THEY GET IT
Jeff Passan, ESPN — If Disney Company possessed a spine and testicles, it would fire Stephen A. Smith for exacerbating ESPN’s relentless, in-house cultural disorder. The only one making sense lately is Passan, who scolded Smith for insulting the Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani, because he uses an interpreter during interviews. “The reality about Shohei Ohtani, Stephen A., is that he is a story we should be wanting to tell. It’s unfortunate something like yesterday happened,” the network’s baseball insider asserted on “First Take,” Smith’s weekday show. “(Ohtani) is the sort of person who this show, who this network, who this country should embrace. We are not the ones who should be trafficking in ignorance.” In typical disgrace, ESPN executives likely viewed Passan’s criticism as a backlash buffer, allowing Smith to carry on with more thoughtless, rambling takes that embarrass the company and, more importantly, the audience. At least Passan came up with a better show name. Starting today, “First Take” should be called “Trafficking In Ignorance.”
Anthony Mackie, Captain America — Sometimes sports needs to laugh at itself. So does ESPN, especially these days. Enter Mackie, who spared no one in hosting the ESPY Awards for the first time. He sounded like Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes in his monologue, firing a zinger at NFL veteran Jason Pierre-Paul, who lost his right index finger in a 2015 fireworks accident. Said Mackie, knowing his target was in the audience: “It’s official: Tom Brady has more Super Bowl rings than Jason Pierre-Paul has fingers.” If that was rough, his observation about baseball’s “ball goop” issue was a riot — “something I never thought Disney would let me say on live TV” — and his dig at disgraced horse trainer Bob Baffert (he of the silver hair and sunglasses) was an all-timer: “People started to suspect Baffert when they looked at him. Just look at the dude. If drugging a horse is the shadiest thing he has ever done, I’d be surprised. It looks like he has season tickets to `The Hunger Games.’ ” Oh, and this on shooting-challenged Ben Simmons: “Not everyone knows this, but (he) has been building orphanages like this one completely out of his playoff bricks.” Relax: The actor also defended Naomi Osaka in her media hiatus and Sha’Carri Richardson against the World Anti-Doping Agency. I hope Mackie’s back — an intended musical reference — for a 2022 encore.
Joe Vardon, The Athletic — Already one of the site’s most incisive writers, Vardon stood up to the bully side of Gregg Popovich. He has been underlining the truth about Team USA’s startling pre-Olympics losses and forecasting potential doom at the Tokyo Games, writing, ” The cold hard facts are the Americans, regardless of who is on their roster, stink under Gregg Popovich, certainly by Team USA’s lofty standards.” Rather than acknowledge the concerns, especially when juxtaposed against America’s traditional dominance in men’s basketball, Popovich turned an exchange with Vardon into a scene. “You asked the same sort of question last time where you assumed things that are not true,” Popovich said as Vardon tried to counter. “Can I finish? Can I finish my statement? Are you going to let me finish my statement or not? When you make statements about, in the past, just blowing out these other teams — number one, you give no respect to the other teams. I talked to you the last time about the same thing, we’ve had very close games against four or five countries in all these tournaments.” It’s not too late to call Mike Krzyzewski, who coached the Americans to three straight gold medals and finished his international career with 76 straight victories, winning eight Olympic games in 2016 by a 22-point average. Popovich should stop growling at reporters and have his out-of-shape team run some sprints.
Rachel Nichols, ESPN — Is it overstating matters to nominate her for a Nobel Peace Prize? Rather than summon a legal army to sue the network for invading her privacy, Nichols dutifully reported for work and quelled a racial storm that was dominating news cycles. This allowed Maria Taylor and her “NBA Countdown” mates to focus. If you’ve been busy flying to the edge of space with Richard Branson, Nichols cited ESPN’s “crappy longtime record on diversity” when she was replaced by Taylor last year as the show’s host. Because her remarks were made privately in her hotel room, captured by a remote ESPN camera and leaked everywhere by rogue ESPN personnel, Nichols has a slam-dunk case if she wants to sue Disney Company. Maybe she will at some point, but she chose to stay above the emotional fray and quell a tempest while some Black personalities were threatening a show boycott and management was removing Nichols from NBA Finals sideline duties. Taylor used the opportunity to negotiate her next broadcast deal, at ESPN or elsewhere, and her current contract expires any hour. Nichols could have flipped the bird at all of them, but she remained a pro, unlike so many in an egomaniacal business. She has a major supporter in NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who said Nichols deserves “the benefit of the doubt” and that “careers shouldn’t be erased by a single comment. We should be judging people by the larger context of their body of work and who they are and what we know about them.” What a healthy aspiration, if only it applied to all …
Grant Napear, former NBA broadcaster — He was fired last year after tweeting one such single comment — “All lives matter, every single one!” — when goaded on social media by NBA player DeMarcus Cousins. So why does Silver publicly protect Nichols and ignore Napear, who worked Sacramento Kings broadcasts for 32 years? Oh, maybe because Napear is a 62-year-old White male. He was quick to point out the double standard to the New York Post’s Phil Mushnick, writing, “I read those (Silver’s) comments, and I was like … Sure would have been nice to hear that last year … Now people are talking about it and acknowledging that it’s wrong. Adam said, `Careers shouldn’t be erased by a single comment.’ Mine was. I’m grateful he made those remarks, but I’m still unemployed for saying something as simple as, `All lives matter, every single one.’ Adam also said we should judge people by the larger context of their work and who they are and what we know about them. That sure didn’t happen for me. My body of work was irrelevant when I lost my career.” There must be a lawyer who will take on a class action case involving screwed White males in media. The hypocrisy is suffocating.
