This will sound strangely counterintuitive without games to watch, trophies to award and over-unders to wager, but sports already has won the year. The ref can stop the fight, in fact, because racism is getting its ass kicked. If the apocalyptic haze of 2020 couldn’t have been foreseen even with 20-20 vision, sports still has conquered all with its extraordinary embrace of a movement — Black Lives Matter — that never has mattered much beyond lip service and business necessity in an industry lorded by white billionaires.
Suddenly, shockingly, nothing else matters. Nor should it when this country, suffering from a collective guilty conscience, is awash in soul searching that should have happened centuries ago.
“Ask the questions, ask the uncomfortable questions, and you will come to the conclusion, I hope, that I have,’’ said Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, one such white billionaire. “You don’t feel it enough and you don’t live it enough if you’re not willing to say it: Black lives matter.’’
The raw significance: Bisciotti considered signing Colin Kaepernick in 2017 and declined, concerned that segments of his team’s fan base would rebel. Now, he says he’d be “the worst kind of hypocrite’’ if he didn’t speak out about race. Did you just feel the earth move? We’re still waiting for Jerry Jones and other prominent NFL owners to stand up and say something, anything, but if they don’t, they’ll now be perceived as bigots who ignored the social justice crusade. That’s how three weeks have changed America, hopefully forever.
Progress? No, this is a cultural avalanche — a reckoning, I reckon, that reduces everything else in sports to gravel dust.
Let Major League Baseball implode in greed and delusion, its shrunken manhood naked to a mocking world. The owners and players continue to insult the national intellect, if not commit institutional suicide, by flailing like two punchdrunk bums and failing to reach common ground to resume the season. At this point, we’d be happy if they fade away like floppy disks, Hummers, David Lee Roth and other ‘90s bygones. Shame on the owners for crying poor after generating $10 billion in revenues last season, then refusing comment after cutting a $3.3 billion TV deal with Turner Sports, which either likes wasting money or had Charles Barkley brokering the talks in a bar. And shame on the players for not immediately going on strike, having heard St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. say, “The industry isn’t very profitable, to be honest.’’
Tweeted pitching smart-ass Trevor Bauer: “Oh good so … we can play now, right? Seems there is plenty to go around here. Seems there is plenty of money being made by the league and the teams. Given tha(t) players are the product, I’m sure some of this can be distributed to them, right? Yay for baseball.”
A commissioner-mandated, 48-game season would be a bastardized farce amid racial unrest and a pandemic, typical of a sham sport where the Yankees have joined the Astros and Red Sox in the electronic sign-stealing sinbin. Is anyone to be trusted in this godforsaken racket? Why would any established, wealthy-for-life star agree to play and take health risks — MLB has yet to establish an official COVID-19 testing protocol — when a better idea is to stay home until next year. And If Mike Trout and other superstars don’t suit up, what is the point of playing an illegitimate season? Just declare a work stoppage and leave us alone. If you miss baseball, you must be 85, playing John Fogerty’s “Centerfield’’ on cassette and still calling it the national pastime. Which makes you Bud Selig, who somehow wrecked the game AND made the Hall of Fame while still believing Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were heroes.
Let a coronavirus bubble chase off some NBA players and confound others, such as Kyrie Irving, who think resuming a season would diminish Black Lives Matter momentum and overshadow protests when, of course, it also would draw attention to the league’s social conscience. As Austin Rivers said, echoing LeBron James and those who do want to play in the Disney World biodome: “Us coming back would put money in all of our pockets. With this money, you could help out even more people and continue to give, more importantly, your time and energy toward the BLM movement.’’ The league boss, Adam Silver, should have known some would balk at virus risks in Florida, where infections are surging in the Orlando area, and lockdown rules that won’t let players leave the bubble for restaurants, golf courses or strip clubs. But when Irving, who isn’t healthy enough to play, suggests the league is racist for trying to resume a season, that’s an outgrowth of the bigger cause.
“I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit,’’ Irving said on a conference call with fellow players, per The Athletic. “Smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.’’
Let the football season never start because a line of scrimmage is a petri dish for the coronavirus. Let the inevitable positive tests thwart preposterous attempts to resume seasons and recoup lost fortunes. Let the concept of spectator-free events turn freaky in golf, where a hole-in-one happened without applause and a CBS boom mike picked up Jon Rahm’s F-bomb. Let there be no titles, no MVPs, no parades.
