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NBA Countdown Crew Crossing Fingers For Christmas Day

“The one obligation we have [as broadcasters] is to make sure that come hell or high water, 99 times out of 100, we’re there,” said Smith.

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ESPN Images

Things just seem to feel different this year as we near December 25. A surge of new COVID-19 cases driven by the spread of the omicron variant has fostered feelings of apprehension and uncertainty around the world. People are adjusting and/or canceling their holiday plans while remaining vigilant during this winter surge. 

CDC data indicate Omicron is starting to eat into Delta's U.S. dominance
Courtesy: Getty Images

One of the institutions embarking in this battle is the National Basketball Association, a league that has seen 115 players enter its COVID-19 health and safety protocols this month alone. Currently,  those testing positive for COVID-19 have to remain in the protocols for a minimum of 10 days, or if a player registers two negative COVID-19 PCR tests from samples obtained in a span of more than 24 hours. Many of the league’s superstar players have entered the protocols, including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Luka Dončić and Trae Young, all of whose teams are scheduled to take the floor Saturday. The NBA, however, has no plans to pause the 2021-22 season for now, instead opting to adjust to live with the threat of COVID-19 looming large.

ESPN and ABC will mark its 20th season bringing viewers exclusive coverage of all the action around the NBA on Christmas Day Saturday, broadcasting 13 hours of studio and game programming. The game action begins with a First Round rematch between the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks from Madison Square Garden. The day continues on with the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks hosting the Boston Celtics at 2:30 p.m. E.S.T., followed by a showdown between the two best teams in the Western Conference – the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns – at 5 p.m. E.S.T. Shortly thereafter, the primetime game takes place on both ABC and ESPN at 8 p.m. E.S.T. between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers from the newly-renamed Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, Calif., with the statuses of stars Kevin Durant and LeBron James in question due to health and safety protocols and an ankle injury, respectively. Finally, the day concludes from Salt Lake City, Utah as the Dallas Mavericks visit the Utah Jazz at 10:30 p.m. E.S.T.

Throughout the game coverage, ESPN analysts Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose, joined by host Mike Greenberg, will provide their knowledge, expertise and opinions to fans on NBA Countdown. The cast of the show was reconstructed prior to the tipoff of the NBA season, and is up 51% in its ratings as compared to last season, consistent with the 26% increase in NBA regular season game viewership on ESPN.

“In a very short period of time, the NBA Countdown team has delivered a very consistent product based on what I believe to be their strong knowledge of the sport, their relentless commitment to working around the clock if necessary, and the commitment to just the sports fans in general,” said Dave Roberts. “We all know that this show has been the subject of press in the past, and I just want to underscore that point [and the ratings increase] because I think it’s relevant as we head into the most important day [of the season] besides the NBA Finals.”

Throughout the year, protocols have been put in place at ESPN to ensure the health and safety of on-air talent and other staff and personnel both in studio and for broadcasts on the road. Additionally, media members have had to follow enhanced protocols at various NBA arenas, including TD Garden in Boston, Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and Madison Square Garden in New York.

“We’ve been in arenas, and we have followed some new and really fascinating protocols in order to be on the floor unmasked,” explained Mike Greenberg, host of NBA Countdown. “[Additionally], the protocols at our studios at the Seaport are stringent and have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, and ESPN has done a great job seeing to it that those are enforced.”

Mike Greenberg didn't realize NBA Countdown was still on the air
Courtesy: ESPN

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary goal of television programs and broadcasts on ESPN was to be as close to perfection as possible. As circumstances have changed across the globe however, the nature of broadcast production has fundamentally shifted to ensure networks can continue to bring their viewers compelling and engaging content each day, albeit its presentation may not be up to par to what it had been within a lone studio environment in the past.

“I think the idea that it’s not going to always be perfect is now accepted,” said former NBA player and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose. “The idea of bringing people on with FaceTime or remotes – that wasn’t necessarily encouraged. It was tolerated. Now not only do multimedia personalities accept that [as] the way it is, but also fans accept the way it is. So if somebody was doing an interview now on TV and their television screen starts buffering, two years ago the television world would freak out because we are all about perfection, but now we understand that that’s going to happen, and it’s the new climate that we live in.”

While NBA coaches and team personnel were required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before the start of the season, NBA players were not – since they are under the aegis of the National Basketball Players Association. Nonetheless, 97% of NBA players have been vaccinated, with 65% of those players receiving a booster shot, something that has been scientifically proven to be advantageous in diminishing severe effects of the omicron variant. Yet there have been some notable players who have opted not to get vaccinated, including Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic and Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets.

As he battles a COVID-19 diagnosis himself, ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith, who is vaccinated, believes NBA Commissioner Adam Silver needs to invoke the “Best Interest of the Game Clause” and mandate players be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to maintain the competitive integrity of the game and allow for the completion of the season, something integral to media outlets covering the league.

