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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

“A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from Jay Mariotti.”

Jay Mariotti

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THEY GET IT

Jimmy Kimmel, ABC — Rather than light the cauldron at the virus-infested Tokyo Games, I have an idea: Let’s have Kimmel repeat his definitive words about an ill-advised Olympiad that is proceeding recklessly. “NBC is planning to move forward with the Olympics this summer, even if they have to kill every last person in Japan to do it,’’ said the comedian, darkly. Of course, his Disney employers would make the same mega-billions money grab if they had rights to these Games, but at least Kimmel is calling out a rival for its shameful embrace of an event when Japan’s vaccination rate is only 10 percent. It’s more than we’re seeing and hearing from the mainstream U.S. sports media, where cancel-the-Games outcry has been minimal because, oh, many of the journalists assigned to Tokyo don’t want to rankle U.S. and international Olympic officials — or the bosses spending money to send them. I’ve covered 14 Olympiads. There is a media blacklist, and at some point, I’m sure I was on it. And proud of it. Let The Games Die! — so the Japanese people don’t.     

Scottie Pippen, author — A bitter, seething man is writing a tell-all. And he is promoting it by firing poisonous missiles at everyone in sight, referring to Phil Jackson as a racist for granting Toni Kukoc the final shot over a jilted Pippen in an infamous 1994 playoff moment. You don’t have to agree with what he says — Pippen, I might argue, is a racist himself — but last I looked, Jackson has written plenty of material about the long-ago Bulls dynasty after setting up reporting buddy Sam Smith for a book. Michael Jordan has lorded over a self-inflated documentary, as well. Even Dennis Rodman wrote a book. So why can’t Pippen finally air his views? It’s sad that basketball’s greatest dynasty continues to deteriorate into open hostility, including Pippen’s claim that Jordan was disingenous in 1997 when he said in a huddle that Steve Kerr should be ready for a pass that led to a title-winning jumper. “You know all those cameras sitting in the huddle, who they was working for? You know who Michael was speaking to when he said that? That was planned. That was speaking to the camera,’’ Pippen told Dan Patrick on his book-selling tour. “Had John Stockton not came down, trust me (Jordan would have shot). That was building his own documentary because he was controlling the cameras …That was not naturally spoken. That was rehearsed.’’ Pippen once stared at me inside New York’s Plaza Hotel, in an elevator with several relatives, and said, “Why are you such an asshole?’’ He is one of the most unlikable major stars in the history of American sports, but you can’t say he isn’t a fascinating character. Suddenly, I can’t wait for his book.     

Marc Stein, Substack — Welcome to the literary freedom train, Marc. Any writer weary of interest-conflicted bosses, editorial suppression, political leanings, corporate b.s., misleading headlines — I could go on — can find a refreshing, liberating experience at Substack, where Stein is joining other big names and leaving behind the mighty New York Times. This is the new place for self-sustaining, business-leery/weary journalists to control their destinies without interference, as the veteran NBA insider said, tweeting to readers, “This was an irresistible opportunity to cover the league I have tracked for nearly 30 years in a fresh and groundbreaking way … thanks to this deliciously blank canvas, total independence and the closest connection possible to you.’’ I’ve been at Substack for a few months, writing columns four times a week. My only regret is not joining sooner as a labor of love. In Stein’s case, he’s looking to cash in, via subscriptions, with his NBA newsletter. There are options in this industry, folks. Don’t get stuck in a race to see who croaks first: you or your newspaper. Or, you or your website.     

“The Shop: Uninterrupted,” HBO — Say this for LeBron James and his partner in Hollywood multimedia crime, Maverick Carter: They have a way of making subjects relax and forget they’re on camera, leading to some of the most revealing interviews in sports television. On a studio set of barber chairs and honest banter, Tom Brady opened a side rarely seen, dropping F-bombs and exposing his frustration with an unnamed NFL franchise that rejected him in free agency. “One of the teams, they weren’t interested at the very end. I was thinking, you’re sticking with that motherf—-er?’’ Brady said. Was it the 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo? The Bears and Mitchell Trubisky? The Raiders and Derek Carr? Point is, this program always makes news, and while it unfortunately furthers the concept of athletes helping athletes control their messages, we’d rather hear the raw truth than empty nothings.     

