Have you ever watched a movie with the commentary on? I find it fascinating. Actors and directors share stories that add depth to a film. The movie Training Day is one of my favorites. The director of that film, Antoine Fuqua, said something that always stuck with me. Fuqua described the concept of the movie while paraphrasing a quote from Albert Einstein. “The world is a dangerous place to live,” Fuqua referenced. “Not just because of the evil people in it, but because of the people who do nothing about it. That’s what the heart of the movie is all about, that you gotta do something about it.”
Something had to be done about Matt Rowan, a high school basketball announcer in Oklahoma who was caught on an open mic using a racial slur. When a girls basketball team from Norman High School chose to kneel during the national anthem last Thursday, Rowan called them all the N-word. He also added, “F— them, I hope they lose.” The next day Rowan apologized (if you can call it that) while mentioning that he suffers from Type 1 Diabetes and was dealing with spiking sugar levels during the game.
First off, wow. Spiking sugar levels?
Move over “the dog ate my homework,” we have a new leader for all-time worst excuse. Anybody with sense knows that Rowan is a top-shelf jackass for his choice of words and has no business being on the airwaves. My question is what would you do in a similar situation if the mic wasn’t live and racist comments were made off the air? If you heard a broadcaster say something that the public didn’t hear, how would you handle it?
The short answer is that it’s essential to do something. The long answer is more detailed. I believe that it matters what is said exactly. Is this a Class A felony like the N-word, or is it more like a misdemeanor? If the comment is like an old school, five-yard facemask penalty in football for incidental contact, I’m at the very least telling that person, “Bro, you can’t say that.” If the person understands, is sorry, and corrects the mistake, that’s as far as I would take it.
Some might disagree with me. There are people who believe in alerting management immediately when an inappropriate comment is made. That isn’t how life works though. If a friend, family member, or stranger in public says something off-color, you can’t report them to HR. You have to confront them and make sure they understand that their comments are wrong. New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman did a masterful job of this last week. Edelman, who is Jewish, was responding to an anti-Semitic slur used by Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard while livestreaming a video game. Edelman penned an open letter to Leonard that was brilliantly worded.
“I get the sense that you didn’t use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance,” Edelman wrote. “Most likely, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment. That’s what makes it so destructive. When someone intends to be hateful, it’s usually met with great resistance. Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence. Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can rapidly spread. I’m down in Miami fairly often. Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends. I’ll show you a fun time.”
Edelman’s approach is much more likely to lead to growth. He didn’t condemn or cancel Leonard for his repulsive word choice; instead Edelman coached him up and offered support. The funny thing about cancel culture is that although a person may no longer exist in your world, that person still exists in the world. They don’t turn into fairy dust the second they are canceled. It makes more sense to offer insight and assistance to inspire change. Shunning a person for the rest of time is unlikely to do the trick.
Look, not every situation is the same. Obviously not every person is the same. Some people are lost causes while others who falter are capable of changing their ways. I’m just saying don’t confuse the two. It doesn’t make sense to cancel someone that can see the error of their ways and make improvements. By the same token, it doesn’t make sense to be lenient with someone who is a lost cause. Just understand the difference.
Something else that keeps swirling in my head is that I can’t imagine it was the very first time Leonard and Rowan used slurs. I highly doubt it was Leonard’s maiden voyage using an anti-Semitic slur while Rowan was an N-word virgin until last week rolled around. Anybody that heard Leonard and Rowan use those words in the past, and said nothing about it, is partially responsible for the awful behavior continuing. Whether it was a friend, family member, fellow video gamer, or whoever, allowing slurs to be said without objecting to them makes you an accessory to the crime. You may not be holding the bloody knife, but you drove the getaway car.
If we’re being honest here, the easy way out can be tempting. It doesn’t take much to imagine many scenarios where saying nothing could be appealing. Maybe you just landed your first gig in sports radio. You run the board during games when a local broadcaster says something crazy off the air. You have dreams of making it big one day. Maybe you start to think, “What should I do? Could saying something jeopardize my career? I don’t want to make things awkward. And there aren’t any flattering sayings about snitches. I’ve never heard ‘snitches get promotions.’ Maybe I should just let it go.”
It might be possible to trick your mind into believing what you desire. But the truth is; that isn’t good enough. Allowing racism and discrimination to continue, when you know it’s wrong, is a horrendous mistake. That’s what keeps hatred alive. Plus, it matters most when speaking up is uncomfortable. It’s one thing to write BLM on your online bio — hey, that’s great — but the true test is when you have something to lose. Pointing out inappropriate words might strain friendships. A family member might be greatly angered if you call them out. A coworker might turn against you. So be it. If someone uses an anti-Semitic slur, you don’t have to be Jewish to say it’s repulsive. If someone uses the N-word, you don’t have to be Black to tell them it’s despicable. It’s what needs to be done.
Fuqua made another comment about one of the final scenes in Training Day that applies to this column. “This is an important moment here on the bus because this guy makes a decision to go after Alonzo,” Fuqua said. “Jake [played by Ethan Hawke] could go home to his baby and to his wife, but if he does that, and he doesn’t do anything about Alonzo [a dirty detective played by Denzel Washington], his little girl is gonna have to grow up in this world. She’s going to run into Alonzo and other people like him. So he has to get on the bus and he has to go down into the belly of the beast here. He’s got to face the dragon; he’s got to face Alonzo.”
There are Alonzo’s all around us. What are you going to do when you encounter one? Will you simply go home, or will you do something about it?
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.