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How Did We Not Know The Mavericks Weren’t Playing The Anthem?

“Protesting the anthem doesn’t bother me. Not playing it, makes no sense to me.”

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Where’s Ronan Tynan when you need him?  (Before you even read this, google him, play the video from Yankee Stadium in 2001, then come back to this spot and continue)

The anthem is in the news again. Earlier this week, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban revealed that the Mavs would not play the anthem before home games going forward. The team hadn’t been doing it since this NBA season commenced. No one seemed to know that.

This bothered me but didn’t bother others. Colleagues and friends in the media supported Cuban. 

Protesting the anthem doesn’t bother me. Not playing it, makes no sense to me. In Kansas City on NFL opening night, fans booed the athletes kneeling and that did anger me. Still, not playing the anthem is much worse.

It’s not for patriotism. It’s not about politics. It’s not even about tradition. To me, it is an opportunity to have 2 minutes or so to realize where you are.  For me, it’s to recall focus on what arena/ballpark/stadium I’m in. I focus on the game I’m about to see. Usually, I’m in a press box or booth.  Sometimes, I’m in the stands.  My cap is off.

No one can tell me what to think or feel. Anyone reading this can do the same.

A few hours later, the NBA reinforced the rule with this statement: “With NBA teams now in the process of welcoming fans back into their arenas, all teams will play the national anthem in keeping with longstanding league policy.”

Cuban quickly acquiesced and issued this reply.

Cuban is surely allowed to have an opinion during the anthem.  However, by not playing it, that shows to be more disrespectful than kneeling during it would.

I am surprised no one spoke up in Dallas before the announcement this week that they had not been. Even without fans, the Mavericks do not play in a vacuum. There are staffers, media members, and arena-workers that have attended games.  No one said a word. In a social media age, that is surprising.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, while fans have not been allowed to attend games in the New York/New Jersey metro area, I have used media credentials and covered some games. Since March 2020, I have attended games at Yankee Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Metlife Stadium, and most recently the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The anthem was played like normal and if it had not, I’d have tweeted it instantly. 

The anthem does NOT need to be so darn polarizing.

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not offend me when he knelt for the national anthem in 2016. He did offend others, and I respected that as much as I supported his support for social justice.

Back then, I did not think his message was properly conveyed. He gave a couple of press conferences, but they did not have the impact he thought it would. In 2016, the two all-sports radio stations in San Francisco would have offered him an hour commercial-free if he wanted to discuss social injustice and awful police brutality.  The network morning TV shows? They’d have done almost anything to get Kaepernick on their respective show.  

He was not heard from enough and his message got garbled. I remember when a couple of Seattle Seahawk players said they were kneeling just to support Kaepernick, and never brought up the social justice issues that they were about.

My only real issue with Kaepernick was when he showed up wearing a shirt with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s picture on it. As the son of a Cuban immigrant, I did not care for that at all.

Note, never once did I not show my support for African Americans. I think the Black Lives Matter movement is a good step forward, and Kaepernick has been shamelessly blackballed from the NFL. 

There is not a circumstance where not playing the anthem is a healthy solution.

The anthem is not long. My two favorite versions of the song are Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock is also a classic.  I own both songs.

My personal favorite national anthem story came in 1998 at Coors Field in Denver. In front of a sold-out crowd, a young lady singing the anthem forgot the words.  I was on hold, ready to do an update for One-on-One Sports.  “And the rockets… are glaring… pretty hard…” she muttered.  I was speechless. Still, the sold-out crowd (the Rockies used to sell out their games back in the days of the Blake Street Bombers) sang and helped her finish. No controversy.  

The most impactful national anthem I ever saw in person was at both Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium in 2001 after the September 11th attacks. You could hear a pin drop.  

In the playoffs of that year, Yankee Stadium was where the anthem was incredible. The voice of the late Bob Sheppard still resonates with me (ask me on Twitter for the time I met Sheppard. It’s hysterical but not relevant to this story. @Seth_Everett) The crowd sang so loud. The ballpark rocked as only old-Yankee Stadium could.  The anthem matters.

A colleague I respect, Jane McManus, who is a Deadspin columnist and the Director of the Center for Sports Communication at Marist College asked a poignant question.

There is an answer.  The anthem is as much a part of sports as it is the country.  I was not around when the decision was made to play the anthem. When I get the 1.21 gigawatts and get to 88 MPH and go back to that point in history, I would not change a thing.

It is supposed to make us think. It is not hypnotic. It does not need to make you think about a war or an evil police officer. You have the freedom to do whatever you wish in your mind. And if you want to kneel, do it with honor. If you want to raise your right arm and make a fist, be my guest. If you want to salute, I will not stand in your way. After you read this column, the country will be just as divided as it was when you started.

To my fellow reporters and broadcasters, if you attend a sporting event and the anthem is omitted, please tweet it.  Tag me if you like. It is quite simple.

Keep playing the anthem.

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 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 Podcasts 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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