THEY GET IT
Kenny Smith, TNT — Charles Barkley should be eviscerated for a repulsive take, even by his low-brow standards, but let’s also praise his studio colleague for calling b.s. Showing no concern for health-care frontliners and elderly folks who should be inoculated first, Barkley made an ass of himself by saying pro athletes should be high on any COVID-19 vaccine priority list … because they have high tax bills? “We need 300 million shots. Give a thousand to some NBA players … NFL players, hockey players,” he said. “Listen, as much taxes as these players pay — let me repeat that, as much taxes as these players pay — they deserve some preferential treatment.” No, they do not, Chuck, because they also make outsized salaries; actually, athletes should be at the back of the line, given their youth and general good health. “For life and death?” interrupted Smith, incredulous. Barkley spoke over him in a rambling tone before Smith said, simply, “We can’t go there.” At some point, Barkley will cross the line of human decency — even one as seemingly boundary-less as the one TNT allows — and shame parent company AT&T. Don’t say I didn’t forewarn the corporate suite.
Me — Why am I the only media person — raise your hand if I missed you — who smells a rat when the NBA, struggling to save its season from COVID-19 outbreaks, says it wants to educate the public about vaccinations by, ahem, inoculating players? Commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at a Sportico virtual conference, pointed out accurately that the African-American community has been hit hard nationally by the virus yet is reluctant in many quarters to be vaccinated. “It’s something we’re particularly focused on,” he said. “If that resistance continues, it would be very much a double whammy to the Black community because the only way out of this pandemic is to get vaccinated.” Here’s what Silver didn’t say: Top NBA players, such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry, don’t have to be vaccinated to promote the benefit of being vaccinated on public service announcements. Those doses should be reserved for higher priority groups than young, wealthy basketball players who would be protecting a league that needs continuing riches from TV networks to avoid a financial crisis. I’m sorry the NBA is stumbling though its new season, but the players should wait their turn like everyone else.
Technology — The one redeeming value of a pandemic: We have plenty of time to marvel at today’s TV sports visuals. The pictures are nothing short of magnificent, starting with Fox’s 8K handheld camera known as “Megalodon.” It’s a Sony device that seemingly yanks game action into our living rooms in a 3D-type silhouette, blurring the background to create a cool cinematic effect. You look back at sports telecasts 20 and even 10 years ago and laugh; those images are so much duller and fuzzier. With stadiums and arenas expected to be empty or sparsely populated well into 2021, it’s vital that the networks have upped their production game and demonstrated, again, why the home sports experience is better than being there.
Dick Vitale, ESPN — Reduced to minimal television impact in virus-frazzled college basketball, Dickie V stays busy by trying to save lives. He wrote a book about the canceled 2020 NCAA tournament, titled “The Lost Season,” and donated all proceeds to pediatric cancer research through The V Foundation. He’s pushing 82, yet when I listened to him broadcast a recent game, he still oozed of passion for a sport that has broken his heart with scandals. I used to tell people to blame me for helping discover Vitale; as a post-collegiate pup handed a sports media column in Detroit, I lauded the work of a coach, fired by the NBA’s Pistons, who was doing sports commentaries for an FM rock station. Now, in the twilight of his legendary career, I’m pleased to say I noticed him before ESPN did.
Mike Sielski, Philadelphia columnist — I wouldn’t have the patience to sit there, on a Zoom session with other reporters, and hear an athlete speak to me the way the Flyers’ Jake Voracek spoke to Sielski: “Does it matter what I say, Mike? You’re gonna write f—ing sh— every time so it doesn’t matter what you say. … Uh, I wasn’t even gonna answer your question because you are such a weasel it’s not even funny. Next question.” To his credit, Sielski avoided an incident and let other media members do their work and ask questions. Me? In a story I can’t re-tell enough, baseball character Tony Phillips, who since has left this Earth, repeatedly called me a “mother f——” for several minutes in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse. I responded by repeatedly calling him a “mother f——.” Not very gracious on my end, but do I feel bad about it? Nope.
THEY DON’T GET IT
ESPN — To boost its ESPN+ streaming service after a price hike to $59.99 annually, Bristol has jumped into business bed with … Conor McGregor. What, Satan wasn’t available? The UFC enfant terrible returns to the Octagon in Abu Dhabi this Saturday amid a lawsuit filed in his native Ireland, where a woman accused McGregor of raping her in a Dublin hotel penthouse. Even the ESPN website explains what is so wretched about this comeback in a profile: “He has been arrested multiple times for transgressions caught on video — attacking a bus full of UFC fighters, punching a Dublin pub patron and destroying the phone of a fan trying to snap a picture. His rants during the buildup to the Mayweather and Nurmagomedov fights devolved into racism and xenophobia. There also were reports of sexual assault investigations in Ireland and France. McGregor’s name has been in the media for all the wrong reasons.” But, hey, let’s wear blinders and make a fortune off him. After its powerful expose on the sexting harassment episode that led to Jared Porter’s firing by the New York Mets, ESPN could make another grand statement by pulling out of this debacle. Of course, that won’t be happening. Walt Disney would be so proud.
