Does a week pass without another media company deciding to play God, flouting hypocrisy in making major decisions about broadcast careers? The latest victim in the double-standard game is Jeremy Roenick, fired by NBC Sports in February for podcast comments describing his fantasy: a sexual threesome with his wife and his co-panelist on the network’s hockey studio show, host Kathryn Tappen.
Talking to Barstool Sports — never a good idea — about his vacation to Portugal with his wife and Tappen, who is a close family friend, Roenick went gonzo. “I’m swimming with my wife and Kathryn, and they’ve got their bikinis on, and they look f—in’ smokin’. Ass and boobs everywhere. It’s great,’’ he said on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast last December. He then spoke about a prank he played with a guest at the resort who inquired if the three were having sex.
“I play it off like we’re going to bed together every night, the three of us,” Roenick said. “If it really came to fruition, that would really be good, but it’s never going to happen.”
Should Roenick have made the comments publicly? No. Should he have been dismissed? I could make a case for a firing, I suppose, if not for one substantial problem — NBC did not fire or, as far as I know, even reprimand its star figure-skating commentators, Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, for a recent video spoof loaded with similar sexual innuendos. In another ill-advised idea, Weir and Lipinski — like Roenick, known for irreverence — taped a funny bit for NBC’s streaming service with accompanying footage of Olympic skater Bradie Tennell. In the promo, they referred to a camel toe and an affair, camel toe being a crude description of a female body part.
The skit quickly was scrubbed from all platforms, including Lipinski’s Instagram feed. But oddly, it was defended by NBC Sports spokesman Dan Masonson, who said the promo was intended as a comedic sketch while telling the New York Post, “In retrospect, this sketch could have been completed with generic footage.’’ So, Weir and Lipinski were permitted to be risque … and Roenick wasn’t? NBC hired all three analysts to be off the wall, of course, knowing Roenick has made a career of outlaw behavior, such as the night during the 1998 Winter Olympics when I ventured into a karaoke bar in sleepy Nagano and saw him singing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love’’ as giddy Japanese locals cheered him on.
But because Roenick commented about a female network colleague, whereas Weir and Lipinski referred to a competitive skater, NBC evidently sees one offense as fireable and the other as forgivable. Also, the network just loves Tara and Johnny, as everyone knows. And, as Roenick is claiming, he is a straight man while it’s possible Weir was protected by the network as a gay man.
Is the entirety of NBC’s rationale really going to hold up in court? It will be a fascinating case to follow after Roenick, in a lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court, accused the network of wrongful termination, claiming discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation — and even linking the network’s agenda to Roenick’s support of President Trump. In today’s media culture, one would be foolish to downplay politics and/or sexual orientation as a corporate boardroom’s motivation for a firing.
“Mr. Roenick is the victim of double standards wrongfully asserted against him,” Roenick’s attorney, Scott William Clark, told the Post. “A person’s career should not be thrown away by a company as Mr. Roenick’s career was with NBC. We are confident that the evidence that will be brought to light from this lawsuit will reveal the rampant disregard of Mr. Roenick’s rights.”
One piece of evidence, says the Roenick camp, is an alleged comment made by NBC Sports executive Sam Flood. In the suit, Roenick says he asked Flood during the 2018 Winter Olympics about “colorful commentary regarding the body parts of ice skaters from Weir.’’ Responded Flood, according to court documents: “(Weir) is gay and can say whatever.’’
Roenick also says Flood discouraged him from speaking four years ago at the Republican National Convention. “You know who you work for,’’ said Flood, according to the lawsuit. “You work for NBC. That would not look good on your NBC record.’’ Roenick also claims Flood made flip comments about Trump, such as, “Your boy is messing up this country.’’
Yes, it’s very dirty, with recklessness from all involved. But this is what happens when media networks sloppily allow amnesia to enter personnel decision-making and don’t consider the intellectual shallowness of a double standard. As I write this piece, I see in my daily media browsing a glaring conflict of interest involving The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who wrote a glowing piece about Alex Rodriguez’s “audacious bid to buy the Mets’’ — um, isn’t Rosenthal a baseball colleague of Rodriguez at Fox Sports? Why would The Athletic publish such a self-serving piece for A-Rod? Or is that organization in bed with Fox, an ethical minefield that raises eyebrows about Rosenthal, Fox and The Athletic?
My conclusion on the Roenick case: NBC better be prepared to pay Mr. Fantasy millions AND oust Flood. We all should strive for equality in today’s evolving world, and the double standards in this case are egregious. Either fire Roenick and the figure skating commentators, or fire none of them.
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.