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Sack Brennaman – And Guillen – For Anti-Gay Slurs

“For MLB ever to emerge from its cave and become a socially responsible institution, there can be no leeway for Thom Brennaman, whose likely TV dismissal should be followed by that of Ozzie Guillen.”

Jay Mariotti

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Perhaps you just scrolled through my recent column, titled, “Hot Mics Another Hot Mess For Baseball.’’ I warned that Major League Baseball was vulnerable to a disaster with its vulgar culture of F-bombs, dropped non-stop by players and managers inside quiet pandemic ballparks where all sounds are TV-audible. I even suggested someone might use the N-word or an anti-gay slur.

Who knew it would happen only two days later?

The offender was not on the field. Thom Brennaman was in a press box in Cincinnati, where he was calling a Reds-Royals doubleheader in Kansas City via broadcast remote. Not heeding the industry’s golden rule — always assume the microphone is live, even if it appears you’re in a commercial break — the Reds’ veteran voice delivered a random commentary about the LGBTQ+ composition of a city that may or may not have been Kansas City.

“One of the fag capitals of the world,’’ he said, returning to the air in the seventh inning of the first game.

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You know my feelings about cancel culture. In theory, Brennaman should not lose his career because of one major mistake — reprehensible as it is — after 33 years of calling major-league games on the regional and national levels. But in 2020, it’s much more complicated than that, with selective punishment from a flurry of conduct cases creating unacceptable double standards across the media landscape. To break down the events of this month, if (1) NASCAR racer Kyle Larson loses his driving gig after using a racial slur during a live-streamed virtual race; (2) NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy is forced out amid allegations that he fostered a culture of racism and homophobia; and (3) Charlotte Hornets broadcaster John Focke is suspended indefinitely and headed toward a dismissal for posting a tweet containing the N-word, tell me, how do the Reds and Fox Sports possibly keep Brennaman?

And, in the same domino effect, how does MLB allow NBC Sports Chicago to keep Ozzie Guillen as a White Sox studio analyst after giving him a wrist tap years ago? That’s when, as the team’s manager, he referred to yours truly — then a Chicago columnist and regular ESPN panelist — as a “f——— fag’’ during a rant that follows Guillen to this day. If we’re raising the standards of tolerance and stability, NBCUniversal can’t pardon Guillen for past transgressions when, in effect, it has run off an executive suspected of similar insensitive conduct under the same corporate umbrella. Then again, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — Guillen’s protector — owns a 50 percent majority interest in NBC Sports Chicago, meaning the network, for now, is keeping Guillen in the chair despite his gay-disparaging past. Guillen and NBCSC boss Kevin Cross have refused comment when asked about the “f——— fag’’ comment and how Guillen still is employed on a sports network.

Brennaman was removed from the air by the Reds but not until the fifth inning of the second game, after social media had exploded. The team suspended him indefinitely and released a statement that hinted at an imminent dismissal: “The Cincinnati Reds organization is devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark made this evening by broadcaster Thom Brennaman. He was pulled off the air, and effective immediately was suspended from doing Reds broadcasts. We will be addressing our broadcasting team in the coming days. In no way does this incident represent our players, coaches, organization, or our fans. We share our sincerest apologies to the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, Kansas City, all across this country, and beyond. The Reds embrace a zero-tolerance policy for bias or discrimination of any kind, and we are truly sorry to anyone who has been offended.’’

Fox Sports Ohio was more critical, saying the crude comment was “hateful, offensive and in no way reflects the values’’ of the network.

To his credit, Brennaman understood the magnitude of his blunder. He looked into a camera and said, “I made a comment tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of. If I have hurt anyone out there, I can’t tell you how much I say from the bottom of my heart, I am very, very sorry. I think of myself as a man of faith. I don’t know if I’m going to be putting on this headset again. I don’t know if it’s going to be for the Reds. I don’t know if it’s going to be for my bosses at Fox. I will apologize for the people who sign my paycheck, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with, for anybody I have offended here tonight. I can’t begin to tell you how deeply sorry I am. This is not who I am. It never has been. And I’d like to think I have some people that can back that up. I am very, very sorry and I beg for your forgiveness.’’ With that, he said field reporter Jim Day would “take you the rest of the way home.’’

It’s hard to imagine Brennaman’s career surviving in a small market where the Reds have served as a form of pride for decades. The memories were recorded for decades by Brennaman’s legendary father, Marty, who had his spicy moments on the air but never anything of this enormity. A few years back, Thom had a hot mic moment when he was heard whispering, “This guy sucks,’’ after a Pittsburgh pitcher walked Reds shortstop Zach Cozart. I knew Thom in Chicago when he was broadcasting Cubs games and befriending the team’s star first baseman, Mark Grace, who was suspended five games by the Cubs’ broadcast network this week for referring to his ex-wife as a “dingbat’’ during a rambling story. Put it this way: Brennaman, like so many who drop slurs, is a product of an 20th-century environment as outdated as it is insensitive. 

In Cincinnati, where the Brennamans are sports royalty, the backlash already is divisive enough to keep his absence permanent. “It was incredibly disappointing to hear Mr. Brennaman use such language when our country is begging for unity,’’ tweeted Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay City Council member. “The Brennaman family are Cincinnati sports icons with a powerful voice in our community, which makes it even more disgusting and totally unprofessional to hear such language used. The Reds have been proud supporters of their LGBTQ+ fans, and this language cannot be tolerated. Period.”

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But Chicago is a different animal. Other than Jim O’Donnell of the Daily Herald, who has questioned NBC Sports Chicago about Guillen, the sports media are an embarrassing extension of the city’s sports franchises and have given Guillen a pass, at times applauding him for slurring me because they didn’t like how I dominated the city for 17 years. It’s hard to believe some local media were calling for the Cubs to fire Grace while continuing to worship Guillen, which speaks to the homerism and two-team divides in an intense baseball town. I am not gay, but my sexual orientation Isn’t the point — why do NBC and Reinsdorf allow Guillen to represent a media corporation and a baseball franchise after such hideous behavior, which included a series of episodes that would have triggered his firing if they happened in 2020?

The minute Thom Brennaman is fired, Ozzie Guillen should be fired.

If not, Reinsdorf is an even bigger fraud than I thought.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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