It needn’t be argued that Drew Brees was racially insensitive, because he agrees. Beside a photo of two interlocked hands, black and white, he used Instagram to apologize for his pro-military, anti-Kaepernick stance about kneeling protests. Hours after reiterating he’ll “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,’’ a contrite Brees acknowledged that he “completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.’’
He never will live it down in some quarters of America, where he’ll be branded as a racist for life. Yet that life will continue nonetheless. He’ll try to win a Super Bowl, at 41, with the New Orleans Saints. He’ll shuffle into a lucrative broadcasting gig at NBC, where he’ll be groomed for “Sunday Night Football,’’ the highest-rated regular program in American television. He’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his obituary will call him one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. That’s how the career-recovery game works for most people in sports — apologize, take your lumps, carry on, keep earning your living.
But that’s now it works for Grant Napear, who was forced out this week as play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and a daily talk-show host in that very small city. Napear, too, has been branded a racist for life after regrettable social-media comments, though it’s possible he’s merely an out-of-touch dope who didn’t know better. Is he perhaps just clueless about the world in 2020? Is he a 60-year-old male who, pathetically, didn’t realize that those six words he typed on Twitter — “ALL LIVES MATTER … EVERY SINGLE ONE!’’ — are tantamount in the Black Lives Matter movement to one final two-handed press on George Floyd’s neck?
And when you compare his comments to Brees’ comments, aren’t they comparable in their ignorance? So how does one man proceed to the next day while the other becomes one of 40 million unemployed Americans? How can Brees’ boss, Saints coach Sean Payton, say he’s “proud’’ of his handling of the situation? Why have the NFL and Saints ownership not publicly condemned the comments? Where is NBC, his future employer?
All as Napear fades away, canceled by his bosses.
Yes, he failed the woke portion of the culture exam. Yes, Napear’s lapse warranted a sizable suspension from the Kings, one of 30 franchises in the most woke league on the planet. But his punishment, unlike Brees’, was of the scorched-earth variety — he was summarily forced out of two jobs, his media career likely finished after three-plus decades in the market. It reminded me of what happened to my one-time talk radio partner, Brian Davis, who, as veteran play-by-play voice of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was so overtaken by Russell Westbrook’s performance one night in 2018 that he exclaimed, “Westbrook is out of his cotton-picking mind!’’ Shortly thereafter, the Thunder didn’t renew Davis’ contract. He shouldn’t have said it, just as Napear shouldn’t have tweeted it. Realize these are human beings who make mistakes, just as Brees is a human being who makes mistakes, just as numerous other athletes who’ve published racial slurs on social media have made mistakes.
But they also are allowed to apologize and carry on, such as rookie NFL quarterback Jake Fromm, who said in a 2019 text conversation, “Just make (guns) very expensive so only elite white people can get them haha.’’ Which means the Buffalo Bills have two racially insensitive quarterbacks on their roster: Fromm and starter Josh Allen, who apologized on 2018 draft night after referring to “N——-‘’ in several tweets in his younger days. Said the Bills in a statement about Fromm: “He asked for an opportunity to address and apologize to his teammates and coaches today in a team meeting, which he did. We will continue to work with Jake on the responsibilities of being a Buffalo Bill on and off the field.”
I could go on … and on … and on. Point being: If broadcasters are being held to considerably higher standards than athletes, I’m left to ask if hiring robots, programmed by coded instructions, is the next move by an industry that cowardly chooses to ruin longtime professionals instead of using their insensitive moments to teach protocol in the 21st century.
To be clear, there is no place in sports for social insensitivity. But that rule should apply across the board in this business — and it woefully does not, with too many cases of convenient, selective punishment (and non-punishment) mocking any fairness doctrine. For instance, how many times have media people — hundreds, I’m sure — been subjected to slurs from people they cover? And how many times have those slurs been ignored, or laughed off, by the sort of franchise owners and broadcast executives who seize the chance to dump Napear?
Every media person worth his or her oats has a story. I certainly have mine. I was called a “(bleeping) fag’’ by a baseball manager, Ozzie Guillen, who enjoyed firing foul-mouthed slurs at people on a frequent basis. He was rankled, as I wrote in this space recently, because I’d criticized him for rebuking a young Chicago White Sox pitcher who didn’t hit an opposing batter with a pitch as Guillen had ordered. Because I was covering the NBA Finals and U.S. Open golfing major, he decided I was a “(bleeping) fag’’ because I wasn’t in town to report to the clubhouse and take his abuse, whatever madness that might have entailed. The story raged — Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines’’ — and some wondered nationally if Guillen would be fired.
Not only was Guillen not fired, the slur was pooh-poohed by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a supposed champion of diversity. There was a slap on the wrist by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Reinsdorf’s buddy, which gave Guillen the rope to eventually babble his way out of a job in Chicago and psycho-talk his way out of his next position in Miami, where, as manager of the Marlins, in the heart of Little Havana, he said, “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here.’’ Guillen apologized and blamed drinking splurges that had been part of his life for “25, 28 years’’ — “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep. I don’t do anything else,’’ he said — yet the Marlins only suspended him for five games despite outrage in South Florida.
