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Hatred In The Stands: Fans vs. Players Is A Disastrous Game

The NBA and other sports leagues have allowed the return of live events to spill into ugly episodes, with dire consequences ahead in a nation already divided by racism

Jay Mariotti

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Nathaniel S. Butler

Did it occur to America’s sports leagues, in their furious rush to recoup lost revenues, that some fans no longer are human beings? They are feral animals, cooped up for much too long in pandemic prisons. They are lunatics, treating reopened live events like primal-scream therapy sessions.

Knicks Fans — And LeBron James — Blown Away By Win Against Hawks
Courtesy: Getty Images

And they are racists, which NBA commissioner Adam Silver should have considered when he whipped open the doors of his postseason arenas and didn’t ramp up security.

The result is a new wave of angst in our divided land, which we need like a mass enema. A Knicks fan spat on Atlanta’s Trae Young at Madison Square Garden. A 76ers fan threw popcorn on Washington’s Russell Westbrook, long a target of such abuse, at Wells Fargo Arena. Kyrie Irving, feeling a need to be pre-emptive, fears Celtics fans will shout racial taunts at him Friday night in his playoff return to TD Garden. These are some of basketball’s most storied buildings, and they’ve been reduced to dens of detritus and disgust as sports recklessly welcomes back paying customers to cobwebbed seating sections.

“To be completely honest, this shit is getting out of hand, especially for me,” Westbrook said. “The amount of disrespect, the amount of fans just doing whatever the f— they want to do — it’s just out of pocket. There are certain things that cross the line. Any other setting … a guy were to come up on the street and pour popcorn on my head, you know what happens. In these arenas, you got to start protecting the players.”

“Damn… Crazy. Keep ya mask on my boy #ThatsJustChildish,” tweeted Young, who was goobered as he inbounded the ball, near rapper 50 Cent and actress Julianne Moore, while fans heckled him with comments about his hair and “F— Trae Young” chants.

Wisely, Irving is alerting Boston authorities what could happen in a city known for ugly incidents victimizing Black athletes. “Hopefully,” he said, “we can just keep it strictly basketball, there’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism — people yelling s–t from the crowd.”

When Brooklyn teammate Kevin Durant interjected, “The whole world knows it,” Irving seconded the motion. “It is what it is,” he said.

Gee, isn’t it just wonderful how the re-emergence of fans in arenas and ballparks has united the country? When they aren’t aiming their hatred at athletes, they’re pummeling each other. In Houston, Dodgers fans who’ve waited two years to lash out at the scandalized Astros chanted “Cheaters!” at Minute Maid Park, which led to a Dodgers fan knocking out an Astros fan with two punches. The night before, some of Chicago’s classier ladies brawled in the left-field bleachers at whatever they’re calling Comiskey Park these days. The atmosphere inside major-league ballparks is creepy, with fans waiting for a rare hit or burst of action while pitchers — is Rob Manfred still alive? — rub illegal substances all over their uniforms, from caps to crotches to calves.

It’s in the NBA, though, where the escalation has reached a flashpoint. Players who spent last year in valiant Black Lives Matter protests, inside the Disney World Bubble, now are subjected to dangerous actions in arenas. This is a league, remember, where 75 percent of the players are Black, and most of the spectators are White. It took the best efforts of arena security guards and Wizards staffers to restrain Westbrook, who had been limping into the tunnel with an ankle injury, from confronting Orville Redenbacher in the stands. The last episode the NBA needs is another “Malice at the Palace” fracas, where players and fans duked it out in an all-time debacle. But sports is headed toward another violent confrontation if the commissioners are too busy counting their newfound revenues.

Not until the damage was done did the league respond, with the 76ers banning the season-ticket-holding miscreant from all arena events and the Knicks banning a non-season-ticket-holder from all home games. The requisite apologies were made to Westbrook and Young in official team statements, but, realistically, does anyone think these episodes were an aberration? Too many Americans view the gradual resumption of normalcy as a license to further a racial divide, which can be perpetrated from a short distance in an arena or ballpark. Donald Trump may be gone from office, embalmed in Bedminster, but the political climate remains poisonous. For instance, what would possess New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to fan the flames, warning Young to “stop hunting for fouls” at a news conference and on his Twitter feed? Wrote the beleaguered doofus, who is desperately hunting for votes: “MSG is hallowed ground. Don’t desecrate the Garden with cheap foul-hunting. Not in New York City.” When he should be setting a responsible example, all de Blasio did was embolden the idiots.

The league was too late with a response, saying Thursday, “The return of more NBA fans to our arenas has brought great excitement and energy to the start of the playoffs, but it is critical that we all show respect for players, officials and our fellow fans.” The playoffs aren’t 10 days old, and, already, there have been three fan incidents. In Utah, where Westbrook heard racial taunts two years ago from a fan who was banned, the Jazz didn’t provide specifics but announced Thursday that they’d banned three fans indefinitely after a verbal altercation in Vivint Smart Home Arena. Later, it was reported Jazz fans made racist comments to the family of Memphis star Ja Morant. “The Utah Jazz have zero tolerance for offensive or disruptive behavior,” the team said. Obviously, the lessons from 2018 weren’t heeded.

Rather than focus on his current obsession — deriving income from legal gambling — Silver must direct teams to increase police presence. If not, the consequences could be crippling for a league with lukewarm TV ratings and a summer playoff schedule that won’t grip a vacationing America. Most of all, protect your superstar assets, Adam Silver. Prosecution and jail time are the sensible solutions.

“These arenas, they’ve got to start protecting the players. We’ll see what the NBA does,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been in a lot of incidents where fans, they say whatever, and the consequences for me are a lot more detrimental to those people in the stands because they feel like they’re untouchable.”

Courtesy: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Said Atlanta coach Nate McMillan: “We’re just living in a society where people don’t have respect anymore.”

We’re living in a society where people want to hate. It’s up to sports, in its latest and most reckless money grab, to address the hostility with more than prepared statements. And to think a football season, with full houses in the NFL and on SEC campuses, isn’t far away. Have mercy.

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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