We have two killer diseases in this country, one invisible and the other as blatant as seven gunshots fired toward a Black man’s back. If COVID-19 is insidious, police brutality is the naked terror. Imagine life as an African-American basketball player right now, locked down in a science globe by a league and two broadcast networks, watching the savagery in Wisconsin and figuring America is the same slave nation that oppressed their parents, grandparents and ancestors.
They are being paid, yes. But they do not trust The Man, so to speak. They wonder why Adam Silver, the commissioner who convinced them to resume this disjointed season, hasn’t been in the NBA Bubble and why the league’s interest in amplifying social justice initiatives has waned during the playoffs. And they don’t trust the owners, nearly all white men, even if sports has made many of the players wealthy and renowned. They want these billionaires to use their tentacles to influence politicians, regardless of party or persuasion, and stop the bloody massacre of Black people by white cops.
That message was just beginning to resonate Thursday throughout a $200-billion industry, allowing sports to avoid a devastating domino-effect stoppage, if only until the next shooting. But there to muck it up, as usual, were the socially ignorant klutzes of Major League Baseball, creating even more distrust a day after the NBA season was nearly shuttered by LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and other players feeling helpless in fighting racial inequality from their Disney World confinement. The MLB lords have been stuck in self-sabotage for decades, undermining their sport with endless scandals, a sluggish on-field product and an existential disconnect with younger people. Their failures are as commonplace as another 450-foot pummeling of a juiced ball.
Still, it’s beyond comprehension that this old-fart operation, long mired in a racial crisis with its scarcity of Black players and executives, not only would delay a unified response to the shooting of Jacob Blake but also turn a New York ceremony into a finger-pointing farce.
Jackie Robinson shattered racial barriers in Brooklyn, a few miles from what is now Citi Field. He would have been ashamed to see the dysfunction in the hours preceding what should have been a simple edict: postponing the Mets-Miami Marlins game, following the lead of all other major-league games on the day’s schedule. I don’t trust the entirety of MLB leadership, so I’m still not sure who’s telling the truth and who might be in cover-up or throw-under-bus mode. But knowing the raw ineptitude of commissioner Rob Manfred, I’m not ready to assume Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was mistaken when he accused Manfred of asking Mets and Marlins players to do the unthinkable: Walk off the field as a tribute to Blake, then return an hour later to … PLAY A BALLGAME?
The idea did come from someone’s convoluted mind. Would Manfred be so crass to prioritize scheduling issues, an ongoing quagmire in baseball’s nightmarish pandemic season, over the Black Lives Matter movement? It would be a fireable offense, another death knell for the sport, yet that is exactly what Van Wagenen suggested in the latest leaked video to burn a sports figure. Talking with two Mets colleagues in late afternoon as the fate of the game was being decided, Van Wagenen ripped Manfred as a leader who “doesn’t get it’’ while failing to understand that Mets players had zero interest in playing. What the loose-lipped GM didn’t know is what everyone should know in the 21st century: His conversation, which referenced an earlier meeting with Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, was being streamed on MLB.com. Minutes later, the video was posted on the team site, where it was discovered by a 20-year-old New Yorker who naturally shipped the clip into the breaking news viralsphere.
Said Van Wagenen to the others: “Baseball’s trying to come up with a solution, saying, `Oh, you know what would be super powerful’ — the three of us here, this can’t leave this room — `you know it’d be really great if you just have them all take the field and then they leave the field and then they come back and play at 8:10. And I was like, ‘What?’ I told Jeff … these guys aren’t playing. They’re not playing. But that’s Rob’s instinct.
“At a leadership level, he doesn’t get it. He just doesn’t get it.’’
He’s right. Manfred doesn’t get it, period, about anything. But that isn’t the point here. Three white men named Brodie, Rob and Jeff were making America Look Stupid Again. Had they already forgotten the powerful words of the previous night from Mets outfielder Dominic Smith? Weeping and choking up during an interview, Smith carved himself a place in history by saying this of the Blake shooting and racism in America: “The most difficult part is to see that people still don’t care. For this to continually happen, it just shows the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks, you know. Being a black man in America is not easy.’’ All you need to know about the Mets is that the goofish Alex Rodriguez, part of a group angling to buy the team, would be a marked boardroom improvement over Fred Wilpon and his son. So, of course, they botched the Smith moment.
What followed was pure tragicomedy. Van Wagenen, an ill-advised hire with no management experience after a career as a sports agent, released a statement, saying he had the story wrong. It was Jeff Wilpon’s idea, he said — the most overt case of ratting out a boss in recent sports memory.
“Jeff Wilpon called Commissioner Manfred this afternoon to notify him that our players voted not to play,” he said. “They discussed the challenges of rescheduling the game. Jeff proposed an idea of playing the game an hour later. I misunderstood that this was the Commissioner’s idea. In actuality, this was Jeff’s suggestion. The players had already made their decision so I felt the suggestion was not helpful. My frustration with the Commissioner was wrong and unfounded. I apologize to the Commissioner for my disrespectful comments and poor judgement in inaccurately describing the contents of his private conversation with Jeff Wilpon.”