Broadcasters raising hell — Talk about insulting the audience. Preferring to save money than serve fans, regional sports networks continue to force Major League Baseball announcers to call road games from booths in home ballparks and other remote locations. And the vaccinated announcers are speaking out, including the Yankees’ John Sterling, who sounded foolish when he went into his trademark home-run call — “It is high, it is far, it is gone!” — only to realize it was a replay of an earlier Aaron Judge homer. “I’m sorry, it’s on the monitor. What am I supposed to do?” Sterling said. To which partner Suzyn Waldman said, “This is a great way to do a game, isn’t it.” White Sox TV voice Jason Benetti tweeted, “I hold out hope that someone at MLB says this: “It is no longer up to the local networks. Our announcers must be at the games. A person could say that today and change all of this.” Nope. The networks — and the team owners — prefer to keep faking it, which only further erodes the sport’s waning relationship with the American public. This fight is well worth inclusion as a sixth entry in They Get It.
David Samson, CBS Sports — A loose cannon when he was running the Miami/Florida Marlins, Samson has found his niche as a podcaster. He was appropriately aghast when the Los Angeles Angels, whose communications director supplied pitcher Tyler Skaggs with the opioids that killed him, said they would “vigorously defend” multiple lawsuits against the franchise by Skaggs’ family. Said Samson: “My statement would’ve been: `We were made aware of a lawsuit filed by the Skaggs family. The memory and tragedy of his death remains fresh in our minds and we continue to help and work with the Skaggs family to stop and help any sort of addiction.’ That’s my statement. I’m acknowledging that he died and I’m acknowledging the tragedy. I’m putting in a little nugget that he was a drug addict because he was snorting opioids. It is terribly sad that he died, but there is a risk that you’re going to die. In the statement, you don’t have to say that you’re going to vigorously defend the lawsuit.” Can Samson possibly advise the Angels and do podcasts simultaneously? Just asking, in another They Get It addendum.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN — When a sports commissioner publicly takes down the president of a network partner, it’s an extraordinary moment. For Pitaro, it’s the low point of a wobbly tenure when he has tried to re-establish ESPN as a sports-first operation and allowed woke interests to steamroll him. Silver condemned Pitaro’s wishy-washy leadership when he wondered why the network let the Nichols/Taylor drama “fester,” saying in his state-of-the-league news conference, “I would have thought that in the past year, maybe through some incredibly difficult conversations, that ESPN would have found a way to work through it. Obviously not.” Is Pitaro not in touch with what’s happening on the Bristol campus? Wasn’t he appointed by longtime Disney chief Bob Iger to repress John Skipper’s Bristol activism project? Pitaro wants to appease everyone — and he did succeed in mending wounds with the NFL and landing Disney a place in the Super Bowl rotation. But in the racial wars engulfing the network, the boss is appeasing no one and failing miserably. He SHOULD be emphasizing sports and minimizing politics and racial discord — and if heads must roll, so be it. It’s hard to believe Pitaro, clearly overmatched, will last long in the gig. Can Silver possibly run the NBA and ESPN simultaneously? Just asking.
Norby Williamson, ESPN — Some of the in-house racial rancor stems from the executive’s long-ago treatment of the late Stuart Scott, whose innovative slangy style — “Boo-yah!” — didn’t sit well with the conservative newsroom boss. This is a lingering problem, obviously, when Williamson continues to oversee day-to-day operations. In a revealing 2020 retrospective in The Ringer, Scott’s sister, Susan, said, “Norby wrote him up. He challenged his scripts. It was awful. People really don’t know how awful it was. … Stuart was desperately frustrated.” Pushing Williamson into early retirement also might be a wise move, sending a message to Black employees that Pitaro and Disney are moving on from old-world thinking.
Sports media agents — I’ve had a few in my day. Most were trouble. And they aren’t helping matters, either, in the ESPN dramas. When I’ve seen at least two stories suggest that Nichols is “territorial” and difficult to work with, those are plants from rival agents trying to skew public perception. It’s poisonous, similar to what top NFL prospects deal with before the Draft, and if Pitaro wants to survive in the lead role, he won’t let agents run his ship. Taylor’s agency has the ear of New York Post sports media writer Andrew Marchand, who was less than flattering about Nichols’ professional demeanor before — lo and behold! — being fed information that Taylor was offered $3 million a year by ESPN last week amid interest from NBC and Amazon. Taylor’s agents are delusional to think she deserves what’s now known as “Stephen A. Smith money” — and Smith’s agents were quick to pass along that he’s actually making $12 million a year, not $8 million. There are sewage plants with more pleasant odors than the offices of some media agents.
Jemele Hill, activist — Someone remind Hill that her ratings weren’t good when she and Michael Smith, both Black, were bounced as “SportsCenter” hosts in 2018. If the numbers were better, I’m figuring they’d still be there, but Hill won’t let it go, using the Nichols-Taylor situation to accuse ESPN of racism. “Thinking about my situation, they were reacting to a moment then,” Hill told Dan Le Batard’s podcast. “That moment said people didn’t want to hear any political talk, any racial talk, any social justice talk, not that that was something Mike and I were doing every day on `SportsCenter’ — we weren’t. They let a false narrative persist about our show that people ran away with. They let the idiots in the room control the conversation, people like Clay Travis … they allowed those people to direct their course of action. They panicked. They wanted Black faces, they didn’t necessarily want Black voices.” Um, the last person influencing decisions at ESPN is Travis, one of Bristol’s biggest critics and enemies. Eventually, Hill must move on and define herself in a different mode than ESPN racial victim. It’s getting old.
Erik Rydholm, Rydholm Projects — I worked with the acclaimed producer during the booming peak years of “Around The Horn.” Which is precisely my point — that was a long-ass time ago, and he hasn’t reinvented himself at ESPN. His run of daily programming hits is fading, with “High Noon” crashing, “Highly Questionable” not long for the world and “ATH” often looking as dated as host Tony Reali’s black leather jacket and Woody Paige’s Botox deposits. Only “Pardon The Interruption” continues to work, but at some point, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon will retire. For buzz to accompany a sports debate show, there must be some element of relevant confrontation, but recent Rydholm offerings are too woke-centric and Ivy League-cute and don’t appeal to the everyday masses. Keep this in mind: “PTI” and “ATH” were spawned in the early aughts not by Rydholm, as erroneously assumed by media writers, but by former ESPN programming bosses Mark Shapiro and Jim Cohen. He did help launch the successful careers of the Showtime comedians, Desus and Mero, so maybe he should focus on that genre. If those two are anything but stale, why is his sports stuff so formulaic?
Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic — How convenient. Under a headline that said, “Let’s just enjoy the MLB All-Star Game without dwelling on who is missing,” the baseball columnist was unfazed by the defections of Jacob deGrom, Mookie Betts, various Houston wimps and numerous other players who preferred to be elsewhere. This no doubt earned Rosenthal high-fives, “Attaboys” and maybe a holiday pay sweetener from his second-job bosses at Fox Sports, which just happened to be televising the game. Pucker up, Ken! You’re batting sixth this week in the They Don’t Get It lineup.
Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts
THEY GET IT
Tokyo media warriors — The Olympic motto has changed. “Citius, Altius, Fortius — Communis” actually is “Arrive, Test, Quarantine — Pray.” I could write for the 10th time that the Pandemic Games should be canceled, but instead, I salute those covering the most fraught of modern Games. Already, my daunting stories from 14 Olympiads — gargantuan spiders in Australia, guardrail-less icy roads in the French Alps, purposely lost taxi drivers in Beijing, a rock-throwing protest in Athens — sound like so much whining. As if covering coronavirus outbreaks isn’t enough of a challenge, journalists in Japan are being tracked by GPS technology. They can work inside the media center and cover events, but, when finished, they must return promptly to their rooms, where they can leave only to visit a convenience store and must be back within 15 minutes. If not? GPS might find them and put them on a blacklist — not a place to be in a nation hostile about hosting the Summer Games under a state of emergency. Warns the organizing committee, which distributed a “playbook” of restrictions: “The people of Japan will be paying close attention to your every move .. (if) you are suspected or found to be in infringement of the Playbook, such activity may be photographed and shared on social media.” That includes dating apps … “Hey, ladies, avoid this creep who snuck out for sushi in Ginza.” Each day, journalists must test for the coronavirus and variants by spitting as much saliva as possible into a tube, after which they must stand against a wall and stare at photos of fruit to produce more saliva. Suddenly, that wretched McMoose sandwich at a Norwegian McDonald’s doesn’t seem bad.
New York Times — Thank you for reminding the entire industry — writers, broadcasters AND those who operate media companies — that professional integrity can’t be maintained by jumping into business bed with the people you cover. The Times suspended veteran sports reporter Karen Crouse, who has written poignantly of Michael Phelps’ mental health struggles and future related endeavors, for partnering with the legendary U.S. swimmer on a book about … his mental health struggles and future related endeavors. For years, sportswriters have shown no shame in pursuing quick cash-ins on subjects they regularly chronicle — namely, championship teams. This practice has been allowed in Chicago, where The Athletic and ESPN let local writers Jon Greenberg and Jesse Rogers peddle gooey remembrances of the 2016 Cubs and manager Joe Maddon. Tell me: How can one cover a team or athlete critically when he has made money, even a few scraps, off that team or athlete? The same applies to Crouse, whose editors pulled her off Tokyo coverage after she wrote at the U.S. Olympic swim trials that Phelps has “exchanged isolation for outreach, sprinkling instruction and advice like the pope blessing his flock with holy water. As a mentor, he has found a way to pull this U.S. team along in his wake without getting wet.” Upon subsequent discovery that she was writing the book — Crouse failed to inform anyone at the Times — editors attached this note to her glowing Phelps story from June 15: “After this article was published, editors learned that the reporter had entered an agreement to co-write a book with Michael Phelps. If editors had been aware of the conflict, the reporter would not have been given the assignment.” If every sports media outlet followed the Times’ philosophy, the landscape would be less cozy and devious and much more independent.
Maria Taylor, opportunist — I didn’t buy how she used social media to self-frame her political entanglement with Rachel Nichols as an inspirational story. “I’ve taken some punches,” Taylor tweeted, “but that just means I’m still in the fight.” In truth, she won an ESPN promotion at the expense of Nichols, who blamed it on the network’s “crappy longtime record on diversity.” But Taylor also was smart enough not to be swallowed by the scandal. A former college basketball player, she saw an opening and is driving through the lane, reportedly to NBC, where more millions and immediate Tokyo assignments are said to await. She won dignity points in continuing her assignment in the “NBA Countdown” hosting seat, agreeing to work Game 6 of the Finals as her ESPN contract was expiring. At some point, don’t be surprised if Taylor assumes hosting duties on the most visible of studio shows — “Sunday Night Football” — when Mike Tirico moves to play-by-play duties. She won’t get “Stephen A. Smith money,” as her agent had demanded, but she’ll have peace after the Bristol dramas. Too bad Jimmy Pitaro and other Disney executives couldn’t prevent a maelstrom, when they had about a year to figure out the Nichols-Taylor fallout.
Major League Baseball — A sport that caters to White male boomers occasionally escapes its 20th-century cave. MLB outhustled other leagues in featuring the first all-women broadcast crew for an otherwise sleepy Orioles-Rays game. Melanie Newman and Sarah Langs were in the booth, Alanna Rizzo was on the field as a reporter, and Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner hosted the studio show.”My entire career, especially coming up through the minor leagues, I was the first woman at every single stop,” Newman told MLB Network.”I couldn’t help but think in the back of my head, `That’s great, but let’s keep going.’ Let’s move past being the first, and just make this more of a normal occasion that’s coming around where we’re not qualifying people based on their gender.” Next time, perhaps such a historic crew won’t be confined to YouTube’s “Game of the Week.”
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post — I welcome a movie critic to “They Get It” for his ferocious takedown of LeBron James. While LeBron was mocking social-media “haters” with news that “Space Jam: A New Legacy” had done $32 million in opening-weekend business, Oleksinski was reminding suckers how they’d wasted their money. Copy, paste and send: “During the endless final sequence of `Space Jam: A New Legacy,’ Porky Pig calls himself `the Notorious P.I.G.’ and begins to rap, `This pig is lit. I’m super legit.’ Porky should’ve added: `And my movie is s—t.’ In the pantheon of misguided sequels and reboots, `A New Legacy’ is right up there with `Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2’ and `Little Fockers.’ ” Damn, Johnny. No wonder James snuck a bottle of tequila under his Phoenix courtside seat at Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The aspiring Hollywood mogul bombed out, and, somewhere, Michael Jordan is laughing.
