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Suspicious Watson Case Not So Elementary

What could be another conduct nightmare for the NFL, as it announces a new broadcasting windfall, also could represent a slippery agenda against the star quarterback by a flamboyant Houston attorney.

Jay Mariotti

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America doesn’t need this, not now, not as it tries to jab 330 million arms and heal from an apocalyptic 2020. The NFL doesn’t need this, either, as the league achieves new prosperity with $100 billion-plus in broadcasting deals.

But here it comes, out of Houston like a hurricane, a national debate about whether a prominent Black quarterback is guilty of sexually assaulting at least three women — and as many as nine — as charged by a headline-hungry, social-media-wielding attorney once described as “a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big.”

Attorney of Deshaun Watson Accusers Posts Messages Between QB, His Clients

The Deshaun Watson case is anathema to a country that was beginning to escape cable-news-show hell. Now, Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon have their fresh catnip, Chris Cuomo has a convenient topical diversion from his brother’s legal problems, and a more pressing crisis — anti-Asian hate — moves aside in the media tempest. The lawyer, Tony Buzbee, will be bombarding the American consciousness with constant appearances in coming days. And the NFL, which has avoided high-profile legal dramas since Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence case four years ago, has yet another legal nightmare that challenges whether commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy is robust enough.

“I am extremely proud to represent those who have no perceived power against those who have PERCEIVED power,” Buzbee wrote on a Facebook post. “Things are changing in this country, in this great state, and in this great city. And I feel like it’s for the better, for all of us!

“Too many times women have put up with behavior that we all know no one should put up with. Should we make excuses for the famous? Or those who hold special positions, or quarterbacks on a local professional football team? I don’t think so! All people are equal, and all deserve dignity and respect.”

If Watson is guilty of a series of crimes against massage therapists — including one who says he forced her to have oral sex three months ago — he obviously would face bigger life issues than his future in football. But I’ll plead once again as I always do: Before the amateur judges and juries of a recklessly condemnatory America cast guilt upon an accused public figure, they should exercise a period of trolling restraint.

In Watson’s case, it would include these questions: Why are we just now hearing about his “inappropriate conduct” during massages from masseuses that allegedly occurred last year — on March 30, Aug. 28 and Dec. 28? And would three adjoining civil lawsuits ever have been filed this week in Houston if Watson wasn’t demanding a trade out of town, disgusted by what he views as incompetent management that has poisoned the NFL’s most bedraggled and dysfunctional franchise, the Texans? Rather than routinely ruin the life of the latest famous man ensnared by a #MeToo accusation, can we, for once, try pausing? And examining all angles, including the nefarious nature of sports when a team is embroiled in a perception war against a wildly popular figure?

Before the current offseason, Watson was the most celebrated athlete in a city once filled with sports stars. If he wasn’t Patrick Mahomes, he wasn’t far behind, a sensational, multiple-threat playmaker who would keep the Texans positioned as Super Bowl contenders for 10 or 12 years. But when he wasn’t consulted about the ill-advised trade of DeAndre Hopkins, then was omitted from the process when owner Cal McNair and mysterious front-office svengali Jack Easterby hired Nick Caserio as general manager, Watson tweeted the four words that ended the local love affair in January.

“Some things never change….”

At which point Watson became a ghost, though not before making it known publicly that he no longer wants to play for the Texans. This was a devastating blow to a city already reeling from the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal, which tarnished their 2017 World Series title, and James Harden’s demand to be freed from the Rockets, who dealt him to Brooklyn and have sunk into the NBA abyss, losing 11 straight games by double digits. The beloved J.J. Watt also asked to be released from his contract, fleeing the Texans for Arizona. Suddenly, Houston devolved from a proud title town to a ridiculed tar pit.

Enter Buzbee, a flamboyant character who wears blue linen jackets, throws wild parties at his mansion, threatens to shoot anyone who steals his art and compares himself to a shark, right down to the tattoo on his forearm. “The great white controls the ocean. We go for it. No fear,” he told Texas Monthly before a failed 2019 attempt to win Houston’s mayoral race.

Could Tony Buzbee Defeat Sylvester Turner in the Houston Mayoral Race?

Buzbee claims in the first lawsuit that Watson “committed civil assault” by touching a massage therapist with his penis at her home, which she uses as an office. According to the therapist, he wanted “a massage for only one reason — sex” and exposed himself before touching her, claiming Watson “purposely touched (her) hand with the tip of his erect penis.” When she asked him to leave, she says he threatened her with this comment: “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” He then left her house, she said, later apologizing to her via text message.

