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Bill Simmons Can’t Really Be This Tone Deaf, Can He?

“Come on, Bill. You’re not a dumb guy.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Man, it’s not often that I feel the need to take time out of my week to write a second opinion column. Usually I do my opinion piece on Monday and let others in the industry have the floor the rest of the week. Then again, it isn’t often that Bill Simmons, a millionaire who made a fortune writing NBA fan fiction, is disappointed that Jim Nantz isn’t more racist.

I am largely neither here nor there on Simmons. He is not one of my favorite writers, but I think his site The Ringer does some really great stuff. 60 Songs That Explain the 90s has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts. The Cam Chronicles was one of the best sports media products of 2020 period. I could go on, but the point is that I am not someone that sees no value in Simmons or anything associated with him. I appreciate his practice of finding cool people to write and talk about cool shit.

What I don’t get is how someone so in love with the spotlight and someone that has been branded everything from an “SJW” to a “liberal douche” on social media can be so obtuse when it comes to issues of race. Just last year he sounded like someone’s 60 year old uncle in responding to his own staff’s complaints about the lack of diversity in The Ringer‘s podcasting ranks. Now, he is voicing disappointment that Jim Nantz’s call of Hideki Matsuyama’s putt to win The Masters wasn’t more subtly racist? Forgive my bluntness, but Bill Simmons is a moron.

“I think he was scared off,” Simmons said of Nantz on his Monday podcast. “He felt nervous to me the last twenty minutes, um, cancel culture, I don’t think Nantz wanted to go near anything. He kept kind of throwing it to Faldo and then when Matsuyama hit the… first of all, he missed the par putt, he had the little two-footer coming back, he made it. He wins. And Nantz basically said, ‘Hideki Matsuyama, the first Japanese golfer to win The Masters.'”

Could Nantz have been a little nervous? Maybe, but then again, maybe he just didn’t see the need to get cute and try to dance up to the line. Rebellion, even the corporate-approved version of it that Simmons seems to delight in, isn’t really in Nantz’s wheelhouse.

He advocated for Nantz to use a line about Matsuyama coming through in “The Heat of the Moment”. Get it? Like the song by Asia! Get it? Because Hideki Matsuyama is Asian! LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Look, the idea itself isn’t egregious. It isn’t Bill Simmons advocating for CBS to cut to a close up of Nantz doing the racist trope of using his fingers to slant his eyes and shout “Godziiiiiiiiraaaaaah!”. But it is an idea that is insanely tone deaf and really doesn’t seem to make the broadcast any better.

Now, you want egregious? I give you Bill Simmons’s explanation of why “the heat of the moment” would have been a great thing for Jim Nantz to say.

“I think Nantz could have gone stealth and done, ‘It was the heat of the moment, Hideki Matsui is our Masters champion,'” Simmons suggested, confusing The Masters champ Matsuyama with the former Yankees slugger Matsui. “Something like that and then it just would have been really underground. Nobody really would have gotten it.”

Nobody would have gotten it! Simmons’s focus seems to be how can a broadcaster say something racist rather than come up with a line that would have made the moment bigger and more fun.

Are you friggin’ kidding me? Bill Simmons cannot really be this stupid. I refuse to believe the guy that built “The Sports Guy” empire by covering and writing about sports like a fan can really see any value in sneaking in a little covert joke about a champion golfer being Asian. You know, a little something for the white people to enjoy! Bill, my guy, you gotta make more of an effort to walk your talk.

There is a difference between the clumsy racism that comes from ignorance and the vitriolic racism that comes from unabashed hate for others. I don’t think Bill Simmons is guilty of the latter. The former is no less of a problem though if it doesn’t come with a meaningful acknowledgement that you need to learn more and do better. I’m not sure Bill Simmons has that in him.

Think about the way he responded to staffers saying that not enough Black voices had the opportunity to host podcasts for The Ringer. A hollow statement about diversity being important to the company and addressing these concerns would have been better than what Bill Simmons did, which was to say “It’s a business. This isn’t Open Mic Night“.

Come on, Bill. You’re not a dumb guy. You know a statement like that is a problem, particularly when your site houses a podcast that features your daughter.

It’s a pattern. Bill Simmons keeps stepping in it when it comes to race, and again, I don’t think he that he is a card-carrying member of the Klan. I think his racism is the kind born out of living in a city or part of the country where it is possible to be isolated around other people that look like you and grew up the same way as you. Bill Simmons isn’t malicious. He has a blind spot and he has to own up to it.

One of the best things that ever happened to me happened when I was a senior in college. My roommate was a Black guy named Terry Siggers. To this day, he is one of the kindest and most patient guys I have ever met. It’s not a surprise to me that he is now a faculty advisor to all of student media at the University of Alabama.

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I made a comment about a mixed race friend of ours and referred to him as a “mullato”. Terry stopped our conversation. He didn’t get mad. He just calmly told me that that word is more loaded than I know. I told him that I only knew it from the Nirvana song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Terry replied “Right. It is easy not to know what that word’s history is and never meet anyone that can tell you when you live in Seattle. That’s why it made it into a Nirvana song.”

That moment and Terry’s desire to teach instead of shame really shaped my vision of what racism is. A lack of intent doesn’t mean that there is a lack of impact. It is okay to acknowledge you were wrong even if you had no ill-intent.

Aside from making a corny joke, I don’t know what Bill Simmons’s intent is in suggesting Jim Nantz work in the title of a song no one under the age of 45 knows just because the name of the band that performed it is Asia. I have a feeling just challenging himself to explain what his intent in the joke was, Bill Simmons would quickly realize there is no real way to justify it or deny that his argument boils down to “I wish Jim Nantz would have been a little more racist.”

No one needs to be cancelled here, but no one needs to pretend this doesn’t matter either. Bill Simmons fancies himself an enlightened guy on the right side of issues like this. If that is true, he has to start with an acknowledgement that he was wrong and follow it with an apology. Then, to paraphrase Bill Burr, he has shut up, sit down, and take his talking to.

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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