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — Like all enduring columnists, he alternately warms the soul and provokes thought (see below). His piece on Vin Scully was a Kleenex-reacher, coaxing the 93-year-old broadcast legend to speak about the Jan. 3 passing of his wife, Sandi. “I’ve been severely wounded, but I’ve also comes to grips with it,” Scully said. “I believe it’s all God’s plans. I’m just trying to do the best that I can for as long as I have … I wouldn’t want to dwell on how I feel much more than, you can imagine, anybody can imagine, when you lose your partner, the loss is overwhelming, and then eventually you come to grips with it. As of right now, I would say that I’m healing to reality.” Scully continues to reject overtures from the Dodgers and Fox Sports to join baseball broadcasts, even for an inning. “I’m done. Really I am. People have heard me enough,” he said. “And now it’s time for me … `Scully, be quiet. Go over and sit down.’ ” Oh, how wrong he is. Vin always is welcome as a “They Get It” addendum.
Megyn Kelly, professional skeptic — When Naomi Osaka boycotted the media and blew off two Grand Slam events to work on her “mental health,” she knew what was on the horizon: her image blasted across the covers of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition, Time magazine and Vogue Japan. It smacks of a power play more than depression — wanting to circumvent traditional tennis press conferences to control her own messages — and Osaka should have realized the likes of Kelly would jump on her in critical tweets. Replied Naomi, whose own Barbie doll and LeBron-produced reality show also have debuted: “Seeing as you’re a journalist I would’ve assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines, if you did that you would’ve found out I shot all of my covers last year,” she wrote to Kelly on Twitter. “Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan.” I am happy to elevate Kelly — whose first name is Megyn, not Megan — in bonus coverage as our seventh who gets it.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN — In refusing to fire or even suspend the reckless, feckless Smith, the network president made a deplorable statement to the Asian community. Pitaro saw fit to remove Nichols from NBA Finals sideline-hosting duties in a gesture to her Black studio colleagues, who reportedly threatened to boycott a show after Nichols’ diversity-hire rant about Taylor went public. So why not issue at least a similar punishment to Smith? His insensitive comments about Shohei Ohtani — that Major League Baseball is damaged because the Japanese phenom uses an interpreter for interviews — were an insult to Asians, not to mention the intelligence of ESPN’s audience. The prevailing perception: Pitaro is more concerned about offending Blacks than Asians, yet another double standard employed by the Worldwide Leader In Hypocrisy.
The layoff-disgraced NFL — Bloated from revenues and resources after absorbing $113 billion in recent broadcast contracts, the richest of sports leagues should be adding to its payroll, not subtracting. But Jerry Jones and the billionaire boys are trying to spin off a minority share of NFL Media to an existing company, which required headcount cuts, as many as 132 according to an employee who lost his job. The league disputes the number, but one layoff is one too many for a powerhouse that depended on those workers during the pandemic. Now, they are cut like bad placekickers in a network division — broadcast and online media — that could use creative help. Credit NFL Media writer Jim Trotter for slamming the league that pays him, tweeting that it’s “really sad that so many loyal employees who took mandatory & voluntary paycuts during the pandemic to help the company, & who came up with creative ways to produce content & limit $$ losses, would be fired after NFL signed $100B TV deals.” It’s a poor reflection on commissioner Roger Goodell, who had guided the league so well through 2020-21 obstacles — somehow raising revenues by almost a half-billion dollars during the pandemic season — before swallowing the greed pill.
ESPN — Alone, Peyton Manning sells. But Peyton with brother Eli? On an alternative “Monday Night Football” broadcast airing on ESPN2? Whose idea was this? Beyond Indianapolis, their hometown of New Orleans and sectors of New York and New Jersey, who will watch? I’m not sure why ESPN is so excited about the Mannings calling 30 games — not even a full allotment — over the next three seasons with no plans of being in stadiums. Said a Bristol release: “Fans will be treated to a mix of in-the-moment analysis, big picture NFL dialogue, knee-jerk reaction, historical perspective, and more. Peyton and Eli will be joined each week by a to-be-determined host. Iconic and current athletes, as well as celebrities, are expected to appear throughout the season. Fans will never miss any of the action, as a multi-box viewing experience will ensure the game is always visible.” Translated, it sounds like they’ll show up when they want for a Monday night party with guests. Sure, we remember the commercial where Peyton and Eli horsed around as the famed football family, including parents Archie and Olivia, was given a Bristol tour. That was a very long time ago. On the same day, ESPN announced Ahmad Rashad will host a streaming interview show. Again, why?
Alex Mather, The Athletic — As any used-car salesman knows, a business might want to drop the price when demand is down. Mather, chief executive and founder of the scuffling sports site, has chosen to RAISE the price of an annual subscription from $59.99 to $71.99 despite a slowdown in renewals. His stubbornness must give way to reality: There is solid-to-good content on his site, with sporadic greatness (read baseball writer Andy McCullough’s profile of geriatric project Tony La Russa), but Mather’s bulk-over-bite strategy isn’t working. Great sports sites, or great sports sections in the print days, require a daily procession of must-read personalities. The Athletic doesn’t have enough in an age when consumers thrive on timely, intelligent perspectives from accomplished columnists willing to speak truth to power. A glaring example of shying away from a major story: Why no major opinion piece on the cultural wars at ESPN — Smith vs. Shohei Ohtani, Nichols vs. Taylor — which dominated news and sports cycles but were addressed only in a little-known podcast from media writer Richard Deitsch? Meanwhile, as the Olympics teeter just hours from the Opening Ceremony, I’m seeing minimal Games coverage from a site that wants $71.99. “We have got 450 reporters, writers, editors, producers on three continents producing as much volume as any national newspaper in the world per week,” Mather told Variety. He could sell more subscriptions with 100 dynamic, well-known writers on one continent, but like many tech bro/dudes, Mather can’t be bothered with tried-and-true common sense.
