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Ready or (Definitely) Not, Football Season Is Upon Us

“Does a sport fraught with COVID-19 superspreader risks and filled with social justice demonstrations have any chance of completing NFL and college seasons — when non-stop chaos seems more likely?”

Jay Mariotti

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Excuse me, what happened to myocarditis? Wasn’t this the reason not to play football, a potentially fatal heart condition linked to COVID-19? Weren’t the country’s leading cardiac specialists imploring the NFL and collegiate overlords to consider recent evidence — numerous athletes in their 20s and teens with heart muscle inflammation — as yet another medical risk in the delirious rush to launch seasons in the Year of Corona?

Other than the Big Ten and Pac-12, no one wanted to listen. So here we are, virus be damned, only days from Chiefs-Texans with 16,000 spectators in Kansas City. And here we are, already one game into the college scrums, if we’re counting Central Arkansas beating Austin Peay the other night. Football is such a runaway religion in America — I mean, sickness — that normally smart people believe it’s entirely reasonable to jeopardize the long-term wellness of players, coaches, support staffers, fans and, by extension, their families and other human beings in the grand spirit of squeezing in schedules through the evil droplets.

They’re treating doctors like tackling dummies and a positive virus test as just another game-week hazard, like a concussion. Hey, you’re a wuss if you can’t handle a head ding and a bigger wuss if you can’t deal with a fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of taste and smell, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, confusion and hallucinations. Never mind the horrors we’ve lived since March. Never mind that a football game, an in-your-face convergence of saliva and other bodily fluids for more than three hours in hundreds of games per season, is the very definition of a superspreader. Never mind that more Black people are dying of the coronavirus than white people, and that 70 percent of NFL players are African-American. Never mind that COVID-19 will remain our predominant thought, 24/7, until a legitimate vaccine is approved and distributed. Never mind the trigger effect of one infectious cluster on a football field, let alone several.

And never mind that on the season’s first possession — as Austin Peay’s CJ Evans Jr. raced for a 75-yard touchdown, while two ESPN booth analysts shrieked as if the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff was the Rose Bowl — a referee was caught cursing into a live mic.

“God damn mask!’’ he said, as if warning us of what’s ahead.

At this point, I’m tired of lecturing. If football players don’t realize how they’re being exploited for money, let them get sick and cope with the consequences, such as putting close relatives in hospital beds. Dozens of NFL players have wisely opted out. LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, rated in the top five on most draft boards, is the latest college star to opt out. They realize football, unlike the successful protected environments of the NBA and NHL, is not played inside a Bubble. They also realize Major League Baseball, not Bubble-ized, has been forced to postpone 38 games after a flurry of positive tests — despite mostly acceptable physical distancing on the field and rosters half the size of the NFL’s. Add the Athletics to a perpetually growing list that might include all 30 big-league teams before the playoffs, assuming MLB ever reaches that point.

Football people aren’t paying attention. Don’t you understand their big-boy sport is mightier than any old virus, especially if based in the South, where the gridiron is treated like a Civil War battlefield? Jerry Jones wants to put as many fannies in the seats as possible for Cowboys games. Nick Saban wants “to play for the players’’ at Alabama, where more than 1,000 positive tests have been recorded on campus since Aug. 19. And Dabo Swinney? “If we cancel football, the virus isn’t going to go away,’’ he said, with typical ass-backward logic. “If you told me we wouldn’t get the virus if we canceled football, I’d be the first person to sign up to cancel. Somewhere along the line, we have to recognize that we love the game.’’

Even if it kills someone.

“You can’t tell me that running onto a football field is supposed to be a zero-risk environment,” said Duke infectious-disease specialist Cameron Wolfe, dropping that precious nugget to Sports Business Daily. “Look at all of the regular sporting injuries that we accept as a certain level of risk as part and parcel of football. Now the reality is that we have to accept a little bit of COVID risk to be a part of that.”

Imagine describing coronavirus as “part and parcel,’’ like a hip pointer — but then, Wolfe is paid to advise the ACC, which starts play next week.

“Is the virus going to be any better or different (next year)? No, probably not,’’ said UAB athletic director Mark Ingram, whose program hosts the first FBS game Thursday. “Are the numbers going to be remarkably different? No, probably not. Are we going to have a vaccine? No, probably not.’’

Then, hell, let’s play football because we only live once, though we also only die once.

Unlike college players, the pros are compensated handsomely for their assumed risks. That hasn’t stopped the NFL Players Association from new demands ahead of the Sept. 10 opener. Union president JC Tretter wants daily virus testing — a fair request, considering the NFL is a $17-billion-a-year enterprise that should want optimum testing — after the current end date of this Saturday. He knows the league had zero positive tests among players and just six among staff members between Aug. 12-20, but Tretter wrote this week, “In the spirit of adaptability, expect the NFLPA to push for modifications.’’ In his position, I would want to know if the league is being transparent about test results. Does the NFL, or any league, have a good reason to be honest with so much riches on the table?

