Many sports fans and sports media observers associate Beano Cook most closely with college football. That’s understandable since he worked 26 years at the network as one of its most recognizable analysts and commentators until he passed away in 2012.
The current generation of ESPN viewers and college football fans likely associate Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Desmond Howard with the sport these days. But for older age groups, Cook was the voice of college football for the network beginning in 1986. That also happened to be the time when ESPN could broadcast live college football games, so the timing was perfect.
As college football schedules are released for the upcoming 2022 season and preseason previews begin to publish, it’s an excellent time to check out Cook’s memoir, Haven’t They Suffered Enough? An Unbelievable Career in Sports, PR and Television. (Not to mention, the book would be an excellent Father’s Day gift for your dad who might remember Beano Cook more vividly.)
Written with longtime protégé John D. Lukacs, to whom Cook sometimes referred to as his “surrogate son,” Haven’t They Suffered Enough? covers far more than a college football broadcasting career. The book is an autobiography that chronicles a life in full, beginning with Cook growing up in Pittsburgh, his early days working at newspapers, and serving in the Army.
Though the title of the memoir could be interpreted as Cook having a laugh over a 400-page memoir published nearly 10 years after his death, it’s a reference to one of Cook’s most infamous quotes. After the Iran Hostage Crisis was resolved in 1981 and the remaining U.S. captives were released, Major League Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that the former hostages would receive lifetime passes to MLB games.
When a writer asked Cook about Kuhn’s gesture, he said, “Haven’t they suffered enough?” Had that joke not drawn so much laughter (“I knew the line was gold,” he said), Cook also would’ve taken a shot at the NBA — while in Cleveland for the NBA All-Star Game. Interestingly, Cook said earlier in the book that baseball was “the first sport to capture my heart”!
(Fans surely recognize that the word “unbelievable” in the subtitle is a nod to Cook’s favorite, perhaps signature, adjective. One can almost hear him say it while reading.)
Don’t dismiss the book as an account from a bygone era and a look back at a life and career, however. Anyone interested in pursuing or maintaining a career in media will find plenty of sage advice from someone who worked in several facets of the industry and wasn’t always enamored with it.
Cook was critical of the drinking, gambling, sexism, and racism he saw in his initial newspaper days. He believed aspiring writers should learn how to tell stories by reading much more than sports, especially history. Political pundits were too insular and would benefit from covering other beats occasionally. Current sports television and radio were too scripted; sportswriting was chasing clicks.
No one is more aware of Cook’s generosity and wisdom as a mentor than Lukacs himself. As he explains in the book’s introduction, Lukacs reached out to Cook when he was in high school, appealing to their local connection. Cook gave Lukacs several paid assignments and access to whatever he needed. Fans of the HBO Max series Hacks might see a parallel to the relationship between veteran comedian Deborah Vance and young writer Ava Daniels, who learns much about comedy and herself from their work together.
What Lukacs didn’t realize at the time was that Cook was training him during their long friendship, preparing him to write the book that fans had often wanted from the commentator. It was a project Cook began to consider after leaving his position in public relations with the Miami Dolphins in 1975, disenchanted with the NFL and coach Don Shula. He just had to find the right writer for the job and Lukacs grew to know his voice while they collaborated.
Cook is closely associated with college football, but he was an important figure in sports broadcasting. He took a job at CBS Sports, which he recalled legendary ABC Sports executive Roone Arledge viewing as a potential powerhouse. CBS was more buttoned-up and regimented compared to the looser, more aggressive atmosphere at ABC. Yet with visionary producers and on-air personalities, the network created arguably the greatest pregame show in TV history. Cook’s account of the program’s development makes an intriguing companion to Rich Podolsky’s You Are Looking Live!, which chronicles the origins of CBS’s pioneering creation of The NFL Today.
But Cook is most rightly identified with college football and had an even more active role in the development of another pregame show that might currently be the most popular on sports television: ESPN’s College GameDay. Appearing with host Tim Brando, Cook’s role was notable because he wasn’t a former coach or athlete. He was simply a commentator with informed and trusted opinions, one who became the network’s voice for the sport.
Sports media will likely never see a personality with a career path like Cook’s again. It was far from conventional. Nearly all broadcasters came up through the industry, with analysts typically joining media after their playing and coaching days are either over or on hiatus.
Appropriately, the narrative of Haven’t They Suffered Enough? takes a non-linear path through the pivotal and formative experiences of Cook’s life through eras and decades, including his run as sports information director at the University of Pittsburgh, which creates a compelling change of pace. It’s hardly a straightforward autobiography, which suits its subject, as both Cook and Lukacs surely knew in the process of writing it.
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.