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — I sure hope Plaschke never is accused of a crime and fired from a job before being accorded due process. Rather than wait for investigators in Pasadena and Major League Baseball to finish their probe of Trevor Bauer — which is what Plaschke recommended in a previous piece, that MLB “listen equally to the accuser and the accused” — the columnist now wants the Dodgers to cut the pitcher based entirely on the accuser’s side in a sexual assault probe. No arrests have been made. No charges have been filed. But Judge Bill has ruled anyway, writing, “Face it, even if this entire incident eventually disappears and Bauer is never charged with a crime, images of his alleged violence remain and serious questions about his character and judgment linger.” That sound is the B.S. Meter calling hypocrisy on Plaschke, who worshipped Kobe Bryant in print for years and continues to do so in memoriam. Had the Lakers wielded the Plaschke hammer and cut Bryant while his 2003 rape case was being investigated in Colorado, who would Bill have deified all those years? Why hold one standard for Bauer and another for Bryant? Everyone is aware of the magnitude here: This is a monumental legal case of potentially horrific ramifications that could send Bauer to jail and leave a permanent scar on the Dodgers’ public-relations machine. But Plaschke should stop playing prosecutor and wait for the facts in an L.A. legal world where surprises and tricks are the norm. If Bauer is charged and convicted, then, by all means, wield the hammer. His beloved Kobe, for one, would appreciate patience.
Jason Whitlock, lost cause — He spins sports into racial propaganda on Glenn Beck’s site, which leads him to daffy concussions such as this: “ESPN is so afraid of the Twitter mob that the Worldwide Leader in Sports won’t put a byline on its stories covering the arrest of NFL star Richard Sherman. This is significant. It underscores the power of Twitter to manipulate basic journalism and force a two-tiered, racial standard of journalism equity.” As attempted proof, he offers an ESPN story from Jan. 25, with the byline of staff writer Brady Henderson, about the domestic violence arrest of ex-Seattle Seahawk Chad Wheeler. Sherman is Black; Wheeler is White — as Whitlock points out. I’ve raised some serious hell myself about ESPN’s racial double standards, but not in this instance. If Whitlock simply would read the site instead of remaining a prisoner to his wild whims, he’d realize ESPN isn’t using bylines on many recent stories not broken by a staff member. He’d also notice that just this month, in a story about Barkevious Mingo’s arrest and release by the Atlanta Falcons, ESPN references Adam Schefter in the second sentence — not exactly hiding the NFL insider’s identity in a crime story about a Black football player. He’d also notice that the byline of staff writer Dave Wilson was on a July 6 story about a Black running back at Oklahoma, Mikey Henderson, who was dismissed from the team after an alleged robbery. Whitlock publishes this nonsense just so two prominent clickbait names — Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg — can be used in his headline. Time for a long vacation, big man. This was worth extra time in “They Don’t Get It.”
Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune — What sports journalism doesn’t need is another media writer who won’t take on real issues in a $600 billion industry. Sullivan was a good baseball reporter who became a soft columnist and now dabbles once in a week in local media. The first topic he should tackle, in a month when Stephen A. has offended Asians and the Taylor-Nichols racial story dominated news cycles, is how NBC Sports Chicago continues to use Ozzie Guillen as a live baseball commentator with his history of slurs and propensity for outrageousness. But Sullivan, like most Chicago opinionists these days, protects his paycheck first, forgets his responsibility to readers and bows down to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns 50 percent of NBCSC and could get Sullivan fired with one flunky phone call to his Tribune hedge-fund bosses. Playing the Chicago political game, Sullivan weaseled out and praised Guillen for an “over-the-top funny” takedown of Josh Donaldson, the Minnesota third baseman who thankfully stonewalled an ongoing MLB scandal by calling out pitchers for using illegal substances. “Mr. Squealer,” Guillen called him, saying he’d order a pitcher to hit Donaldson were he still managing. Does anyone not see about 10 problems here, including how Sox pitchers had ranked in the top three in spin rate before the MLB crackdown? No wonder, when I couldn’t locate the Tribune (or Sun-Times) during a recent O’Hare flight layover, that the store clerk told me, “Oh, I’m not sure we carry those anymore. Is USA Today OK?” This wasn’t worth extra time in “They Don’t Get It.”
Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t
“A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts.”
THEY GET IT
Rachel Nichols, ESPN — If she wanted, Nichols could hire a battalion of lawyers and all but own the Disney Company. And maybe she should — now that her cowardly network bosses have removed her from sideline duties for the NBA Finals, avoiding a possible mutiny from Maria Taylor and other Black personalities. Remember, her comments about Taylor — that racial considerations led ESPN/ABC to replace Nichols (who is White) with Taylor (who is Black) as “NBA Countdown’’ host — were made in the presumptive privacy of her Disney-paid hotel room, at Walt Disney World, where a Disney-installed remote camera picked up her explosive dialogue, allowing it to be heard by a Disney employee/creep who made an audio tape of her conversation and leaked it throughout the Disney-owned network and to the New York Times. But Nichols took one for the team, as they say, issuing an on-air apology to Taylor when Disney should be apologizing to Nichols for invading her privacy. “So the first thing they teach you in journalism school is don’t be the story. And I don’t plan to break that rule today or distract from a fantastic Finals,” Nichols said on her daily NBA show, “The Jump,’’ a day after the Times expose appeared. “But I also don’t want to let this moment pass without saying how much I respect, how much I value our colleagues here at ESPN. How deeply, deeply sorry I am for disappointing those I hurt, particularly Maria Taylor, and how grateful I am to be part of this outstanding team.” That gesture did Nichols a lot of good — now they’ve run her off the Finals when, as we know, she became “the story’’ only because the network’s microphone and rogue employee(s) made her the story. Disney is fortunate that Nichols’ mother-in-law is Diane Sawyer, who made her mark as an elite broadcast journalist at ABC. Otherwise, the scene of the Orlando drama might be renamed Rachel Nichols World. Perhaps someday, at this rate, it still will be. Shame, shame, on the decision-makers.
