There are times, admittedly, when I feel sorry for ESPN as it slogs into a muddled future, rationalizes its plight with faux self-importance and leans so far left politically that no chiropractor can fix its crooked spine. Maybe Nielsen’s expanded metrics system, measuring “out of home’’ viewership for the first time, will be a ratings game-changer for live events and studio shows. But this is not a time for sympathy or hope.
Today, I am disgusted with the place.
Never has it entered my brainstream to make this type of remark: “The only reason (a team) hired (a coach) is because he’s Black.’’ During my eight years as a panelist on ESPN’s “Around The Horn,’’ such a flagrantly racist comment never would have made it to air. The producers would have halted the taping. I’d have been sent home and told never to return. And, of course, I would have deserved the entirety of professional punishment and accompanying public shame.
But the people who run the company and control the editorial product — Bob Iger, Jimmy Pitaro, Norby Williamson — are drowning these days in hypocrisy disguised as social awareness. They want equality, right? Then they should embrace equality for all races instead of allowing a Black network personality, the ubiquitous Stephen A. Smith, to say Steve Nash was hired to coach the Brooklyn Nets only because he is White.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way around this. This is white privilege. This does not happen for a Black man,’’ Smith said on “First Take,’’ his weekday TV program. “No experience whatsoever? On any level as a coach? And you get the Brooklyn Nets job?”
Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no way around this. This is convenient bigotry, race-baiting and truth-twisting of the worst kind. At a time when broadcast networks allow Black commentators to stoke the searing flames of racism without accountability or consequence, Smith was permitted to express a sweeping, headline-grabbing, social-media-inciting take without considering facts or circumstances. As one who has supported him in the past, I might wonder if it’s another example of his being overworked by a network that can’t get enough of him on its platforms. But this time, his lapse is too reckless and damaging to be pardoned.
When Smith says “this does not happen for a Black man,’’ he’s claiming that a White NBA great is being gifted an undeserving opportunity as a neophyte — Nash has no previous head-coaching experience — when such a raw chance never would be accorded a Black man in the league. Wrong. Wrong as one can be.
See Magic Johnson, Los Angeles Lakers, 1994.
See Doc Rivers, Orlando Magic, 1999.
See Isiah Thomas, Indiana Pacers, 2000.
See Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors, 2011.
See Jason Kidd, Nets, 2013.
See Derek Fisher, New York Knicks, 2014.
Also see Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers, 2016, who was a career assistant when summoned in midseason to replace a White head coach, David Blatt, a move that ended with LeBron James celebrating a historic Finals triumph over the Warriors.
In fact, in a list compiled by NBC Sports, nine of the last 16 NBA head coaches hired with no previous coaching experience have been Black. Does Smith realize that the last three coaches to win championships — Lue, Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Toronto’s Nick Nurse — were hired without NBA head-coaching experience? That the Nets have employed eight Black head coaches since 1989? Would you like to do research, Stephen A., before exacerbating the tempest of racial relations in a divided America? And would ESPN like to make a statement about on-air credibility by at least reprimanding Smith and showing that the network actually cares about the veracity of its content? Nah, the aforementioned executives lack the requisite political testicles, already driving on the shoulder of the left lane when the center lane always makes the most sense in sports TV.
During his incendiary fit, Smith should have known the hire was directly attached to Nash’s close working relationship with Nets superstar Kevin Durant, who is Black. Nash’s individual workout sessions with Durant were essential during their time together with Golden State, where Nash served as a player development consultant for five years. They traded trash-talk out of mutual reverence, a Hall of Famer and two-time league MVP trying to maximize the monstrous skills of a future Hall of Famer, compelling Durant to tell reporters in 2018, “He’s someone I can talk to about anything and somebody I really respect. His basketball mind is probably the best I’ve been around. He tries to simplify the game and keep me conscious of those things as well. It’s simplifying and keeping it easy for yourself. I’ve learned so much. So many people taught me how to play. He’s continued to teach me different things I can put in my game. I’m very grateful for him.”
When Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks sought a head coach, guess whose voice in the organization weighed paramount? Durant’s voice, in concert with teammate Kyrie Irving’s voice. As a tag team, they signed lucrative contracts with the Nets last year knowing they’d influence coaching and roster decisions. It’s well worth emphasizing that Durant and Irving, both given to robust activism during their careers, didn’t let race interfere with the head coach they desired. If Smith knows anything about the NBA — and he has covered the league for decades — he’d have realized the strong links between Nash, Durant and Marks, who played with Nash in Phoenix and became a close friend. He also would have considered how Nash has rejected other coaching and front-office offers through the years, preoccupied with his GM duties for Canada’s national team, his Warriors role and Hollywood production interests. Plus, given Nash’s time with Golden State, who wouldn’t want to channel the culture of Kerr, whose teams only won three championships and went to five straight league Finals?
But Smith saw only one thing: a white face. And he wondered why Nash was appointed when seasoned Black coaches such as Lue and Jackson were available. So, this somehow became a case of “White privilege’’ when the facts scream otherwise. If we must go down White/Black separation highway — for the record, I’d much prefer we all got along in this world as equals — first-time White NBA head coaches such as Kerr, Nurse and even Larry Bird in the wayback machine all have fared quite well. And just as Rivers has enjoyed a stellar coaching career that might end with another league title, in the Disney World Bubble with the L.A. Clippers, most Black coaches on the neophyte list have not succeeded. I don’t draw much from such data, but I thought Stephen A. might want to deal in a few facts.
