Every now and then my mom will send me a text with a shoe emoji. It represents the need for me to stay light on my feet while hosting sports radio shows these days.
We say that there are landmines all around because — well — there are. Some topics are emotionally, socially, and racially charged. They need to be approached with a great degree of tact and understanding. Cancel culture is on the prowl like Stallone in Rambo or a cheetah chasing down a wildebeest. Say the wrong thing at the wrong time and kablooey, you accidentally triggered a landmine. And it might not be one of your limbs that goes flying in the air, it could be your contract instead.
This isn’t a column about being safe and careful and cautious and timid. This column is about finding the middle ground between being too safe and being too aggressive. As a host, you don’t want to resemble a poker player that is always playing tight in fear of losing a hand. You also don’t want to be taking wild risks while playing too aggressively. It’s about well-timed aggression and pushing the boundaries without actually violating them. It’s about tiptoeing on the line without crossing it.
Someone who recently stepped waaaaaaaay over the line is Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The 12-year NFL veteran shared a fake Hilter quote on his Instagram story. It partially read that white Jews “will blackmail America. [They] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”
Insert former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi yelling, “What the hell’s goin’ on out here?” It was beyond idiotic for Jackson to post conspiracy theories from the 1930s that have absolutely nothing to do with today.
Jackson has agreed to visit Auschwitz with Edward Mosberg, a 94-year-old survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. Good move, DeSean. This is a noteworthy improvement from Jackson’s initial apology (attempt) when he said, “I definitely didn’t mean it to the extent that you guys took it.”
That isn’t an apology. It would be like me asking my beautiful sister, “Yikes, what have you been eating to pack on the pounds?” Then after getting hit with projectile tears and hurled frying pans, saying, “Oh, I definitely didn’t mean it to the extent that you took it.” She might throw the washing machine at me at that point.
It’s smart for Jackson to educate himself while doing some PR damage control. Going to a Holocaust museum with Julian Edelman would be another wise move. The offer from the New England Patriots receiver to also visit an African American museum followed by talking, eating hamburgers — I suggest 10 of them to allow more time for talk — is an olive branch worth accepting. It’s great that Jackson is making an effort. That’s the least he can do after going way too far with his initial post.
Well, what is the line? What is going too far?
Going too far is when a high number of people can reasonably find your comments to be offensive. Avoid that and you should be fine. Hey, I get it; knowing where the line is in sports radio is more difficult than ever. Tensions are high and the growing number of people that are offended by the mundane seems to be rising each day. The trick is to have an understanding of the evolving line without stepping over it. Don’t say something reckless or offensive that causes your boss to look at you like an umpire staring at a misbehaving baseball manager as if to say, “Dude, I have to run you for that.”
If you’re too harsh these days, you’re an insensitive, racist, tone-deaf moron. If you’re too careful, you’re a neutered, cookie-cutter, yawn inducing bore that’ll also be out of a job. (I’m so full of good news today, aren’t I?) It sounds like way more of a daunting task than it actually is. Consider this:
With the MLB season scheduled to begin with a doubleheader on Thursday, July 23 — God and pandemic willing — ESPN showed a montage on SportsCenter this week that included Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger. The reigning NL MVP had spoken in February about the apologies offered up by the Houston Astros organization after they stole signs and banged on trash cans en route to a World Series crown. Bellinger offered up this scorcher:
“I thought the apologies were whatever. I thought [Astros owner] Jim Crane’s was weak. I thought [Rob] Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving [the players] immunity. Those guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is [José] Altuve stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge in ‘17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”
Bellinger made those comments on Valentine’s Day. That was five months ago! Sometimes it’s hard for people to remember what was said five minutes ago. It takes a strong stance to resonate five months after the fact.
Ask yourself this: was Bellinger’s opinion offensive? No. Was it interesting? Hell yes!
There is a big difference between comments that are unwanted and comments that are offensive. It’s obvious that Bellinger’s fiery stance didn’t appeal to the Astros faithful, but it didn’t rise to the level of being offensive. Simply put, Bellinger wouldn’t be out of a gig if he made the same comments as a sports radio host. It’s more likely he’d get a better shift with added perks.
This is exactly what I’m talking about. Bellinger pushed the envelope, but he didn’t cross the line. Comments that have some bite are interesting. There is an element of danger mixed in. So, what we’re looking at here is that comments with too much bite become landmine city. A comment with too little bite is like eating at the kids’ table during Thanksgiving dinner.
Charles Barkley finds the middle ground. He offers strong opinions with bite without stepping over the line. Many other broadcasters do the same thing. See, it can be done!
It’s essential to produce compelling content while showing good judgment. Find ways to cut through during these emotionally charged times without being a lightning rod. Think to yourself after a show, “Was I interesting? Was I respectful?” You can’t be one without the other. If you don’t say yes to both questions daily, then you aren’t doing your job. Find the middle ground and check both of these vital boxes.
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.