- the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.
What happened a little over a week ago to George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota was appalling, shocking and downright disgusting. It has sparked an uprising nationwide, and quite frankly has taken over most conversations around the country, but is it fair to ask sports media members to engage in these conversations?
Sports media is meant to be an escape from real world problems, but there are circumstances that make even the staunchest sports media consumers want to talk about something other than sports. This is where the dilemma lies. How much responsibility is there to spend show time talking about real world problems? How prepared are hosts, PDs, producers and others for pushback from fans and sponsors alike? Is it even worth bringing up some of these topics, or is silence the best ally in these troubled times?
Hosting at 790 the Zone in Atlanta many years ago, I was on the air during the Boston Marathon bombings, and the show went from normal afternoon sports talk, to 95% Boston Marathon bombing updates. It was one of the most surreal times to be on air, but that’s when I realized our jobs were a heck of a lot more important than two guys talking about the Braves’ upcoming season. We were there to inform our listeners of what was happening as well as give them our opinions of the tragic events of the day.
The difference of the Marathon bombing is that we discussed it for 2 or 3 day’s tops. Then we moved back into our normal lane. The death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests, have given us a 12 day fluid situation that has been on-going, with no end in sight.
In my opinion, it is the responsibility of the host or writer to address these issues in some form or fashion. No matter what side of the debate you happen to fall on, silence is not your friend. Silence gives your audience a chance to interpret your thoughts. Unfortunately when broaching a delicate subject like race or politics in sports media, you are leaving yourself open for public criticism, and the possibility of losing sponsors, followers, or fans. The main point speaking right now is to control your own narrative of how you feel or what your thoughts are on the subject really are.
What is the best way to navigate the conversation? Jason Goff, who I respect and have had a chance to work with a few times, shared his thoughts via social media about bringing on “your favorite black person, and not explain to them how you’re going to activate to make things better.”
His point is very well thought out, and should be a topic of conversation before interviewing someone about the trials and tribulations going on in the country today. How can you be part of the solution, instead of just asking questions to someone like Jason? Should part of the conversation also be about donating, speaking up, or having open forums? All of these approaches will give some authenticity to how you feel about the current state of affairs, so don’t be afraid to step outside the box and use them.
The next part of the equation is the backlash that is inevitable no matter what side of the fence you stand. There will always be people who are going to disagree with you, regardless of what you say or what the topic is. Sports, politics and especially race relations elicit some of the most heated and passionate discussions you will ever hear. There will inevitably be some blowback from people having an opinion different from yours. To keep things civil, there is a need to keep away from insults that could drive advertisers away from spending money, which in a time like now is a big no no.
Also, being educated from both points of view is a must. While we may not necessarily agree, having a line of respectful communication can keep the blow ups to a minimum. Your producer must do a tremendous job of screening and keeping radical callers from being allowed to voice their opinion. The last thing you want in a very heightened time like now is for the wrong message to be attached to a show with your name on it.
What is the role of the Program Director in all of this? They have to play the role of coach, and help their team work together. The station cannot be a rudderless ship, so daily pre show meetings are a must. The coach needs to lay out what is acceptable and what is not and work with his guys to get a solid message across the airwaves or in print.
It is a really difficult day and age that we are navigating right now. Covid-19 has cost a lot of us our jobs, and now the protests have brought on a completely different set of circumstances that most of us weren’t ready for. What this has done is allow for some honest conversations that sports media brands are usually too afraid to touch. Listen to your co-workers, listen to your consumers, and try to have dialogue with them which may give a different perspective.
Responsibility is taken every time that microphone is on, or that article is printed. Have courage right now and tackle the biggest story of 2020. Don’t stay silent, and use your platform for something other than sports, because I promise people at home and in our industry are keeping score of who is in the game, and who is standing on the sideline.