If the conversation never should “stick to sports,’’ especially in 2020, what sports can do in such cases is try color blindness. And maybe give Nash credit for being anything but another accomplished White guy getting a cushy break. He has paid a measure of coaching dues working for the Warriors and helping not only Durant but Steph Curry. Also, Smith might be surprised that Nash has used George Floyd as his Twitter profile picture since that horrific day in May, when Floyd was choked to death by a White police officer in Minneapolis.
“As a human being, it’s hard to live with racial injustice,” Nash told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, a more responsible ESPN-employed voice in this instance than Smith. “It’s important for white people to take a deep look at what is occurring in our communities and what has been occurring for 400 years. A component of this conversation needs to be that white people need to not be offensive about white privilege or inequality. They just need to be honest, have those conversations and ask ourselves how we would feel if we had endured this 400-plus-year history. So, for me, it’s hurtful and it’s wrong. That’s why I have expressed my opinion on the matters because some of us are hurting and it’s not fair.”
It’s not as if the Nets didn’t consider Black candidates, such as interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who will remain in Brooklyn as the league’s highest-paid assistant and would have been named permanent head coach had Nash rejected the Nets’ overtures. Vaughn, by the way, went 58-158 in 2 1/2 seasons as a head coach in Orlando. In a market where the dominant status of the dysfunctional Knicks never has been more vulnerable, the Nets went for the newsier hire. It’s a big story in New York, Nash coaching Durant and Irving; Lue or Vaughn coaching them is not a huge story, nor is it a huge story that retread Tom Thibodeau was hired by the Knicks. “After meeting with a number of highly accomplished coaching candidates from diverse backgrounds, we knew we had a difficult decision to make,” Marks said. “In Steve, we see a leader, communicator and mentor who will garner the respect of our players. I have had the privilege to know Steve for many years. One of the great on-court leaders in our game, I’ve witnessed firsthand his basketball acumen and selfless approach to prioritize team success. His instincts for the game, combined with an inherent ability to communicate with and unite players towards a common goal, will prepare us to compete at the highest levels of the league.”
I am not alone in admonishing Smith. “I was very disappointed in some of the guys talking about White privilege,” Charles Barkley said on TNT. “They’re like, `Well, this doesn’t happen to Black guys.’ And I’m like, `It happened to Doc Rivers. It happened to Jason Kidd. It happened to Derek Fisher.’ When you have a responsibility, especially when you have to talk about something as serious as race, you can’t be full of crap. You’ve got to be honest and fair. Steve Nash is a great player and a good dude. … Now, do we need more Black coaches in the NBA? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in college football? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in pro football? Yes. But this wasn’t the right time to say that today. Good luck to Steve Nash.”
Even Smith’s ESPN teammate, Jay Williams, fired back on Twitter: “Come on SA. Steve Nash being chosen over Mark Jackson/Ty Lue is not “White Privilege”.. 2 superstar black athletes ultimately made the decision & we know who they are and what they are about.”
At a time when people see color, count faces and point fingers, four Black NBA head coaches have lost gigs this season: Vaughn, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry and the Knicks’ David Fizdale. In a 30-team league in which about 80 percent of the players are Black, there are seven head coaches of color — five are Black, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is of Filipino descent, and Charlotte’s James Borrego is Hispanic. The number has slipped from the 14 minority head coaches during the 2012-13 season, meaning the four teams with vacancies will have pressure to hire Black coaches, with New Orleans and Philadelphia — which fired Brett Brown, who is White — interested in Lue. Most owners and general managers are not looking at race, not in the NBA. They would kill to find the next Rivers, so vital to the Clippers as a coach and to the league as a transcendent leader. Is it a problem that more Black assistants don’t get opportunities? Yes — and the Clippers’ Sam Cassell is among those who deserve shots right now. But unlike Magic Johnson in the ‘90s — a head-coaching hire comparable to the Nash appointment — there aren’t many retired Black superstars who want to coach in the league.
Chauncey Billups would be a natural, but he has aspirations to run a basketball operation. Juwan Howard, who would be in demand, prefers to stay at the University of Michigan for now, while Patrick Ewing is proving himself at Georgetown. Look, teams want a coach who can win and excite the fans, challenges more important than ever when the coronavirus could keep paying customers out of arenas well into 2021, or longer.
Not that Stephen A. Smith ever would apologize for swinging and missing badly. Acknowledging an egregious mistake would ruin his shtick. The next day, decibels rising again, he refused to back down: “I mentioned `white privilege’ yesterday. I have a message to those who feel I was wrong, that i need to apologize, that I don’t know what I’m talking about: I don’t give a damn what y’all feel. Y’all can kick rocks. I don’t give a damn. I’m not budging from my position one inch. I called it `white privilege’ yesterday. I’m calling it today. I’m calling it `white privilege’ a month from now, a year from now, five years from now.’’
Even when, in this case, it’s utter foolishness to say it. Smith should apologize directly to Nash. And the apology should be televised because, after all, the reason he’s on the air so much is so ESPN can squeeze him for all the attention his act can muster. Never mind that his subject matter is dangerous and flammable and filled with the hatred that makes America a sick place. Ratings are ratings!
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.