CC Sabathia, media star in waiting — With Major League Baseball needing a reset and its leaders requiring lobotomies, maybe Sabathia is the cure as a fresh, all-resonating voice. Fans tired of John Smoltz, Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and the general humdrum effect can look forward to Sabathia, who lets his opinions fly with viral, Barkley-esque impact. Problem is, he doesn’t want to work in a traditional booth and would prefer to do podcasts from the stands at ballparks. Well, what is so wrong about that? Fox, ESPN, TBS and MLB Network should be all over his idea, which could revolutionize baseball broadcasting and help bring the sport into the 21st century. His new memoir, “Till the End,’’ might be the season’s most interesting conversation piece, topping even two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, lauded by Sabathia as “the best baseball player on this planet … ever.’’ He details years of alcoholism, such as the night in 2009 when his wife found him passed out in a lounge chair — naked, all 350 pounds of him — at Beyonce’s 40th-birthday bash for Jay-Z. Amber Sabathia had the strength to help save her husband’s life. Now, networks will have to deal with her as his media agent.
Marv Albert, retiring legend — For 55 years, his voice resonated through a sport as much as any arena sound, including a dribbled basketball. And to the very last syllable, Albert was humble, thanking broadcast colleague Reggie Miller, producers, directors, statisticians, production crews, camera people — paying tribute to everyone but himself. He actually looked embarrassed by the reception after his final broadcast, when fans at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena stuck around after the Hawks were ousted to give Albert a standing ovation, as Miller joined in. “I wish I were starting all over again. It has been such a joy,’’ he said. “So for the last time, thanks so much for watching. I’m Marv Albert, saying thank you and good night.’’ I miss him already.
Boris Becker, blunt realist — Realizing her boycott threat wasn’t helping an otherwise thriving career, Naomi Osaka said she’ll answer questions at news conferences during the Summer Olympics. I’m skeptical that her hiatus, which started at the French Open and continues through Wimbledon, involved mental health issues as much as the controlling whims of a Generation Z multimillionaire. Becker agreed, with the tennis legend/analyst telling the Times of UK: “If you can’t deal with the media, it’s very difficult to be a professional tennis player. The tour isn’t possible without the press. And it’s difficult to make your prize money, or money for your sponsors without the media. It’s not something we look forward to. But it’s part of the job. You have to learn to deal with it. … Is that really pressure? Isn’t it pressure when you don’t have food on the table? When you’ve got to feed your family and you don’t have a job? When you have a life-changing injury? Isn’t that more pressure? You’re 23, you’re healthy, you’re wealthy, your family is good. Where’s the f—king pressure?’’ With the Games in her native Japan, Osaka has no choice but to speak to the people. The litmus test will be at the U.S. Open, where the media will be aggressive, if not harsh. Will she flee again? All I know is, Osaka was well enough to tweet last month that she’s on the cover of Vogue Japan.
Katie Nolan, ESPN — This is what happens when a sports network boss showers a personality with more than $1 million a year, then loses his gig in a cocaine scandal. Katie Nolan is being marginalized, if not shipped away, by the regime that succeeded John Skipper. She’s the latest disciple of Bristol-bounced Dan Le Batard to see the ziggy sunset, but credit the ex-bartender for keeping her trademark sarcasm a year after the cancellation of her show, “Always Late.’’ When a follower commented that her Twitter photo features her winning a Sports Emmy, Nolan wrote, “I gotta change it but every picture of you feels like it sucks after a picture like that.’’ Who’s going to sign Nolan? Skipper and Le Batard, I’m sure — but likely with one less contractual zero.
THEY DON’T GET IT
ESPN — As professional as Nichols was in her apology, what followed was Amateur Hour. In an awkward segment approved by company executives, the show producers had NBA analysts Kendrick Perkins and Richard Jefferson immediately weigh in on her comments. I have no idea what either ex-player has to do with this story — and they only made the mess more political, with Perkins thanking Nichols for “accepting responsibility for your actions’’ and Jefferson acknowledging that conversations between Nichols and Black colleagues at “The Jump’’ have been “very difficult’’ and “don’t end here.’’ This revealed existing racial tensions that only forced Nichols off her Finals assignment; did the network set her up? Again, if I’m Nichols, I’m lawyering up. The segment was an orchestrated attempt to appease Taylor and “NBA Countdown’’ colleagues, such as Jalen Rose, who reportedly were ready to storm off the studio set recently in a Nichols-related beef. If Taylor and others want to walk off the set during the NBA Finals — the biggest annual assignment in their careers — go for it. In the element most important to viewers, the show isn’t very good, lapped repeatedly in watchability by TNT’s “Inside The NBA.’’ This debacle only make the show more distasteful.
Swerving sports pundits — In a rambling piece that tried — and failed — to appease all sides in a very complicated legal case, Bill Plaschke opined that Trevor Bauer is “obviously constitutionally deserving of the presumption of innocence.’’ Yet just one paragraph earlier, the Los Angeles Times columnist all but convicted Bauer of sexual assault by demanding he be removed from the Dodgers, writing, “Pitching for the Dodgers and representing the city of Los Angeles is not a right, but a privilege. Based on the accusations and evidence … Bauer has, at the very least, badly abused that privilege.’’ Then he writes that Major League Baseball must “listen equally to the accuser and the accused.’’ I’m confused. We’ve evidently entered the Assume Phase of the Bauer case, where media people decide to be judges, detectives and lawyers without knowing a thing about what actually occurred, unless they happened to be in his Pasadena home on two occasions when he says rough sexual acts were consensual, as encouraged via text messages by a woman who says Bauer went frighteningly too far and assaulted her. Consent will play a prominent legal role, but I don’t see that explained by Plaschke or in other similarly swerving columns. What we have here are allegations, which are not facts or “evidence.’’ Plaschke urges MLB to “find the truth.’’ Shouldn’t he and other columnists wait for it before swimming in legal waters? If Bauer is convicted, have at it. Until then, don’t assume … unless you know.
