This is no time for political grandstanding, hypocritical amnesia and radical policy shifts. Now more than ever, sports must walk its straightest lines and think clearly while remaining true to established practices. Whoever thought the silencing of the national anthem was a good idea — why, of course, it was Mark Cuban! — isn’t someone who should be involved this year in the delicate resumption of full-bore sports, if and when that happens.
So let’s thank commissioner Adam Silver for reminding Cuban that he’s only one of 30 franchise owners and, thus, doesn’t represent the NBA’s ideologies. The anthem will — and should — continue to play inside all arenas, including Cuban’s in Dallas, “in keeping with longstanding league policy,” Silver said in a statement. This league has enough problems amid waning relevance to risk another shakeup in popularity and viewership, all because Cuban can’t decide in his flip-floppy, social-media-addled brainstream whether “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be played before games. Evidently, he now thinks the anthem should be tossed onto the same one-way train to oblivion as Donald Trump, forgetting a truth that all leagues and owners must embrace.
You don’t screw around with tradition when sports fans — the lifeblood of your very business existence — want normalcy in an abnormal world.
I could live without the anthem before a sports event, but that’s an intense debate for a post-pandemic day. At the moment, the sports industry is a piece of china — in the NBA’s case, in part because of controversial relationships in China — and engaging America in a showdown over the anthem is an ill-timed poison pill. After the lowest-rated Super Bowl in 15 years — which followed staggering viewer declines in major events including the NBA Finals, World Series, college football title game, Stanley Cup Final and Masters — the sole aim should be bringing back lost fans and retaining those still watching. But there was Cuban, stirring the pot as only he can, to the point he distracted a new presidential administration that should be solely focused on COVID-19.
“Well, I haven’t spoken with the president about the decision by Mark Cuban or the Dallas Mavericks,” said Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for President Biden. “But I know he’s incredibly proud to be an American, and has great respect for the anthem, and all that represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform around the world.”
That’s Biden’s way of tweaking Trump — again — when Trump should be treated as a fast-food bag blowing away in the rear-view mirror. It’s not a fray the sports world should enter. What kills me about Cuban is that he’s swerving all over the court about the anthem, like a point guard losing his handle. When Trump first admonished the Colin Kaepernick movement and warned NFL players not to kneel during the anthem, Cuban agreed that athletes shouldn’t kneel for the anthem. “This is America, and I’m proud of people who speak out civilly. That’s who we are as a country,” he said in 2017. “I’ll be standing there with my hand over my heart. I think the players will be (standing). I expect them to be.”
Then last June, as the NBA prepared for a Black Lives Matter-themed postseason in the Disney World Bubble, Cuban no longer thought players had to stand during the anthem. “If they were taking a knee and they were being respectful, I’d be proud of them. Hopefully, I’d join them,” he told ESPN.
Days later, Cuban shifted his position again, tweeting, “The National Anthem Police in this country are out of control. If you want to complain, complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”
Flip, flop. How, in one breath, could he encourage an athlete to kneel during the anthem — then, in the next, question why the anthem is played? Cuban finally addressed the disconnect this week by doubling down — the anthem would not be played before Mavericks games at American Airlines Center, a decree that began in the preseason and has continued in the regular season. At first, the NBA agreed. Wisely, Silver changed course hours later. Naturally, so did Cuban, and if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a Dramamine for motion sickness. “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country,” Cuban said in a Wednesday statement. “But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard, because they have not been. Going forward, our hope is that people will take the same passion they have for this issue and apply the same amount of energy to listen to those who feel differently from them. Only then we can move forward and have courageous conversations that move this country forward and find what unites us.”
Wait, he wasn’t finished. Like a moth noticing light, Cuban attached himself to another TV camera pointing in his direction, telling ESPN’s “The Jump” that he never officially canceled the anthem, which contradicts what he confirmed to at least two news outlets earlier. “We’re always talking to our community,” he said. “In listening to the community, there were quite a few people who voiced their concerns, really their fears that the national anthem did not fully represent them, that their voices were not being heard. … We didn’t make any decision to never play the national anthem — that wasn’t the case at all. We didn’t cancel the national anthem. We still had our flag flying proud up on the wall at the American Airlines Center and everybody had the opportunity to address it and pray to it or salute to it or whatever their feelings are.”
And to think Cuban was considering a presidential bid at one point. For talking him out of it, his wife should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thankfully, the league shut down this firestorm before it gathered any more social-media flames. “Get woke, go broke,” tweeted Anthony Wright, vice president of the Fort Worth Police Officers’ Association union. “I won’t spend another cent on @dallasmavs.”
Countered the ever-opinionated Stan Van Gundy, coach of the New Orleans Pelicans: “This should happen everywhere. If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events, then play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every work day at every business. What good reason is there to play the anthem before a game?”
Oh, because fans generally appreciate it and are used to it. And because Black athletes who have kneeled always will remember it as a sacred form of protest. Maybe the anthem sparks an important conversation between a parent and child about America. Or, maybe because it alerts people in the beer line that the game is about to start.
Anyway, why are we talking about this again?
And why now?
Sports used to teach life lessons. Now, it spins out of control when its leadership is needed most, unable to remember what it stood for an hour ago. The NFL spent Super Bowl Week patting itself on the back for completing a coronavirus season with zero game cancellations — then allowed Buccaneers fans to roam maskless as they celebrated throughout the game, even moving to different sections inside Raymond James Stadium. Commissioner Roger Goodell promised better social awareness concerning the league’s putrid record of hiring minority coaches and executives — then watched as the Kansas City Chiefs were introduced to the audio of their Tomahawk Chop war chant, which reeks of tone-deaf racism at a time when teams are purging offensive nicknames and customs.
If the NFL truly wanted to make a statement about social distancing, masks and human responsibility in the COVID era, the stadium stands would have been empty. Why did 25,000 people have to be there? Why did so many plastic cutouts have to create a perception of a boisterous sellout when it was just a deception? How many of those fans will test positive for the virus? And will we ever hear about it in a state, Florida, where the governor lies about infection numbers and was photographed without a mask at the game?
When Goodell allows thousands inside stadiums, he invites wild maskless celebrations in the Tampa streets. Just the same, when Tom Brady doesn’t wear a mask during the Bucs’ water parade while downing tequila in his new $2 million boat, he plants seeds in the impressionable heads of millions: “If Brady doesn’t need a mask while he’s partying, I don’t either.” Same goes for North Carolina basketball players who partied without masks last weekend after beating Duke, not to mention the Alabama students raging maskless in Tuscaloosa after the latest national football championship.
As the pandemic rambles on, no end in sight.
It’s not as if Cuban is bored. This week alone, he announced he’s building an $11 million drug manufacturing plant — for his Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. — and is launching a live-conversation app called Fireside. He’s front and center at every Mavericks game. He’s still the star of “Shark Tank.” But I think the man wanted to run for President.
And when he couldn’t, he decided to ditch the national anthem.
Until he didn’t.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.