit a home run with a playoff game getting kid friendly packaging on Nickelodeon each of the last two seasons. Parents are watching with their kids, it’s driving an online conversation, and the league is letting a creative group of people have fun.
The NFL Playoffs on Nickelodeon work! So what do you do when something works?
You start to think about what the next step is. Those are conversations both the NFL and CBS/Viacom, Nickelodeon’s parent company, should be having.
To me, the next step for the NFL is pretty obvious. Give us a package of kid-friendly games during the season.
It doesn’t have to be a full 18-weeks, but think of it like ET with Reese’s Pieces. If the idea is that you are using the caché of Nickelodeon characters and graphics to get kids to watch football, doesn’t it benefit you to do that, or something like it, five or six more times during the season? Isn’t that the trail of Reese’s Pieces that could get the little ETs watching football more regularly?
It could be a revenue generator too. Something like the kid-friendly NFL package really does seem tailor-made for a bidding war. After all, every streaming service needs content. You could absolutely see the NFL going to Disney to see if they wanted to counter with something Marvel or Star Wars themed, right?
I think it would be a mistake to put this package of games on the open market. CBS has assembled the right duo in Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson and Nickelodeon has created the right aesthetic for the game. It is goofy. I enjoy watching Patrick Star’s face go from concerned to elated when a kick goes through the uprights just as much as my kids do. I don’t know that I would be as invested in trying to defeat Thanos with football or whatever the counter would be.
Make it worth CBS/Viacom’s to up their spend. Take care of the company’s other TV properties somehow. Give them priority for the next Super Bowl bidding.
I don’t know the exact right answer. What I know is the NFL has a GREAT thing here and it should be focused on cultivating it.
So that brings us to the next obvious question: what is the next evolution of this model for CBS and Nickelodeon?
Oh man, some of y’all are gonna hate this shit!
PUT SLIME ON EVERYTHING!
I am serious! Give me a kid-friendly version of The Final Four. Dump slime on the winner of The Masters. Every week the SEC is on CBS, have Young Sheldon pop up to explain to the audience what a bag man is.
Obviously, I am giving you the extreme version of the plan, but you get the gist, right? We just ran a guest piece from Joe Ovies that discussed how leagues are learning to meet the needs of younger fans. Well, here is a chance to do that with the help of a network partner.
Golf is looking for a way to bring back the fans that used to tune in on Sundays to see Tiger Woods close out a big win. It is a shame The Masters is the least likely to let CBS and Nickelodeon help, because it is the event that could use it the most.
CBS is way more likely to get the cooperation of the NCAA Tournament. You would probably have to limit Nick’s involvement to the Final Four, or even just the Championship game, but it would be worth it. Basketball is popular with kids. Those games are played in cavernous domes with plenty of space for an extra broadcast crew. Plus, the players are young enough to be excited about a project like that.
Broadcasting and sports are both built on innovation. When an idea comes along that can truly change the trajectory of how business is done, you have to embrace it. That is what we are looking at here.
The NFL and Nickelodeon are a perfect marriage. An expanded package of games is the ideal next step. If the NFL isn’t interested though, CBS/Viacom cannot let this thing go to waste. It has created something sports-loving parents can do and watch with their kids that aren’t entertained by competition alone. That describes most kids now.
One side, hopefully both, recognize that this is a chance to invest in their respective futures. Not every kid-targeted game or broadcast can look the same, but you have a proof of concept. You know your formula works.
Now get out there and do more of it!
Five Down and Dirty Ideas For Gaining Radio Sales Advantage
Tie into the local team and have two ads ready to go. One if they lose and one if they win.
Sometimes, salespeople need a new twist on an old idea to close the deal with a client. Here are five bold, down and dirty, ideas to beat out the competition and stand out in your market:
1. Sell an endorsement
Make sure you sell the sponsorship in 13, 26, or 52-week increments. There is no way you want to burn your talent on a category because the client didn’t run long enough.
Start selling spring advertisers right now. Patios, pools, and landscaping makeovers. Maybe sell an advertiser on a community makeover for a prominent retired community person and have the on-air person lead the effort. Sell a crypto or NFT sponsorship to a host and let them learn all about it on the air.
Make sure the talent also posts on social for the client.
2. Update your copy!
Sell copy changes as a benefit to the client. Tie into the local team and have two ads ready to go. One if they lose and one if they win. Your traffic person will hate you, but it can happen!
Produce bad weather spots now. Insert them at a moment’s notice. Buy your traffic person dinner because they will have to re-con the logs. So what. Think “in the moment.” Your listeners do that and it’s the best way to relate to them.
3. Do you have several car dealers, heating and cooling, roofing, or restaurants on the air?
Help them stand out on the station by branding them on weather, traffic, or top-of-hour IDs. This is a great way to pound the advertiser into the listener’s consciousness and separate them for the pack. Consider bonusing them the IDs if they committed to an annual.
4. Sell some NIL
If you have a famous college athlete in your market and a local NIL deal, suggest adding a radio campaign. Dr. Pepper did it. Or sell one to a local sports bar and have the player go there after the game and do an appearance on your post-game show on site.
This concept works well when sold with your CHR or New Rock stations. The rules have changed and you can do a lot more now. Schools, in some cities, are even more than willing to help you! They are doing anything to show other recruits how much love they will get in their town.
5. Super Bowl bet
Get two non-competing advertisers to take sides for the big game coming up. Set it up so if one team wins, listeners get a discount and vice versa. A Heating and cooling guy vs. a plumber could work well. You know how to say “Big Game,” “green and gold” for Green Bay, and the “red team” for Kansas City.
Just find the clients who care about the game. See if your shows would let them do a call-in. Let them cut up a bit and give them some promos, make them part of the Super Bowl hype.
If one of these doesn’t work, sell like Tom Brady.
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