Who really cares when we’ve seen sports finally examine itself in the looking glass, see a self-image it has grown to despise and realize it too has failed massively — even after Jackie Robinson, even after John Carlos and Tommie Smith, even after Muhammad Ali — in a twisted culture that allows a white Minneapolis policeman to knee-choke-murder an unarmed black man two decades into the 21st century. It took those eight minutes and 46 seconds, the killing of George Floyd, for the athletic world to at last acknowledge what so many resident activists have said for eons about racial injustice and police brutality in America.
The hatred must end.
The world must change.
And so it has, with sports figures of all races and ages joining America in a swirl of protests, statements and pro-inclusion advocacy, to the point sports might play a prominent role in a substitution a bit larger than Tom Brady for Drew Bledsoe and Lou Gehrig for Wally Pipp — say, Joe Biden for Donald Trump. The country’s abrupt revolution, inspired by the pulsating protests after Floyd’s death, has jolted sports leaders who have no choice but to speak out and change policies … or risk being linked to complicity in racism. For the first time, the politically connected magnates of sports — why does Jones’ grin always pop up first? — appear helpless in stopping the Kaepernick-led peaceful kneeling protests that surfaced in 2016 but faded two years later. That’s because seemingly everyone in sports — commissioners, executives, coaches, athletes — is committed to Black Lives Matter. If only sports would have acted so responsibly when health experts, in early March, were advising shutdowns of arenas and ballparks because of a novel virus.
COVID-19 kills people. But racism, in a progressive America, might kill entire leagues. That’s what grabs the establishment’s attention. We’ve seen the NFL, which normally genuflects to no one, dramatically change course and urge players to protest. We’ve seen NASCAR, reluctant through time to break from racist roots, ban the confederate flag — lower-case c, please — after its only full-time black driver, Bubba Wallace, said, “It starts with confederate flags. Get them out of here.’’ The Boston Red Sox decried cases, including seven last year, in which racist fans poisoned the Fenway Park experience. During MLB’s amateur draft, the predominantly white heads of franchise front offices displayed placards: “Black Lives Matter. United for Change.’’ The U.S. Olympic Committee, known to punish athletes for protests during medals ceremonies, is forming an athletes-led panel to “challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress, including your right to protest.’’ Collegiate sports factories such as Clemson, Iowa and Texas have been reminded we’re in a new millennium. So has the U.S. Soccer Federation, which will let players protest after requiring Megan Rapinoe to stand when she was kneeling in solidarity.
Tweeted Trump: “I’d rather the US not have a soccer team than have a soccer team that won’t stand for the National Anthem. I won’t be watching much anymore.’’
And Drew Brees? Anyone heard from him lately? His dated views about anthem protests have been modernized by a younger white quarterback, Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill, who said, “When the kneeling first started to happen, it was a bit of a shock, I guess, because it hadn’t been done before. I think I had to get past the fact that it wasn’t about the flag. It wasn’t about the anthem. It wasn’t about our country. It was about the injustice and raising awareness and getting people’s attention. I think once I got past that fact, I could really support it.”
Another white quarterback, Baker Mayfield, scolded a fan who wrote on Instagram, “Please tell Browns fans you’re not going to be kneeling this season.’’ Replied Mayfield, not always the most savvy bro-dude: “(P)ull your head out. I absolutely am.’’
Racists always will lurk. But in sports, they’ve climbed into the closet and turned out the light, drowned out by legitimate hope in numbers. We expect James, a tenured veteran of social activism, to be front and center. “Because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us — we feel like we’re finally getting a foot in the door,’’ he said. “How long is up to us. We don’t know. We do feel like we’re getting some ears and attention, and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.” But why does 2020 feel like a landmark and not another half-hearted charade of opportunism? Through technology, billions of eyeballs have seen Floyd, unable to breathe, a visual that makes us tremble and cry while shining a light on police brutality that cannot be minimized by the coldest of hearts.
“In the time since I’ve been alive, I don’t remember it being this strong of an impact and reaching this many people and this many people being upset and emotional about it,’’ said the vocal NFL social observer, Richard Sherman. “The way the world has been, when those guys (Kaepernick and other kneelers) were making it about police brutality, (skeptics) found a way to dull down that message and divert it and make it about something else, as a way to avoid the conversation. I think this time, it’s too full-fledged. Most people are actually getting the messaging and seeing it first-hand. Any human with any true empathy in them for their fellow human being would feel that strong. Nobody can turn their eyes away.’’