Phil Mickelson, winner to whiner — Only weeks after teaching life lessons as the oldest player to win a golf major, Lefty went daffy. Yes, with Mickelson in town for a tournament, the Detroit News had every right to apprise its audience of a local story involving the gambling man, whose dirty betting deeds surfaced in a Michigan jury trial in 2007. Seems he allegedly was cheated out of a $500,000 payoff by a mob-connected bookie named “Dandy’’ Don DeSeranno, who hailed from Grosse Pointe Park — making this Mickelson’s version of the cult movie, “Grosse Pointe Blank.’’ Rather than acknowledge a true story and move on, Mickelson blasted the newspaper, badgered News reporter Robert Snell on Twitter and threatened to never return to Detroit, calling the story “very opportunistic and selfish.’’ What Mickelson missed, in dismissing it as old news, is that the court transcript didn’t appear until 2018. Here’s some advice for Phil, at age 51: Stop dealing with organized crime figures. This isn’t the first time.
Washington Post — When a legendary sportswriter retires in the social-media age, it’s best to allow accolades to arrive privately in his inbox and not splice them together in a self-serving compilation. By the time numerous journalists and other figures had praised Thomas Boswell in a lengthy Post story, I was beginning to think he was a press-box combination of Jesus Christ, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama. I kept reading a quote rehashed from the late Georgetown basketball coach, John Thompson, who once said, “Thomas Boswell writes for the Heavens.’’ My God, it’s just sports, folks. We’re really not important, except to each other, as exhibited by the planet’s complete disregard of “World Sports Journalists Day,’’ which came and went July 2 despite the promotional efforts of something called the International Sports Press Association. I’m sure the unassuming Boswell is wondering why everyone didn’t just DM him.
Twitt-iots, ad nauseam — There is more than one Rachel Nichols in the world, including an actress who tags her Twitter ID line as “NOT ESPN REPORTER!’’ That didn’t stop trolls and losers from bombarding the Rachel Nichols who isn’t embroiled in a racial controversy. She wrote: “I woke up to HUNDREDS of Tweets YELLING AT ME and I had no idea what was happening! I was horrified and so sad. … As soon as it started happening, I was like… oh no.’’ Of course, the mobs never apologize. I know of vast, vacant, horse-poop-stenched land north of Bakersfield. Can we place these sad, vacant humans out there, with no Wi-Fi or electrical outlets? They can eat if they behave.
5 Who Get It, 5 Who Don’t
A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts
THEY GET IT
Kat O’Brien, courageous former sportswriter — Not to overstate the obvious, but Major League Baseball might want to purge its entire paradigm and start over. In a particularly horrific season for a sport with too many problems to count, the sexual harassment crisis hit a new and abhorrent low when O’Brien detailed how she was raped by a big-league player 18 years ago in a hotel room. Working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, she was interviewing him for an in-depth story about international players and their adjustment to American culture when he suddenly tried to kiss her. “I said, no, no, I don’t want that, but he pushed me over to the bed,” O’Brien wrote in a New York Times guest essay. “I tried to shove him. I said no, stop, no, stop, over and over. He pushed further, getting on top of me, pulling off my skirt, and having sex with me against my will.” Like other women in sports media who’ve been victimized, O’Brien didn’t report the attack because, she wrote, “I knew that if I told anyone what happened that it would ruin my career. I was 22 with no track record, and at that time — nearly two decades ago — most people in baseball would have rallied to protect the athlete. So I blamed myself.” Already this year, baseball has dealt with the Jared Porter, Mickey Callaway and Roberto Alomar debacles, sweeping all out of the industry. Who exactly is this latest unnamed player? How many others like him are still working in baseball? Shouldn’t Rob Manfred be on the phone with O’Brien’s attorney? And is the commissioner’s office serious about a total extinguishing of the problem — or reacting only when another courageous woman tells her story publicly? Allow me to challenge Manfred, here and now. I know a former big-league manager and player, still working as a studio analyst for an MLB team, who routinely made harassing remarks about women during his time in uniform. If Manfred is real, one of his security people will contact me via my DMs. It won’t happen.
Walt Disney Company — We don’t have to like everything The Mice — plural for The Mouse, correct? — produce in the sphere of sports programming. And if you read me every week, you know I’m disturbed by ESPN’s minimizing of journalism and headfirst plunge into gambling. But if the biggest game is eyeballs, the corporate bosses know how to get in front of them. Their post-peak-pandemic strategy of emphasizing live sports was a calculated hit, with streaming accounting for more than 40 percent of ad commitments as ESPN/ABC maximize lucrative new rights deals with the NFL, MLB and the NHL. Jolted by modern life, Americans won’t plunge into sports as they once did, but the 11-year, $2.7-billion-a-year bet on the NFL — which includes two Super Bowls — is a Disney lock. And ESPN+ is the one sports streaming initiative showing substantial growth, with 13.8 million subscribers on board thanks to bundling with Disney+ and Hulu. Said CEO Bob Chapek, who isn’t messing with a plan built by predecessor Bob Iger: “We’re committed to sports because we value live sports, which drives viewers and interest like nothing else.” Honchos such as Chapek don’t care what I think. He does care when Front Office Sports blasts this headline: “Sports Driving Force Behind Disney’s Revenue Boost.”
Tim Legler, ESPN — As Jazz coach Quin Snyder kept scratching his neck and face during the postmortem — I stopped counting at 12 scratches — the veteran basketball analyst broke down what Snyder couldn’t figure out during Utah’s collapse. He’d left 7-1 rim protector Rudy Gobert on the court too long, allowing Terance Mann and the Clippers (I really wrote those five words) a series of uncontested three-pointers that erased a 25-point deficit and sent Billy Crystal’s favorite curse-riddled team to the Western Conference finals. Legler is considered a journeyman In TV studio circles, as he was throughout his NBA sharpshooting career. Maybe it’s time to include him in the portal for the numerous coaching vacancies popping up in a chaotic league. If Legler were coaching the Jazz, I’m thinking they’d have won Game 6 and perhaps the series. Let’s not stereotype and keep people in pigeon holes. Free Legler!