John Michaels is a weekly columnist for BSM and a veteran sports radio host. Presently he can be heard on Saturday & Sunday 9a-1p on SB Nation Radio. Previously he has hosted for 92.9 The Game and 790 The Zone in Atlanta, and WFNZ in Charlotte. He also hosts a podcast for StateoftheU.com. You can reach him on Twitter @JohnMichaelsU or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast: Rich Eisen, NFL Network
Rich Eisen reveals how he ended up partnering with Stuart Scott, the moment he knew he made the right move joining the NFL Network, and the influence standup comedy had on his broadcast career.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Does FOX Need West Coast College Football Success?
“I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
Don’t believe them. Don’t believe those people that try to sell you on the idea that a given sport is better if a given team in said sport is good. You know, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Maybe they tell you college basketball is better when UCLA is good. Might they say the NFL is better when the Dallas Cowboys are good? Let me tell you, whoever the they is saying those things, they are wrong. FOX isn’t living or dying on it?
I am not here to tell you college football is better when USC is good. The Trojans are ninth all-time in FBS wins with 866 victories, they claim 11 National Championships and 39 conference championships. There is zero doubt they are among the elite, blue blooded programs of the college football world. With all of that said, USC hasn’t contributed to college football’s national championship discussion in more than 15 years. But, now Southern California is back and in College Football Playoff contention.
With only Notre Dame and a PAC 12 Conference Championship left to play, 10-1 USC is in excellent position to earn the first College Football Playoff bid in school history. The Trojans would be the third west coast team in the playoffs, 2014 Oregon played in the inaugural edition and 2016 Washington was the only other PAC 12 participant. It has now been five playoffs since a PAC 12 team has been in the top four.
That brings up the obvious question, how important is it for the health of the College Football Playoff to have west coast teams involved, especially one based in Los Angeles? L.A is, of course, the second largest media market in the nation. College football is well down the list of priorities in the City of Angels but having a team in the mix might help the overall national rating.
College Football has long been criticized for becoming too regional of a sport. The results thus far do lend themselves to that belief, the only team from outside the South to win a national championship was 2014 Ohio State. The SEC has twice had two teams among the four playoff teams and two of eight championship games matched Alabama and Georgia from the SEC.
So, does the College Football Playoff need West Coast teams for long term health? FOX is one of the rights holders for PAC 12 football and the main FOX college analyst, Joel Klatt, doesn’t think it is necessary. “I don’t know if it matters this year. This is like the last two years in an eight year term for a president,” Klatt told me on my show, The Next Round, “I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”
To Klatt’s point, the College Football Playoff seems to be screeching towards that twelve team format and a bigger media rights deal. That deal will almost certainly include multiple networks, not just ESPN/ABC, and will be worth significantly more money than the current deal. So, it is not as if the lack of a presence west of the Rockies has hurt the attractiveness of the College Football Playoff to the networks.
On the other hand, the playoffs have never reached the lofty ratings they had year one. Was the 2014 edition just ratings lightning in a bottle or has the regional nature of the product hurt those ratings? The 2014 semi finals did fall on New Year’s Day which meant the games were played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl which has proven to be the most successful schedule in terms of ratings success.
The college football lover in me couldn’t get enough of FOX’s Saturday night USC-UCLA telecast. There’s something about both teams wearing those classic home colors and playing in that historic stadium under the lights. They put on a great show, the show also would go on without them.
I want as many people as possible exposed to college football; it only makes the sport healthier. If that means more West Coast teams need to be in the playoffs, I hope they earn their way in. An expanded playoff will only make it easier. Until then, just keep telling people college football is better when your team is good
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
HBO’s ‘Shaq’ Docuseries Tells Shaquille O’Neal’s Story With Style, Personality
What ‘Shaq’ wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts.
From the very beginning of HBO’s Shaq docuseries, Shaquille O’Neal tells us how important storytelling is to him. Just recapping a sequence of events isn’t enough for the Hall of Famer. As the man puts it himself, “sometimes when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.”