Trevor Rabin, TNT — So the song sounds like a mashup of an old Western TV theme and a nightly news jingle. For the millions who love “Inside The NBA,’’ the music is effective — and, in a complete shocker, it was created by the former guitarist of the anthem rock band Yes. As profiled by Sopan Deb in the New York Times, Rabin was asked to compose the show theme by Turner Sports executive Craig Barry, who wanted something that viewers “never get sick of hearing.’’ If I still like it after 18 years, the song works. Listen closely, and you’ll hear subtle strains of the Yes classic, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.’’ Host Ernie Johnson, a Yes fan, had no idea Rabin wrote the music. It’s time for panelists Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, after all these years, to publicly thank Rabin, who said, “I remember Shaq saying once he liked the theme just in passing, but no one’s ever acknowledged me. Charles Barkley needs to acknowledge it and give a shout out. Otherwise, I’m never going to support him again.” He was kidding, I think.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Jalen Rose, ESPN — Sometimes, comments are so recklessly misguided that subsequent apologies fade in the stench. My one-time radio partner let racial anger take over his brain when he said Kevin Love, who is white, was named to the U.S. Olympic team “because of tokenism.’’ Said Rose: “Don’t be scared to make an all-black team representing the United States of America. I’m disappointed by that.’’ I’m not defending Love, whose career has plunged into semi-irrelevance, as much I’m challenging Rose to be accurate. Of the last five U.S. men’s basketball teams, four were all-black. It doesn’t appear team boss Jerry Colangelo and his staff have been “scared’’ of much through time. “You know why I’m apologizing right now? To the game. Because I’m what the game made me,” Rose said. He should apologize to his smarter self — and his prime-time audience — for not doing simple research.     

Tony Paul, Detroit News — When an active NFL player decides to come out publicly as gay, his request for privacy should be honored. Let Carl Nassib determine when he’ll speak to the media, as seconded by Cyd Zeigler of the LGBTQ+ site Outsports, who tweeted: “I’ve been told by many people that mainstream sports and news pubs are trying to get the first #carlnassib interview. He asked for privacy and many publications are reaching out to talk.And people wonder why I say the media is a huge part of keeping athletes in the closet.’’ His view didn’t sit well with Paul, who is gay himself and fired back, “Ummm, journalists’ job is to try to get the interview and the story. All he can say is no. … Trying to get the story is the definition of journalism.’’ In Nassib’s case, journalists aren’t chasing a scandal or browbeating a politician — or, as Zeigler tweeted back at Paul, “This isn’t the Pentagon Papers.’’ When the man is ready to talk, presumably next month at Las Vegas Raiders camp, we’ll be all ears. Besides, I’m not hearing widespread clamor to hear from Nassib anytime soon, his announcement drowned out by rumors that Aaron Rodgers wants a trade to Vegas.     

Chicago Sun-Times — Rocky Wirtz, who owns the NHL’s Blackhawks, continues to supply blood for a dying newspaper with periodic contributions. So it should surprise no one that the Sun-Times, after The Athletic and local radio station WBEZ did the heaviest original reporting, didn’t include Wirtz’s name when it finally got around to covering sexual-assault allegations against former Blackhawks video coach Bradley Aldrich. How convenient to piggyback media reports that “then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary’’ knew about the allegations and did nothing — but to not include Wirtz among the accountable parties or even bother to contact him for a comment. The one column written about the case also failed to mention Wirtz, whose son, Danny, announced the franchise had hired a law firm to lead an “independent review’’ of the matter. You can’t call yourself “the hardest-working paper in America,’’ then stop working to protect the rich, old dude who keeps the staff gainfully employed. Wirtz will shut down the paper at some point anyway, so you may as well go down swinging instead of suppressing news and faking it.     

“First Take,’’ ESPN — Stealing from the Charles Barkley hate handbook, hosts Stephen A. Smith and Molly Qerim Rose took needless shots at the city of Milwaukee for attention purposes. Normally a measured sort, Qerim Rose (Jalen’s wife) was particularly annoying, expressing glee that she didn’t coverSuper Bowl LII in Minneapolis while grouping Milwaukee among her “terrible cities.’’ Now, Smith (and perhaps Qerim Rose) could be spending significant time in the Upper Midwest during the NBA Finals, where the locals will target them and force them to stay in their hotel rooms, which is no way to enjoy a rocking Wisconsin summer. It’s one thing to have fun with a city, quite another to make fun of it.     

Eric Shanks, Fox — The CEO of the network’s sports division repeatedly has signed off on digital sites in recent years, only to encounter repeated complications that suggest dysfunctional leadership. The latest iteration of FoxSports.com included a “fully reimagined’’ site and app last summer, but hints of major content hires haven’t happened, and digital boss David Katz is departing in September. Shanks had a chance to enhance his brand with a go-to, all-encompassing site; evidently, he didn’t see a chance for big revenues beyond sports gambling. Let’s hope Fox chief Lachlan Murdoch didn’t re-direct his digital money in acquiring the “Outkick’’ site, which is more a right-wing reflection of Clay Travis’ views than a legitimate sports destination. There’s something hollow about a sports network that pours all its creative might into TV production, then flees from additive fuel. And, yes, I chatted with the site about writing a column, only to be told no after ripping Skip Bayless here for being Skip Bayless. For me, it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

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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