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What Can The Media Learn From Players Not Playing?

“These team sport athletes’ actions had spoken louder than ever before, and the domino effect of their tone left the leagues and their media partners in an unusually uncomfortable and awkward position.”

Stan Norfleet

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When I agreed to begin contributing to BSM, I knew days like today would come. A day when it would be paramount for me to attempt to speak on behalf or echo the temperament of racial minorities in this country. This particular message couldn’t be any simpler: AMERICA, STOP ALLOWING UNARMED BLACK PEOPLE TO BE SHOT OR KILLED AT THE HANDS OF THE POLICE! 

Around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, as unprecedented news of postponed NBA playoff games went viral, the sports world, and how we cover our athletes (most of them black), changed in an instant.

Milwaukee Bucks players don't take the court for NBA playoff game -  pennlive.com

As word of NBA postponement, started by the Milwaukee Bucks refusing to take the court for Game 5 against the Orlando Magic, spread from game-to-game, the idea of boycotting other athletic contests simultaneously spread from league to league. The WNBA would follow the NBA’s lead. Eventually, four MLB teams and five MLS clubs announced they would do the same.

These team sport athletes’ actions had spoken louder than ever before, and the domino effect of their tone left the leagues and their media partners in an unusually uncomfortable and awkward position. How would sports media respond in this critical moment?

I began my late afternoon as I had done all week, searching for ESPN to catch the new NFL Live crew. I have really enjoyed the lineup, although I admit, I wasn’t quite sure how those particular personalities would mesh. Throughout the week, the esteemed group of Laura Rutledge, Dan Orlovsky, Adam Schefter, Mina Kimes, Keyshawn Johnson, and Marcus Spears did a wonderful job delivering compelling points in an energetic and joyful manner, while also employing a more serious and direct tone when need be.

It was at the halfway mark of the show that news regarding the Milwaukee Bucks boycott broke, and that serious tone was needed for some quick remarks. Spears summed it up nicely, “…this ain’t just a black and brown thing; this is a human rights issue!”

Understandably, ESPN decided to cut NFL Live short, and return the cast of The Jump to the screen. Rachel Nichols did her usually fantastic job of depicting the gravity of the moment through the eyes of former NBAers Kendrick Perkins and Jay Williams.

Big Perk spoke to the bitter sweet circumstances of the current players choosing to decline to participate in playoff games, however he was refreshed that the younger generation was taking the lead on social injustice issues. J-Will on the other hand, was very concerned with the overall plan for the players, and what the ideal strategy might look like moving forward. 

My remote control next stopped on NBA on TNT. Without question this was the most powerful commentary of the evening! First, Kenny Smith surprisingly walked off the set in solidarity with the player boycotts. Afterwards, Shaquile O’Neal and Charles Barkley commended the players for sticking together, and called for the development of further actionable items from them as well.

Yet, it was Chris Webber’s words which moved me most! His account of growing-up in the neighborhood, along with the challenges of being a black man in America today (regardless of your economic status) brought tears to my eyes. In those brief moments, C-Webb captured our anger, fears, frustration, and reality live on a Turner camera inside of an empty arena in Orlando. I understand that these emotions may not resonate with many of you reading this. That does not mean you still can’t be part of the solution to stomp out police brutality and racial inequalities in this country against black and brown-skinned people.

From a sports media standpoint, each of us possess the opportunity to enact progress. What conversations are we having on-air? Are a diverse collection of minds included in the planning and execution of these conversations? Are adequate resources being allocated to specifically attract talent and programmers to connect with the new wave of athletes’ consciousness? I believe the #StickToSports mantra officially died yesterday! Thankfully, Jacob Blake didn’t…this time. 

Jacob Blake shooting: Timeline of events, according to dispatch audio

“It is no longer enough to not be racist. We must be blatantly anti-racist to effectively combat this problem!” – Max Kellerman

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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