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Don’t Make Assumptions to Fit Your Sports Opinions

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions.

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I also thought San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was white.

Maybe “assumed” is the better term, given the saying of what that does to you and me.

But I — like this guy Sean Beckwith — saw those videos from McDaniel’s press conference last week on Twitter. I legit thought it was a comedy bit at first. When I realized he was, in fact, the offensive coordinator, I thought it made sense that the NFL’s first flat-brimmer of a head coach would have a super-chill OC who sounded like a dude accustomed to microwaving burritos at 3 a.m.

I also learned McDaniel was childhood friends with Dan Soder, a comedian whom I enjoy on Billions. I was informed by people who know better than me that McDaniel is a well-regarded young coach in the league and that’s about where my opinions on the phenomenon of Mike McDaniel stopped.

If only Sean Beckwith had done the same, he might have avoided a major embarrassment. He might still have a Twitter account. Instead, he took even less information than I had, shook vigorously, and poured it out into a story published on Deadspin that warned McDaniel was about to become the next white guy to jump the line.

Except McDaniel is not white. Yeah. This fact is painfully embarrassing for the author, the website that published it, the people who own that website, and just about everyone concerned with equity in the hiring practices of NFL coaches.

I’ll include myself in that latter category, and I’ve cringed at how this story has been used as an example of the problems that come with including race in the discussion of sports, though. This is actually an example of the problems with including race in the discussion of sports when your head is firmly wedged in your hindparts as Beckwith’s seems to have been.

That was the real issue here, and while mislabeling McDaniel as white is an inexcusable and unconscionable mistake, it wasn’t the only problem with this particular story. Brandon Staley was included as one of the young white men hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Staley is a defensive coach. Matt Rhule was cited as an example of a young white man hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Rhule is not particularly young and as a former college head coach at Temple and Baylor, he certainly doesn’t fit the hiring pattern Beckwith was describing.

The problem at the root of Beckwith’s approach was that he wrote that story with a confidence both unearned and unwarranted, and while it’s easy to write him off for being unbelievably careless, it should give anyone who talks or writes about sports for a living a moment’s pause to consider the number of assumptions that are made in formulating content.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I try not to assume:

1. Whether a woman is — in fact — pregnant. A friend of mine said her rule was that she wouldn’t mention pregnancy until she actually saw evidence of the baby, at which point the question of pregnancy would actually be moot.

2. Someone’s mental health. But I covered that earlier this year with regard to Antonio Brown, who — by the way — said to Bryant Gumbel this week that he has “mental wealth.”

Race should probably be on this list, too, but it’s usually not. Most of us go off what we see, and I include myself in that category. Like I said, I thought McDaniel was white, and I initially didn’t realize David Culley was Black when the Texans announced him as their next head coach. Of course, I didn’t go out and formulate a story based on my assumptions, but like I said, Beckwith’s error provided a reminder of the dangers in just assuming what I think is true.

Now, I’m not recommending that we go and ask each and every person we talk about to fill out a census form. I am stating that we should be very careful about taking what we see — or what we think we see — and then cramming it with both hands into a storyline that we’ve heard or even one we believe. Each person we talk about has their own unique story, their own personal background, and the more we assume to know about that without actually having done the research, the more liable we are to make a career-changing mistake like this one.

Be curious. The character Ted Lasso said that in one of the better scenes from the first season of that show, though I’m somewhat reluctant to mention it for fear I’ll come off like one of those fans of this particular show who I’ve found just will not shut up about it. (For the record: I liked the show. Thoroughly enjoyed the first season. Haven’t watched the second season and somehow I’m doing just fine, thanks.)

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions. Curiosity might lead you to look up more about the coach in particular or hiring trends in general. Curiosity is what keeps us searching for a more complete understanding of the sports figures we’re writing about and the trends we’re discussing instead of adopting a smarmy tone of the know-it-all, which is especially dangerous if you’re not even a know-it-some.

In this case, being curious might have led Beckwith to search for more about McDaniel and find the story from Matt Maiocco — a great reporter for NBC Sports Bay Area — in which McDaniel discussed his background. Being curious would have led Beckwith to find out who Andrew Hawkins is instead of using ignorance of the former NFL wide receiver to dismiss his praise of McDaniel’s coaching acumen as an example of Internet groupthink.

Now, I’m not sure if being curious would have kept Beckwith from believing he had a better handle than Hawkins on how race might impact the promotion and hiring of NFL coaches. Curiosity almost certainly wouldn’t have prevented Beckwith from snidely referencing the quote regarding racial justice that is in Hawkins’s Twitter profile.

But that gets back to the root of the problem in Beckwith’s column, which is the confidence with which he presided over a subject of which he was regrettably ignorant.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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