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Bayless, Giangreco: The Wicked Double Standard Lives

The FS1 host’s mocking of depression was a fireable offense except in the eyes of his bosses, who gave him a new $32 million deal — this as a funnyman Chicago sportscaster was let go because of a wisecrack.

Jay Mariotti

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Double standards in this industry chap my ass, as you probably know. But until media companies develop a consistent judicial system when assessing the on-air comments of talent — instead of riding whatever political force-field protects a particular boss — we’ll have bizarre days when Skip Bayless lands a new $32 million megadeal on the same afternoon Chicago sportscaster Mark Giangreco loses his gig.

ABC-7 sports anchor Mark Giangreco.

In my mind, what Bayless said about Dak Prescott six months ago is far more damning than what Giangreco said in typical wise-cracking style during an ABC-7 newscast, suggesting anchor Cheryl Burton could “play the ditzy, combative interior decorator” on some hypothetical reality series. Should he have said it? No. Should he have been suspended? Yes. Should he have been let go? No, especially when Giangreco is known for such playful banter, one reason why the station, owned and operated by Disney Co., has been paying him ample sums for decades. Giangreco was foolish to say “ditzy,” which is sexist, but in the end, he directly offended exactly one person.

Bayless insulted millions with his most recent dip into idiocy. Yet, thanks to the megalomaniacal whims of Fox Sports, he was rewarded with millions. At a time in America when suicide hotlines never have been busier, he came off as a repulsive ignoramus when he suggested Prescott’s public disclosure of his depression battle was a sign of weakness. Not only was Bayless insensitive, he conveniently ignored the direct issue: Prescott’s brother had died months earlier of an apparent suicide. Shockingly, the host felt no compassion for the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, igniting a national firestorm.

“He’s the quarterback of America’s team,” Bayless said on “Undisputed,” his FS1 show. “The sport that he plays is dog-eat-dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot.”

In a tepid statement at the time, Fox said it only disapproved of Bayless’ comments, preferring to praise Prescott for “publicly revealing his struggle.” At that point, even Cleatus, the Fox robot, knew what was happening behind the scenes. The executives didn’t want to rebuke Bayless too much, knowing his contract soon was expiring … and that ESPN was courting him to return in a potential high-powered reunion with Stephen A. Smith. Never mind how Bayless had made Fox Sports seem heartless, desperate and attention-starved. The corporate directive: He couldn’t be allowed to flee to the competition, no matter what came out of his mouth.

So rather than take the smart path and let him walk — his ratings with co-host Shannon Sharpe always have been lukewarm in mornings, far behind those of Smith and Max Kellerman on “First Take” — Fox was lured into an absurd bidding war with ESPN. According to the New York Post, which first reported Bayless’ new deal, ESPN offered him a four-year, $30 million deal in August, a month before the Prescott debacle. For Fox, which always has felt inferior to ESPN in Big Sports Media wars, this became a matter of not letting Bristol flaunt the bigger penis. Bayless is nearing 70. He makes comments that make him seem 80. This would have been a chance to give the slot to a 2021-relevant talker, such as Nick Wright, at a considerably cheaper price.

Instead, Fox blinked.

And the laughter could be heard from Bristol, where Fox just committed to four more years of a host whose show is failing.

I, for one, always have been mystified by the “First Take” vs. “Undisputed” rivalry. The ratings of both shows never have remotely approached ours back when I was doing daily debating, on ESPN’s “Around The Horn.” But the Smith-Bayless duo brought ESPN the buzz it never had in mornings, which created a new ad revenue stream. When Fox launched FS1, it vowed to compete against ESPN’s debate shows, which gave Bayless the advantages of perfect timing and extraordinary leverage when his Bristol contract expired. He took the $6-million-per-year deal at Fox in 2016, prompting Smith and his WME agents three years later to demand and receive almost $8 million annually, citing Smith’s decisive ratings victory. This is where the top-this game should have ended. But the Fox bosses kept playing, prioritizing ego over common sense.

Now, they have quite the mess. Sharpe’s deal expires this summer. At $3 million per, he’ll want a dramatic bump into Bayless territory. I can’t imagine Fox saying yes, preferring to promote the rising commentary star, Emmanuel Acho, but also leaving a hole in the “Speak For Yourself” lineup. Whoever is paired with Bayless, know this: That show has no chance against “First Take,” even if Kellerman’s boxer shorts are in a wad over the Bayless offer.

SKIP AND SHANNON: UNDISPUTED | Fox Sports PressPass

Excuse me, but why are these sports networks allowing themselves to be bamboozled by loudmouths and their Hollywood agents? The shows aren’t being watched in big numbers. You could pay the hosts $1 million a year and it would be too much. But Fox is acting out of need, committing about $2 billion a season for its next package of NFL Sunday games and knowing weekday talk programming fuels the football and sports beast. Again, Bayless is the luckiest sportscaster on Earth, thanks to his negotiation “war” with good friend Smith. It confounds me how network executives can be so easily trumped, though it doesn’t help that Jerry Jones, who has Fox executives on speed dial, always has shepherded Bayless’ career.

By contrast, Giangreco had no leverage with the corporate suits. In racially tense Chicago, he lost when Burton — a prominent Black female personality — reportedly complained to management about his comment. As often happens in a parochial city encased in media bubble wrap, he stayed much too long — 39 years — and grew vulnerable as he neared 70. Time was when Chicago was a national media hotbed, ruled by Mike Royko, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel as the likes of Lester Holt and Brent Musburger passed through and the Gumbel brothers and Michael Wilbon never stopped calling it home. Now look at it. I could make a case that Kansas City is a better media market, certainly as a sportswriting cradle.

But this shouldn’t be the way Giangreco departs. Want more hypocrisy? Just hours earlier, another Disney property, ESPN, chose to keep college basketball analyst Dan Dakich after his latest regrettable Twitter spat, this time with a female college professor. After Johanna Mellis challenged Dakich to a swimming race, of all things, Dakich mocked her “bitching” and then took the pool challenge to mean she was making sexual advances toward him. ESPN gave him a pass, again. Yet Disney fires Giangreco, after enabling and encouraging his act since he joined the station in 1994. You don’t shoot the monster for doing what you pay him to do.

The anti-Giangreco crowd can say he made too many troublesome cracks through the years for a guy doing the sports. In 2017, he was suspended for this tweet about then-President Trump: “so obvious, so disturbing. America exposed as a country full of simpletons who allowed this cartoon lunatic to be `elected.’ ” During my long tenure as a Chicago sports columnist, I blistered Giangreco — in the Sun-Times and nationally in The Sporting News — for being out of the loop about the liver disease that was killing NFL great Walter Payton. It was well-known in the local sports media that Payton didn’t have much time, and his family asked that his condition be kept private. Giangreco didn’t get the memo, showing a photo of a weakened Payton and saying he looked “shriveled up.”

My agent at the time, Joel Weisman, happened to be Giangreco’s agent. I’ll never forget Weisman calling me out for criticizing a stablemate. Twenty-one years later, they should thank me for trying to do Giangreco a favor. Often, he couldn’t differentiate between a sportscast and open-mic night. Which, in the end, led to his demise.

Mark Giangreco on his way out at ABC7 after 'ditzy' on-air remark - Chicago  Sun-Times

It’s a fate I might be persuaded to support if it didn’t come the same day Skip Bayless, the man who mocked a depressed person, was showered with more riches. It’s a warped business, sports media, and it just got sicker.

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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