It has been said that failure is the best teacher. I believe that not only can lessons be learned from our own failures, but the shortcomings of others can provide excellent examples of what not to do as well. Former Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has recently put on a clinic of what not to do.
Gruden described NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith by using racist language in a July 2011 email. According to the Wall Street Journal in a story that broke last Friday, Gruden wrote, “Dumboriss Smith has lips the size of michellin (sic) tires.”
As disgraceful as that message was, it was just the tip of the iceberg. By Monday evening, Gruden had resigned as head coach of the Raiders. The turn of events followed a New York Times report that uncovered numerous emails from Gruden over a seven-year period that were racist, anti-gay and misogynistic in nature.
Well, as Ron Burgendy once said, that escalated quickly.
There was speculation last weekend that Gruden might be fined or possibly suspended for the email about Smith. After many more unacceptable messages were uncovered, Gruden is now unemployed altogether.
Gruden’s apology following the Raiders 20-9 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday was a red flag to me. See if you notice a pattern here:
“All I can say is that I’m not a racist. I can’t tell you how sick I am. I apologize to D. Smith, but I feel good about who I am and what I’ve done my entire life. I apologize for the insensitive remarks. I had no racial intentions with those remarks at all. I’m not like that at all. I apologize, but I don’t want to keep addressing it.”Jon Gruden
That apology had way more to do with Gruden than Smith. In one short paragraph, I counted a single mention of Smith, while Gruden referred to himself 13 times. “I’m not a racist.” “I feel good about who I am.” “I’m not like that at all.”
Me, me, me.
Anybody who is truly sorry about screwing up is more concerned about who they offended, not their own reputation. That wasn’t the case with Gruden. He was more focused on letting us know that he didn’t have a racist bone in his body. Supposedly.
How would you feel if a person that harmed you was focused on themselves? If a driver runs a red light and smashes into your car, it’s one thing for that person to say, “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” It’s quite another for the driver to say, “Ya know, I don’t have a bad-driving bone in my body. I feel good about the driving I’ve done my entire life.”
I’d be looking at that person sideways while searching for loose debris to hurl at him.
This brings up an interesting question; do you accept an apology that isn’t sincere from a person who clearly doesn’t get it? Gruden said he isn’t a racist, but he might be up for an Oscar for playing the role of a racist convincingly well. Whether you accept the apology in a similar instance is a personal choice. You’d at the very least hope the person apologizing is truly sorry though.
Gruden provided us all with a blueprint on how not to behave; especially for people in the sports radio industry that are also public figures. Here are three main points:
First off, don’t be a rectum. That’s pretty simple. Uplift people instead of condemning them. Look, I understand you might not sound like Mother Teresa when involved in a minor Twitter scrum with a troll. But you can’t toss out insults that offend others who aren’t even involved in the conversation.
It’s a horrible idea to crack on a person’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Gruden offended many more people than Smith while criticizing his lips, and many more people than former defensive lineman Michael Sam when he referred to gay football players as “queers.”
Next, if you do make a major mistake, own it. There are so many atrocious apologies in the sports world and beyond. “This isn’t a reflection of my behavior. This doesn’t show my true character.”
Yes, the hell it does. It also reveals a lack of character when you wrong someone else, yet still focus on yourself. It isn’t about you. It’s about who you disrespected. Just own the wrongdoing. “There’s no excuse for what I said/did. It was dead wrong. I’m so sorry.”
Lastly, behave as if you’re on the record. This one is easy to forget. Gruden clearly forgot that his email diatribes could be uncovered. Urban Meyer forgot that basically getting a lap dance in HIS Columbus bar could be filmed. Donald Sterling forgot that spewing racism on phone calls might be recorded. Truly being off the record rarely exists for public figures.
This isn’t to say poor Gruden, Meyer, and Sterling. I’m saying, hey bozos, don’t give them anything to uncover.
When I was doing a sports talk show in Portland, something strange happened to me at a station event. I was standing around minding my own business when a girl intentionally banged into me from behind while her brother filmed it. They were upset that I said the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles were overrated and wouldn’t make the playoffs. Yeah, seriously. They were trying to set me up.
If I would have said, “Watch where you’re going, you bleepity bleep bleep,” my employer might have watched the video and said, “You know what? Buh bye.”
There will always be people with cell phones looking to expose you and newspaper writers searching for juicy stories. Don’t give them what they want. If you simply behave, they have nothing to reveal.
Some people will say that Gruden should still be the Raiders head coach. They’ll argue that he was sending private emails, and the standards were different back then, and blah blah blah. You can live in the should-be world, or you can live in the real world. It’s your choice. In the real world, Gruden got exposed and is now unemployed. If you’d like to avoid the same outcome; be better than Gruden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.