From George Floyd. From Ahmaud Arbery. From Breonna Taylor. And, this past weekend, from Rayshard Brooks, who was fatally shot by police in a struggle over a Taser outside an Atlanta fast-food restaurant.
Also consider that Black Lives Matter has an unexpected wild card: Patrick Mahomes, face of the most prominent league in American sports, who has emerged from the Gen Z shadows to condemn systemic racism and stir the waters of social change. Best known for his otherworldly quarterbacking skills and beach photos with his girlfriend, Mahomes was the biggest star in the epic players’ video that forced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to admit the league was “wrong’’ and immediately change policy on activism, now encouraging players to “speak out and peacefully protest.’’ Mahomes represents young people in their mid-20s — a voting demographic that potentially could reshape the White House.
“Enough is enough,” Mahomes said. “ We’ve got to do something about this. I’m blessed to have this platform. Why not use it? We (need) to come together as players and show that we believe black lives matter. We need to be the role models to go out there and take that step.’’
It’s working. In 2016, when anthem displays were most demonstrative, polls showed that only 25-30 percent of Americans appoved of kneeling. Today, a Yahoo News/YouGuv poll of 1,564 Americans has 52 percent indicating approval for “NFL players to kneel during the national anthem to protest police killings of African-Americans.’’ This time, Goodell and Jones cannot curtail the sideline protests if TV ratings are adversely impacted and advertisers are concerned. Kneeling will proceed en masse, likely involving every team and every game until further notice, despite indications by some franchises that protest decisions will be made as organizations. Once Goodell said in his video, “I personally protest with you,’’ it will be hard to walk back from his declaration without creating chaos. Among those suspicious of Goodell’s motives is the noted anti-Trumper, Gregg Popovich, who told the New York Times: “He got intimidated when Trump jumped on the kneeling (and) he folded.’’ This time, Goodell will stay true.
It’s Jones who might be foolish enough to resist as the bad cop. Three years ago, remember, he said any Dallas Cowboys player who “disrespects the flag’’ wouldn’t play. Sherman is among those asking why Jones has been silent recently. “Jerry Jones, especially, has no problem speaking up any other time about anything else,” he said. “But when it’s such a serious issue, and he could really make a huge impact on it with a few words, his silence speaks volumes.”
They may be white, male and privileged, but most of the owners aren’t stupid. They saw the protests, filled with young people who will decide if the NFL and other sports leagues are relevant in the future. They saw how the statue of Jerry Richardson, once revered in Charlotte for bringing the Panthers to town, was carted away from the stadium to an undisclosed storage facility, two years after racial and sexual misconduct allegations forced him to sell the team. No doubt they’ve been weakened, as well, by an ongoing health catastrophe that has left them vulnerable.
So they are opening the doors they’ve kept shut. And more are speaking out, regardless of harsh consequences during cocktail hour at the owners’ meetings. The more they speak out, the more confident Black America becomes that this is not the usual lip service. “Back when Kaepernick took a knee, it was almost kind of scary,” Los Angeles Rams receiver Robert Woods said. “You could lose your job, you could be on the bench. I think now being able to have a voice, knowing that your political views shouldn’t (be punishable) … I think you’ll see players speak up on what they believe in and have confidence that their team is able to back them.”
Said Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: “Finally having Goodell say those things and having our back, I feel like we can all move forward now.”
Hell, at least one white NFL coach says he’ll kneel with his players. “Yeah, I’ll take a knee — I’m all for it,’’ said Bill O’Brien, who represents the Texans in Houston, George Floyd’s hometown. “The players have a right to protest, a right to be heard and a right to be who they are. They’re not taking a knee because they’re against our flag. They’re taking a knee because they haven’t been treated equally in this country for over 400 years.’’
Face it. Sports needed a comprehensive deep cleanse, a massive reboot, a push of the reset button. I’ve been saying and writing since March 11, the night Rudy Gobert’s positive test halted the NBA, that the industry should shut down until 2021 to reassess its place in a new world. Now, I believe it even more.
It might be too much to rid the industry of cheating and avarice, but sports must try. We’ve seen the unshakeable monster, racial inequality, sacked and smothered into the earth. Finally, anything seems possible.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.