Later, in case everyone didn’t hear him the first time, Van Wagenen reiterated his apology during a conference call. “I have put myself and this organization into this conversation in a way that takes away from the real point,’’ he said. “I’m disappointed in myself.”
Or, was he was dutifully covering Manfred’s ass, with Wilpon’s approval, so the commissioner could avoid epic humiliation and nationwide calls to replace him with whatever fool wants the gig?
If Wilpon did hatch the plan, as he claimed, just be happy the Mets are on the sales block, assuming anyone really wants them. “To clear up any misunderstandings, it was my suggestion to potentially look into playing the game later because of scheduling issues,” Wilpon said. “Brody’s misunderstanding of a private conversation was and is inexcusable.’’
Somewhere on a Florida campus, LeBron was cringing. He had come close to taking down a league — and perhaps all of North American sports, by extension — when he walked out of a volatile players’ meeting after both Los Angeles teams, James’ Lakers and the Clippers, had voted to end the NBA postseason and go home. Now, here was living proof that executives and commissioners are clueless about social injustice. The players who questioned James in the ballroom might have said he was being selfish, that he could afford financially to pop the Bubble when they needed the paychecks. But if LeBron was thinking about himself, it was his legacy as an activist, which currently takes precedence over a fourth championship. After a night of sleep and a cooling of heads, the NBA playoffs carry on. But the games have lost their momentum, after a fun ride of basketball story lines, and any chatter about title contenders has been replaced by when the players next threaten to ditch the Bubble.
“You forget that being in the bubble is hard,’’ said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who thought the season was over when his team initially voted no. “I don’t think it’s coincidence that everyone in this bubble seems to be a little more emotional. I’m not kidding, it’s true. I think part of the effect of being, like, jammed together every day, it has had that effect on everyone.” Besides, James is busy fighting the White House. “NBA players are very fortunate that they have the financial position where they’re able to take a night off from work without having to have the consequences,’’ said Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, as the league was postponing two days of games.
After James fired back a tweet — “Change doesn’t happen with just talk!! It happens with action and needs to happen NOW! — Kushner offered to make peace. “Look, if LeBron James reached out to the White House or we could reach out to him, we’re happy to talk with him and say, `Look, let’s both agree on what we want to accomplish, and let’s come up with a common pathway to get there,’ ‘’ he said.
Trump was too busy ignoring the coronavirus during his re-nomination speech to react specifically to James, which surely bugs LeBron. “I don’t know much about the NBA protest,” Trump said. “I know their ratings have been very bad because I think people are a little tired of the NBA. They’ve become like a political organization, and that’s not a good thing.”
At least NBA players have an ally in Silver, though a message was sent through ESPN reporter Marc Spears that the commissioner needs to get “a helicopter’’ and invest more Bubble time with them. It could be worse: Their leader could be Manfred. That such a debacle could happen in such a sensitive time in history is another indictment of a man who shouldn’t have his job. Manfred can’t even control the buffoonery of a team across the East River from his midtown Manhattan office, much less guide baseball through an absurdist pandemic season interrupted by virus outbreaks and game shutdowns. He, too, issued a statement: “Over the past two days, players on a number of Clubs have decided not to play games. I have said both publicly and privately that I respect the decisions and support the need to address social injustice. I have not attempted in any way to prevent players from expressing themselves by not playing, nor have I suggested any alternative form of protest to any Club personnel or any player. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.”
Do you see a denial in there about Manfred asking the Mets and Marlins to play an hour after a symbolic walkout? Me, neither.
Only the NHL, which finally postponed games after criticism for not doing so the previous night, has had a weaker response to Jacob Blake than MLB. The Mets and Marlins did share a tender moment, standing for a moment of silence and placing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate before leaving the park — without a ballgame. Smith led the Mets onto the field, his tears having inspired the sports world. “It’s still overwhelming at this moment, just to see how moved my peers are — my teammates, my brothers, the front office, the coaching staff, everybody who talks to me on a daily basis,’’ he said. “Just to see how moved they were, it made me feel really good inside. It made me feel like we are on the right path of change.’’
The silence lasted 42 seconds. It came on the eve of Jackie Robinson Day, when every major-leaguer wears No. 42, even if a pandemic shifted the date from its usual April 15. The players and their tribute, it seemed, had saved the commissioner and Mets management from themselves.
But the reprieve was only temporary, as always. “It needs to be an ongoing thing,’’ Miami’s Lewis Brinson said of the Robinson tribute. “It can’t just be one day out of the baseball year that we bring light to everything.’’
“I think he would be amazed at the lack of progress in his eyes,” said Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain. “The fact we’re talking about this in 2020, I don’t see the progress in that. It’s almost like we’re going backwards.”
If this is a time machine, it might take us to the point of no return.
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.