The second lawsuit also accuses Watson of assault, claiming his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.” He allegedly used Instagram to book a massage with another masseuse and flew her from Houston to Atlanta, where, during a session, she said he ignored her requests to cover his private area with a towel and also touched her.

The third lawsuit, based on an alleged incident in a Houston office building, accuses Watson of barely covering his buttocks with a small towel and, in the middle of a massage, turning over on his back and “forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.” He then forced her, she alleges, to perform oral sex, with the lawsuit stating she “was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.”

To hear Buzbee, he’s just getting started, claiming to represent nine women prepared to sue Watson with more details forthcoming. The NFL’s investigative arm contacted Buzbee on Thursday, he said, and wants to interview him and the accusers as part of its own probe.

I don’t know Watson. I don’t know if he’s a creep. I don’t know if he was protected for months before his trade demand flipped the script. And the police haven’t been involved and aren’t commenting — an important reminder that no criminal charges have been filed. But I do know this about Buzbee: This week on social media, he referred to McNair as “my neighbor.” He did so in a post recalling how he once purchased billboards in the Houston area, urging the Texans to draft the since-disgraced Johnny Manziel. Above one such billboard — which screamed “Keep Johnny football in Texas!” beside a mention of a DraftJohnnyManziel.com site — Buzbee wrote, “Remember this? @jmanziel2 Seven years ago I put ten billboards around Houston asking my neighbor Mr. McNair to draft the greatest college football player ever. Obviously, it didn’t happen.”

Which begs a fair question, given the wretched internal workings of the Texans: Do the civil suits, involving mistreatment of women, act as a strategic advantage that now makes it easier for McNair to trade Watson? In that sense, is Buzbee doing his “neighbor” a public-relations favor? Or, might the situation serve to keep Watson in Houston if interested NFL teams back away?

Smith: Cal McNair failing Texans fans as Deshaun Watson requests trade

Enamored of Manziel as Buzbee continues to be, we’re obviously not dealing with someone with a keen current knowledge of football. Or someone with a steady equilibrium. But he is hellbent on convicting Watson, writing: “My dad was a butcher. My mother drove my school bus and worked in the snack bar. Knowing what I know now: My momma had more dignity in her pinky finger than most executives or coaches or politicians or famous athletes have in their whole bodies! This case we just filed against Watson isn’t about money — it’s about dignity and stopping behavior that should be stopped, NOW! Stay tuned for details. LET ME SAY THIS. I’m a Marine. I’m not easily intimidated. If you have info or have been part of this, contact my office.”

That quickly, the teams named by Watson as preferred destinations — New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins — had reason to think twice about troubling red flags. And that quickly, I believe, the chances of Watson remaining in Houston rose exponentially.

All of which prompted Watson to seek a Texas attorney, noted sports fire extinguisher Rusty Hardin, but not before taking to Twitter himself, claiming Buzbee earlier had demanded a six-figure settlement. “As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me,” Watson wrote. “I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I Have never treated any woman with anything than the utmost respect. The plaintiff’s lawyer claims this isn’t about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me — it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”

Said Hardin, in an ESPN interview: “I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts … (He) has a great reputation here in the Houston area and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”

Only days ago, we were poised for a historic quarterbacking shakeup in the NFL. But Russell Wilson remains in Seattle, with the Seahawks rejecting a Chicago package that reportedly included three No. 1 draft picks, forcing the Bears to sign retread Andy Dalton. And Dak Prescott signed a deal he hasn’t earned: a maximum value of $164 over four years, including $126 million in guaranteed money with a no-trade clause and no-franchise-tag provision. For now, Watson isn’t going anywhere, either, at least until his cases are resolved and the NFL decides his fate.

In 2021, a reputable massage business would have video cameras on the premises. And the claim that he apologized with a text is easy to investigate, as well. So, knowing the American legal climate involving celebrities, I predict a quiet settlement for larger sums than what allegedly have been demanded.

Houston Texans release new statement confirming NFL investigation into  Deshaun Watson lawsuits

And I predict that, yes, Deshaun Watson will be quarterbacking the Texans next season, arm in arm with Cal McNair.

In which case, Houston wins and a franchise superstar loses. Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Who are you s—ing, Sherlock?

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. Then came covering the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of Sports Radio’s Worst Weeks

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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