Robert Griffin III, media star — The shrewder network executives don’t sit around and mope when Peyton Manning rejects megabucks offers and Aaron Rodgers sends cryptic teases about his future. No, they unearth potential analysts from unlikely places, such as the NFL free-agent list, where Griffin has attracted no interest from teams amid a disappointing career — but is said to be high on the lists of ESPN and Fox Sports. Who says you have to be a Hall of Famer (Troy Aikman) or enjoy a successful playing career (Tony Romo, Cris Collinsworth) to excel in a booth or studio? Griffin earned notice when he said on a BleacherReport.com draft show, of all platforms, that his ex-teammate, Kirk Cousins, could lose his starting quarterback job in Minnesota to rookie Kellen Mond. We want candor, regardless of playing pedigree. If Griffin is as good as advertised, might he have a “Monday Night Football” future?
Phil Rosenthal, fighter — One by one, in a brutal bloodletting, prominent staffers at the once-formidable Chicago Tribune have accepted buyouts from the journalism-crushers at Alden Global Capital. Some will fade away, but not Rosenthal, who is inventive enough as an industry lifer to move forward in sports and media column-writing. “I thought the time was right to take control of my fate and strike out on my own,” he explains. As you know, I once fled a Chicago newspaper in disgust. If I hadn’t, I’d probably be in my grave. Either my heart would have stopped or, more likely, someone would have shot me.
THEY DON’T GET IT
The Athletic — I recall flinching when the founders of the now-struggling site, huddling with me during long-ago job chats, mentioned “equity” as a possible form of compensation. Turns out equity concerns are among reasons the New York Times flatly rejected merger overtures from The Athletic, the second major swing and miss by Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann as they begin to wonder if every potential suitor is armed with Spider Tack and pine tar. Simply, the site isn’t generating enough revenue from stalled subscription numbers to justify its massive staff headcounts — forgive the corporate speak — and with the Times responsibly joining Axios in rebuff mode, no bailout is forthcoming. Another chilling round of buyouts/layoffs is possible, and what I originally suggested to the founders has become the smart play: Go with 100 of America’s best sportswriting reads and turn them loose. Trying to cover every beat in every market, sometimes with two or three writers per team, is a senseless money drain that will result in more journalism tragedy.
Chicago Twitter crybabies — The Tribune buyouts have jolted younger media members, who are using social media to convey weepy condolences and well-wishes. Not to be cold about it, but every journalist remaining in that market should get his/her head out of the Twitter pity party and — oh, I don’t know — try to break a story, write a great column or do a kick-ass talk show. Or the Ziggy Monster is coming for you next. What appalls me, as someone who wisely handed back a million bucks and resigned from the Sun-Times because I saw the wreckage ahead, is the sad public grandstanding that accomplishes … I dunno, what? The Athletic’s Jon Greenberg wrote of the “enormous loss for the Trib and Chicago” when sportswriter Shannon Ryan accepted a buyout. If I was Greenberg, working for a site that might be executing mass layoffs, I’d be trying very hard to write a column or two that made a difference and sold a few more subscriptions. This isn’t high school, kids. This is real life as journalism dies.
Dan McNeil, caveman — For a moment, I thought this stuck-in-fanboy-adolescence radio veteran might have grown up. “Of course, I regret it. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” he said of his neanderthal, career-killing tweet about ESPN’s Maria Taylor, comparing her “Monday Night Football” outfit to that of an adult film star. But then, appearing on a radio show, he veered into lame justification mode, saying he’d throw similar shade at NFL Network host Kyle Brandt if he’d worn a “sleeveless leather vest, tight-fitting pants and a cowboy hat.” Then McNeil blamed changing times in talk radio, saying, “I’m from the era (of) fair game, major celebrity, major platform … It doesn’t get any bigger than Monday Night Football. It was a fashion critique.” No, it was naked sexism, if not racism. He was right about this: “I guess I don’t have any choice to accept it because I don’t have a radio job, and I won’t get another one.”
Marcus Thompson, The Athletic — As a fan of the columnist, I can’t believe he overdosed on Terance Mann puns. Warning: Have a barf bag nearby. He was “a Cinderella Mann of sorts” who “Mannufactured a comeback.” Rudy Gobert was “underManned.” It was a “Mannifestation of the work he’s put in.” Of course, “Pardon the Mannsplaining.” Coach Ty Lue “put his faith in the son of Mann. Eustace Mann, that is.” After giving us a break for a few merciful paragraphs, Thompson returned with, “Mann in the Mirror.” Then: “It’s easy to roMannticize what happened at Staples Center.” And finally, predictably, “You’re the Mann now, dawg.” The first comment, from Eric M.: “A little cheesy.” And this from Adam N.: “There are two errors: you write that Gobert had zero blocks twice in the same sentence and you refer to Reggie Williams instead of Reggie Jackson,” which was followed by a staffer stepping in and acknowledging “an editing mistake on my behalf.” C’mon, man. Subscriptions are $59.99 a year.
Will Leitch, leech — At first, I assumed Peter King has a wicked case of amnesia, allowing this limpsack to submit a substitute column while the esteemed football writer is on vacation. Didn’t Leitch, as top editor at since-Deadspun Deadspin, often mock King — including the time another trash site ran photos of King’s daughter from a college party? Didn’t King, a legitimate journalist, abhor the cockroaches who gained web traffic off his meaningful work? And then I got the inside joke: King is being the bigger man in giving him a shot … or, I should say, the only man. Leitch has gone on to various successes and failures, including the demise of two sites, but by agreeing to fill in for King, he confirmed what is self-evident about all rogue-sports-site losers who ripped those with big profiles: They’ll never have our careers, not even close.
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