NFL minds have more to ponder at the moment than an infectious disease. The players witnessed the game boycotts that started in the NBA and spread to the WNBA, MLB, Major League Soccer, tennis and, with typical social stalling, the NHL. Week 1 boycotts aren’t expected, for now, but NFL players are much more leery of commissioner Roger Goodell and good-old-boy billionaire owners than NBA players are of their owners — and that didn’t stop the Milwaukee Bucks and other teams from forcing game postponements and demanding stronger league initiatives after the latest case of police brutality, the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The NBA faces a shaky financial future, but NFL players know their league is filthy rich and could afford to pull the season plug if necessary. Even with scattered fans in the stands and a potential 40 percent loss in revenue, the season is being fortified by $3.2 billion in new debt, thanks to an A+ credit rating.

So it will be nothing short of fascinating to see how the NFL owners — specifically, the almighty Jones — respond to players’ demands related to social justice and racial inequality. They will want to do more than kneel on the sideline during the national anthem, the movement launched four years ago by Colin Kaepernick. Think demonstrations, frequent messages in the media. The league is inscribing slogans on the end lines of end zones: “It Takes All Of Us’’ and “End Racism.’’ Decals are allowed on helmets and caps, with names or phrases honoring victims. T-shirts with statements — such as “Stop Hate’’ and “Black Lives Matter’’ — are available to wear in warmups. And the plan is to play the Black national anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.’’

But will that be enough to appease players when their NBA brethren lost patience, without being stressed by COVID-19? Goodell has yet to announce an official league stance on sideline kneeling, perhaps because Jones still wants to negotiate a compromise that will have all players standing during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ The timing of his comment couldn’t be worse, but, then, what would one expect from Jones but divisiveness?

“Everybody knows where I stand on the anthem. Everybody knows where the Cowboys stand,’’ said Jones, who two years ago threatened to bench any player who knelt.

He’d better talk to his nose tackle, Dontari Poe, who says he plans to kneel. It’s important when powerful management people in the league call out the owners, including Packers CEO Mark Murphy, whose team is based in the state where a white police officer fired seven shots at Blake’s back from short range. Said Murphy: “They are in powerful, privileged positions and can make a huge difference, and they obviously have close relations with everybody in their organizations. It’s time to make changes.’’

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll referenced his brethren. “Coaches, I’m calling on you. Let’s step up,’’ he said. “No more being quiet, no more being afraid to talk the topics, no more `I’m a little bit uncomfortable, I might lose my job over this because I’ve taken a stand here or there.’ Screw it. We can’t do that anymore. Maybe if we do, we can be a leadership group that stands out, and maybe others will follow us. But it’s not just for coaches. I just know that I might have a better ear listening to me when I’m talking to coaches. … Our players are screaming at us: `Can you feel me? Can you see me? Can you hear me?’ They just want to be respected. They just want to be accepted. Just like all of our white children and families and want to be. It’s no different because we’re all the same. And there’s a lot of people that don’t see it that way, but there’s a lot of people that do.”

In the NBA, most superstars embrace social justice responsibility. But would Tom Brady and the embattled Drew Brees, criticized for his racial ignorance last spring, ever sit out a game in protest? Quarterbacks are the NFL’s power brokers, and while Black stars such as Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson have used their voices, where is Brady? “Until the people in the NFL who are irreplaceable decide they’re going to step back and hang it up for a week, two weeks, whatever it may be … but I don’t foresee that happening,” Jaguars receiver Chris Conley said. “I hate to say that. I wish I could stand up and say with confidence that people in this league would band together.”

Goodell, as usual, is dawdling. If it took him this long to investigate an owner who should have been ousted long ago — Washington’s Daniel Snyder, whose sexually warped work environment includes allegations he ordered staffers to make a risqué video featuring the team’s cheerleaders — then, yes, we definitely should worry about what might happen on the sidelines in Kansas City. And in the stands, where even a fraction of the usual 76,000-fans throng will include its share of COVID-iots neither socially distancing nor wearing masks. In the college game over the weekend, in Montgomery, Ala., fans and players were supposed to obey protocols. They didn’t. Not that anyone was around to enforce the virus rules.

NBC will introduce its C360 camera at Arrowhead Stadium, featuring breathtaking bird’s-eye views and zoom capabilities for sidelines and the line of scrimmage. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be ready, too, as will the viewers who never thought this moment would come on the second Thursday of September.

I just don’t think football is ready for what’s about to pulverize it, a season of blindside hits that aren’t preventable. Unless, of course, wiser heads prevail and the sport is shut down until next year.

Sorry, I’ll stop making sense.

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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