Jay Glazer, Fox Sports — When a coach-on-hiatus leaves a broadcast oasis for his next NFL or college gig, he often lets his network report the news first out of, you know, professional courtesy. Somehow, this football insider was an outsider on developments involving Urban Meyer, who worked at Fox the last two years before jumping last week to the Jacksonville Jaguars. How did Yahoo Sports break the story hours before Glazer posted the team’s official announcement? Shouldn’t Fox executives have asked Meyer if they could have the story first? Or don’t they care about an easy scoop in the building? Glazer then tried to hard-sell a Sunday exclusive that Drew Brees was retiring and playing his final home game — hardly a newsflash and something Saints coach Sean Payton has hinted at all season. As it is, Glazer is drifting into murky ethical territory in selling supplements, even if proceeds go to charity. Here’s one ad appearing online: “@GNCLiveWell’s newest supplement line co-created with @JayGlazer, UNBREAKABLE PERFORMANCE, gives you everything you need for training and recovery.” He does very important work in helping people with mental health, no doubt. But given his close relationships with NFL players, general managers and coaches, Glazer shouldn’t be slipping in the information department. Seems he has become a cast member on “Fox NFL Sunday,” not a reporter, making him less a threat to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and more a candidate to appear on “Bob’s Burgers.”
Tony Romo, CBS — At $18 million a year, the highest-paid sportscaster ever — again, $18 million a year — cannot make the mistakes of a booth rookie. In the first quarter Sunday, Romo wouldn’t stop referring to the “key to the game” and other possible determining factors, making me wonder why he was in Kansas City and perhaps not in COVID-19 isolation that forced him to alter previous public assignments. Then came the final minutes of Chiefs-Browns, when 35-year-old journeyman Chad Henne went on his mad scramble and dive. Henne was short of a first down by a yard, but that didn’t stop Romo from assuming otherwise and launching a full-out scream on the replay: “PUTTING YOUR BODY ON THE LINE, I THINK HE’S GOING TO GET IT!!! THAT’S WHAT PATRICK MAHOMES DOES. NOBODY RUNS MORE ON THIRD-AND-LONG THAN MAHOMES!!! … PUTS HIS HEAD DOWN, KNOWING WHERE THE FIRST DOWN IS!!! AND SENDS KANSAS CITY, I THINK, TO THE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP!!! THE CHAMPS ARE STILL AROUND!!!” It’s a good thing Chiefs coach Andy Reid showed all-time sack size in having Henne throw on fourth down, a pass he completed to clinch the tense victory, or Romo would be in the rabbit hole with other infamous jump-the-gun announcers, mostly baseball play-by-players who call home runs that die as warning-track outs. Hopefully, if such uncertainty happens in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl, Romo will wait for the chains before losing his mind.
Jason Whitlock, peripatetic free agent — Much like Kyrie Irving, Whitlock is someone I’ll never understand in his various states of career disorientation. He is a workplace arsonist, never happy, always looking for a better situation only to drop a notch or two in prestige and impact from his previous stop. To quote Springsteen: “One step up and two steps back.” He’s quite the self-promoter, but the media industry is on to him. Fox Sports 1 wasn’t sad to part ways, leaving Whitlock to trumpet his Outkick venture with Clay Travis as a trail-blazing opportunity. Now, just months later, he and Travis have cut ties. Maybe he’s off to periodic appearances on cable news channels, but does Whitlock have the chops for the politics-and-race mainstream? Like Dan Le Batard, it’s unwise to play a high-risk employment game during a pandemic.
Mike Tanier, New York Times — Who is this guy trying to impress? Here’s a tip, Mike: When writing sports in the 21st century, it’s best to stay in the here-and-now. “Just as Constantinople had shrunk to a shadow of its former glory by the time it was finally conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453,” wrote Tanier, “the New England Patriots were a mere shell of a once mighty dynasty when they were eliminated from the 2020 NFL playoffs.” If you’re gasping for air like me, consider it was his lead paragraph. The only Ottoman that should concern Tanier is the one a reader rests his/her feet upon.