“The only time a pause should take place is for the NBA to conduct a meeting with all the players in attendance and say: ‘Okay – either you all accept this vaccine mandate, or we’re going into a bubble. Those are your two choices,’” said Smith. “‘Pick one because what we’re not going to do is let the season come to a halt. We’re not doing it.’”

Due to New York City mandates put into place by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Irving, along with any other players on teams within New York City, is unable to enter an indoor arena without proof of vaccination, making him ineligible to play home games at Barclays Center, and across the East River at Madison Square Garden when the Nets visit the Knicks. Wherefore Irving’s limited availability as a result of his objection in getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the Nets decided not to allow him to play in any of its games this season, despite him being eligible to play games in all other cities outside of The Big Apple.

Kyrie Irving talks about the world and basketball ... and the balance  between - NetsDaily

Since that decision was made in October though, the Nets, despite holding the best record in the Eastern Conference, have been decimated by injuries, causing star players Kevin Durant and James Harden to consistently play heavier minutes. Because of this and the organization’s championship aspirations, the team made the controversial move to allow the unvaccinated Irving to rejoin the team. During the intake process, though, Irving reportedly registered either an inconclusive or positive COVID-19 test, thus placing him in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

The story has garnered much media attention throughout the first quarter of the NBA season, with Smith frequently voicing his opinion on the matter on First Take and Stephen A.’s World. As the saga has unfolded, a consistent point of emphasis articulated by Smith is that despite his “box office” talent, Irving is often not available or willing to play for various non-basketball related reasons. A core principle of Smith in his work ethic is to be available when called upon at ESPN, hence why he fully intends to be on the air, albeit remotely, on Saturday.

“The one obligation we have [as broadcasters] is to make sure that come hell or high water, 99 times out of 100, we’re there,” said Smith. “And the one time we ain’t there, it’s a damn good reason for us not to be there. Guess what? The same is applicable to any professional athlete; any professional coach; any professional team because you’re asking the audience to take time out of their busy schedule and to ingratiate themselves with whatever it is that you are offering… You [have] got to show up to work, or there needs to be a damn good reason why you’re not.”

“The loyalty that the fans used to have to teams, they don’t have anymore,” Rose said in response to Smith’s point. “Like Stephen A. was talking about, they now follow the players. What ends up happening is, yes, these same fans during the regular season are now conditioned that they know the best players might not be playing anyway because of load management.”

While football is the number one sport in the United States, Rose expressed that NBA players are simply more famous than National Football League players.

“You can go by any metric,” said Rose. “You can go by social media. You can go by commercials. You can go by the Forbes list. You can go by whatever you want. Basketball players are more famous than football players.”

For that reason, along with the sheer intrigue it would undoubtedly cultivate across the basketball landscape, Irving returning is a scenario that could resurrect some disappointment among fans amid a flurry of absent NBA players in health and safety protocols.

“I only root for the most interesting possible things to happen,” opined Greenberg, “and so with that in mind, I would love nothing more than to see [Kyrie Irving] go running out there on Saturday. I have no idea, literally none, whether he will or he won’t, but it sure would help us make this Christmas Day as memorable as any that I can think of in recent NBA years.”

All major media networks have adapted to producing and disseminating content across multiple platforms to align with consumption trends and meet consumer demand, a process that has been expedited because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout Christmas Day, every one of the five matchups, along with telecasts of NBA Countdown, will be able to stream on the ESPN App. The prime-time game between the Nets and the Lakers will be broadcast on ESPN Radio with Marc Kestecher on the play-by-play and P.J. Carlesimo providing color commentary, along with the preceding game between the Warriors and the Suns with Sean Kelley and Ros Gold-Onwude on the call. Additionally, fans can watch the digital pregame show Hoop Streams, featuring Chiney Ogwumike and Christine Williamson, on the ESPN App, plus its simulcasts on the social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

NBA on Twitter: "🎄 The NBA will feature five games on Christmas Day with  ESPN or ABC televising each matchup! #NBAXMas #NBA75  https://t.co/c52Oa3xwG9" / Twitter

Everyone covering games on those platforms are optimistic for the future of this NBA season. But for now, they understand the fluidity and precariousness of a surge that everyone hopes is ephemeral in scope through a holiday season of disquiet and a dearth of quotidian ways of life.

“My mentality is that… the NBA [and] the networks themselves [are] putting forth their due diligence,” said Smith. “It’s a global pandemic that we’re talking about here, and everybody is acting like everybody is supposed to know the answers. Well, even the scientists don’t have all the answers. They’re figuring it out as we go along. We have to understand that, respect that, and come together as best as we possibly can to put forth our due diligence to make sure that we insulate ourselves.”

BSM Writers

In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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BSM Writers

Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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BSM Writers

No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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