And today? Guillen is gainfully employed as a baseball analyst at NBC Sports Chicago, partially owned by Reinsdorf.
If you’re going to fire Napear and run him off the face of the sporting earth, then you have to fire Guillen and run him off the face of the sporting earth. Or don’t fire anyone. That especially goes for the Kings, who have their own ethical issues. Their owner, Vivek Ranadive, had the audacity to charge the state of California — where I am a taxpayer — a monthly fee of $500,000 to utilize their former arena as a field hospital for coronavirus patients. Public backlash forced Ranadive to end the landlord-sharking after two months, but he was allowed to keep the $1 million accrued. So explain how a greedy owner suddenly becomes a hero for canning Napear? It’s better to screw taxpayers out of $1 million? Again, if you’re going to jettison Napear, you have to at least investigate Ranadive on some level. And shouldn’t the NBA also be asking the Los Angeles Lakers, valued at almost $4 billion, why they applied for and received $4.6 million in federal loan aid intended for small businesses, which owner Jeanie Buss might never have returned if the Lakers weren’t caught red-handed?
Oh, that’s not how it works in sports.
Furthermore, Napear didn’t even initiate the social-media thread that led to his ouster. NBA player DeMarcus Cousins, a man with his own legal problems and personal flaws, started the dialogue by tweeting out of the blue, “@GrantNapearshow what’s your take on BLM?’’ Cousins was among many African-American players wary of Napear’s social tones when they played for the Kings, but Napear’s response to the tweet seemed more unenlightened than intentionally hurtful. “Hey!!! How are you? Thought you forgot me,’’ began Napear, actually writing back publicly instead of inviting a private chat via direct messaging. “Haven’t heard from you in years. ALL LIVES MATTER…EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!’’
The floodgates were open. Napear had revealed himself as a racist, or so said the social-media cops, and his critics refused to hear otherwise. Chris Webber, who works for TNT as an analyst after a successful playing career in Sacramento, weighed in: “Demarcus we know and have known who Grant is. The team knows as well. I’ve told them many times. They’ve seen it. They know who he is.’’ Webber followed with two clown emojis.
Wrote Cousins: “Lol as expected.’’
Wrote Matt Barnes: “Would expect nothing less from a closet racists.’’
Napear tried to apologize, but he only exacerbated the problem: “If it came across as dumb I apologize. That was not my intent. That’s how I was raised. It has been ingrained in me since I can remember. I’ve been doing more listening than talking the past few days. I believe the past few days will change this country for the better!’’
By now, nothing could help him. Wrote Andre Miller: “All lives matter is the go-to response from racist individuals when they’re asked about #BLM. How could you be so tone-deaf to not know that? Even if it wasn’t your intent to be racist, it was an incredibly dumb thing to say.’’
Tone deaf? Yes. Incredibly dumb? Yes. Suspension-worthy? Yes.
But we’re really going to ruin the man’s career? Napear should have stopped there. Instead, he continued to make matters worse: “100% … trust me I have more black friends than white. I grieve with them that before I leave this earth we can finally walk hand in hand.’’
Again, cringeworthy. But any different than Drew Brees?
After he had time to think, Napear found clarity, telling the Sacramento Bee, “I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea when I said `All Lives Matter’ that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across.” That’s a plausible explanation.
Later, Napear came on stronger to the New York Post: “It makes me feel sick to my stomach because it is absolutely the opposite of who I am. I am 60 years old. I will let the track record of my life and what I’ve done for my community and what I’ve done. … People who know me, of all races, I’ll let them tell the story.
“I have not once in my 32 years in doing the Sacramento Kings had any individual from either the radio station or the Kings mention anything in any way, shape or form about me and my relations with minorities, with any other group of people. That is an absolute disgrace that that would ever be said. That is an absolute disgrace.”
But hey, let’s fire him anyway. Even though Napear’s former employer, NBC Sports California, carries the same three initials as Brees’ future employer: NBC. It’s worth noting that a major name in sports media, talk host Chris Russo, came out in full defense of Napear, whom he has known since they were kids in suburban New York City.
“I have known Grant personally for 54 years. To say that Grant Napear is a racist is absurd,’’ Russo said. “In my knowledge of him … Grant Napear, trust me when I say this — this is me — is anything but a racist.”
Know what’s interesting here? Russo once said he couldn’t find a black host “worthy of doing a national talk show’’ on his Mad Dog Radio channel. Asked by a caller in 2014 about the racial imbalance, Russo said, “”What would you like us to do? There are not a million candidates. Would you like us to put on a black host for the sake of putting a person … an African-American so we can say we have a black host on? Or do you want to see if we can find a black host who is worthy of doing a national talk show?”
This was, in its way, a Grant Napear moment.
Except Sirius XM did not reprimand Russo, making him the Drew Brees of sports talk radio.
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.
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.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 74
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.