Director Robert Alexander (The Shop, A Man Named Scott) adds plenty of barbecue sauce to O’Neal’s life story, especially in the first two parts of the docuseries. (Shaq runs four episodes, with the opener debuting Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Each of the following three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday.)
Nothing less should be expected from a gigantic personality like O’Neal. This isn’t a dry documentary that simply chronicles a series of events. Alexander mixes in stock, news, and archival sports footage to add embellishment and punctuation to many stories and important points. Music, creative set design, and animation also play key roles in keeping the narrative moving and the audience engaged.
Each episode has a visual theme to it. Part 1 emulates a music video. Several comic book elements are incorporated into Part 2. Part 3 is meant to invoke a classic stage drama, a Shakespearean tragedy. Unfortunately, Part 4 is less focused in that regard, though some fun video game graphics are produced. Editors Freddie DeLaVega, Lenny Messina, and Ted Feldman deserve significant credit for making all the pieces fit together into a cohesive visual trip that gives the documentary an energy not seen in many projects like this.
Much like The Last Dance did for Michael Jordan, Shaq helps define a basketball icon for newer generations more familiar with the athletic giant from being part of TNT’s Inside the NBA panel and his many, many commercial endorsements.
The documentary begins with an adolescent O’Neal growing faster than his body and mind could handle. He wasn’t a phenom who was a superstar from the very moment he took the court, despite his obvious size advantages. And his path to major college basketball didn’t take the typical route.
Eventually, however, viewers see what those of us old enough to have watched O’Neal play at LSU remember. He looked like an adult among boys. His dunks were ferocious, raising his knees as he bent the rim to his will. And, as you might recall, young Shaq was much thinner than the diesel he became late in his professional career.
The first two episodes of Shaq chronicle O’Neal’s rise to superstardom, from college sensation at LSU to No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick by the Orlando Magic, developing into a force for whom there was no match on the court on the way to NBA championships. O’Neal was so dominant that the game had to adapt to him. Rival teams stocked their rosters with three to four big men that could each spare six fouls roughing O’Neal up and sending him to the free throw line. The NBA’s defensive rules changed to allow more double-teaming.
Parts 3 and 4 of the docuseries are less fun, as the second pair of episodes follow O’Neal’s fall from the ultimate heights of his career and difficulties in his personal life. His relationship with Kobe Bryant deteriorated and took a championship dynasty down with it. A major factor in those tensions developing was O’Neal’s reluctance to stay in shape during the offseason, continuing to put on weight, and eventually having toe surgery right before the 2002-03 season.
This is where O’Neal’s involvement and cooperation probably hurt Shaq the most. Unlike the first two episodes, when everything was going well for him, the big man doesn’t offer as much insight into his shortcomings. Particularly frustrating is his lack of accountability. At one point, O’Neal flat-out says he’s not talking about what went wrong with the Lakers.
Looking right into the camera and accepting responsibility for his role in the demise of two championship teams (later including the Miami Heat) would have been riveting. Instead, others are left to try and explain O’Neal’s actions, which feels dishonest as teammates like Rick Fox and longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti try to cover for him.
What Shaq wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts. Basketball did not come easily to him as a youth, nor did championship success in college or the NBA as he grew up. But like so many great athletes do, O’Neal channeled criticism from the media and slights from opponents including Dikembe Mutombo into major aggression on the court. (His words for the 1999-2000 NBA MVP voter who prevented him from the league’s first unanimous win are profanely hilarious.)
O’Neal makes it clear that strong figures in his life provided discipline and guidance — beginning with the military-influenced upbringing of his stepfather, then coaches who could teach him how to be a great player like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — made him who he is. He has always been a personality and time has been kinder to some of the behavior that was once considered brash. Now he’s a worldwide brand known even to non-sports fans. Those viewers, along with diehard basketball fans, will enjoy getting to know him better in this docuseries.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Part 1 of Shaq premieres Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Each of the three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday, through Dec. 14. The docuseries will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, with repeat airings on HBO networks.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.