It’s almost amusing now, the way sports is smothering us with sensory overload. America’s archivists are occupied by more pressing matters, but as they record the gnarly story of 2020, they’ll marvel at how this collective blur — football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, cornhole — has done what this country still hasn’t done: Figure it all out and make something palatable from the abnormal.
We saw Tom Brady lose to Drew Brees AND Cam Newton on the same Sunday, as Bill Belichick grinned and hawked Subway sandwiches. We saw Aaron Rodgers flip the script and Cleveland flip the bird at Baker Mayfield, while Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson carried on. We saw LeBron James reach another conference final and the Clippers again clutch their throats. We saw Joe Burrow’s heartbreaking debut and the opening of a futuristic but barren $6-billion palace in Los Angeles, down the street from homeless encampments amid unbreathable air choked with wildfire ash.
We saw Alec Mills pitch a no-hitter weeks after Lucas Giolito did the same, which must be a sign of what could happen only during a pandemic: a Cubs-White Sox World Series. We saw Dodgers fans gather on Vin Scully Avenue and greet the Astros’ buses with trash cans, Joe Kelly pouty faces and other references to the electronic sign-stealing scandal. We saw two grown men ejected from the NBA Bubble, one the trash-talking brother of Rajon Rondo and the other for inviting a female COVID-19 tester to his hotel room. We saw Naomi Osaka take over women’s tennis while wearing names of Black shooting victims on her face masks.
And we saw almost no fans in the endless slabs of empty seats, hearing nothing but echoes and canned noise that only reminded us of the force-fed greed and frivolousness of it all.
They want us to think this is sports utopia, a heavenly convergence of seasons and events unprecedented on Planet Earth. In truth, it’s part of our ongoing dystopia. And there was no more glaring example Sunday than how the leagues and certain TV networks, with a collective conscience of zero, tried to pretend that two persistent viruses don’t exist.
Racial injustice? The NFL already is facing protest-related upheaval, a division between teams that don’t buy into the league’s sudden embrace of social reform and others that dutifully line up on the sideline and stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ A pattern is developing — some teams boycott the national anthem by remaining in the locker room; some teams are split between players who kneel, stand or sit on the sideline; some teams stand united with no one kneeling; and some teams link arms and stand together, not just for the national anthem but the traditional Black anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing.’’ It’s a potential powder keg when the Patriots, coached by military man Belichick, have no players kneeling while the Dolphins, led by Black head coach Brian Flores, are in the locker room. Or when the Packers stay in the locker room while the Vikings are split — some standing, some kneeling — as nine members of George Floyd’s family watch from a stadium concourse in Minneapolis. Or when the Texans remain in the locker room while Patrick Mahomes, Face of the League, stands with the Chiefs as only one teammate kneels.
This divergence happened throughout the league and won’t be ending soon. I am not an advocate of keeping score on how people protest, but I know a sitting President who does just that, sadly making this a story. And I know an unemployed quarterback already disgusted by it all, with Colin Kaepernick tweeting Sunday that “the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life.’’
So why wouldn’t we notice every display? The Jaguars remained in their locker room while Colts head coach Frank Reich was the lone man kneeling on his sideline, as all his players stood. Mayfield, who had vowed to kneel, decided to stand, while Myles Garrett joined two other Browns players in kneeling. The Bills and Jets both stayed in their locker rooms in Buffalo, while the Falcons and Seahawks took a collective knee for the opening kick in Atlanta. The Cardinals stayed inside while the 49ers mostly stood. In Baltimore, Jackson kneeled while coach John Harbaugh stood. Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater kneeled. All of which were powerful scenes that feed directly into America’s noxious pre-election climate, creating the disunity desired by President Trump and no doubt causing heightened tensions in a league in which 70 percent of the players are Black. I’d like to think each player would respect the decisions of others, but once Trump gleefully weighs in about the small percentage of kneelers — and early TV ratings declines — yes, there will be Players Association backlash and hard feelings that lead to … God, who knows what?
“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,’’ Dolphins players said.
“Our intent is to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and the injustice therein. We wanted to demonstrate a symbolic gesture of how we believe meaningful change happens,’’ the Colts said of Reich’s solo display. “(Kneeling) is not a posture of defiance but rather one of humility — taken by the White community — to acknowledge the injustice and inequality that is present and to find courage and resolve to make the changes needed.’’
“I have been showed that a gesture such as kneeling will only create more division or discussion about the gesture,’’ tweeted Mayfield, “rather than be a solution toward our country’s problems at hand.’’
The differing approaches were as complicated as racism itself. Not that you’d have known if depending on the Week 1 TV coverage. For a historic matchup of all-time quarterbacks, on what Fox Sports called “America’s Game of the Week,’’ the network didn’t bother showing the live anthem scenes in New Orleans. Wasn’t it important to see if Brees — who drew a firestorm of offseason criticism when he condemned sideline kneeling as a form of “disrespecting the flag’’ — chose to stand or kneel? And what would Brady do as a Trump associate? The only way of knowing was via news reports: Buccaneers and Saints players all stood during the anthem, and Malcolm Jenkins the only New Orleans player not on the field.
Where was Fox? The network showed the Vikings during the national anthem — and responded with broadcast-booth silence, saying nothing about the Vikings or Packers. Given the presence of Floyd’s family, wasn’t the scene worth commentary from Chris Myers and the crew at U.S. Bank Stadium? Or is this a hint that Fox — and, by extension, the NFL — will cowardly stick to football after NBC’s Cris Collinsworth at least addressed the racial tension before kickoff Thursday night? CBS was responsible in showing the Dolphins’ no-show and how the Bengals and Chargers linked arms for the anthem, with requisite booth and sideline commentary. And NBC got it right Sunday night, showing about a dozen Rams kneeling as quarterback Jared Goff stood, and, with owner Jerry Jones placing a hand over his heart, Dallas players standing at attention except for nose tackle Dontari Poe, who kept his vow to kneel. But naturally, the NFL Network loaded up the day with game highlights and little protest footage.
I bring this up not because Americans should be inundated by activism, but because players demanded that the league and TV partners cover the Black Lives Matter movement consistently — and not quickly turn away when audience segments are offended, as seen late in the Kaepernick movement. If players don’t trust the motives of commissioner Roger Goodell, the first evidence is how the networks handle the story. So far, the coverage is erratic.
And the coronavirus? What coronavirus? College football and Major League Baseball resumed shameless money grabs, despite a relentless flurry of positive tests that ignore health risks and already have turned seasons into mayhem. In a disturbing contradiction, Big Ten presidents were meeting to discuss a return to football as Michigan State, a member institution, was asking the entire student body to self-quarantine for 14 days. All while Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was making a mockery of Covid, saying he wouldn’t be forthright about positive tests heading into a game. “Just like we would with an injury, we made the decision not to broadcast that,’’ Riley actually said. “You don’t want to give your team a competitive disadvantage.’’ So let’s just conceal an infectious disease in the name of winning a football game! Boomer Sooner!
After a thrashing of Missouri State, Riley said the game nearly was postponed because, yep, his team was hit with a torrent of Covid cases, sidelining the starting running back and All-America kicker and leaving his offensive line in disarray. “It hung in the balance for a little bit, but we were able to do it,” Riley said after the 48-0 win. “Thankfully, we were able to.’’
Thankfully? Anyone concerned about the players, their families, their grandparents? How positive tests will contribute to more virus spreads on campuses, the current scourge of American academia? Across the sport, teams have Covid issues: Clemson was without three starters in beating Wake Forest … five Auburn starters have the virus … several games were postponed … and the ACC said it will scrap the season if at least eight of its 15 teams aren’t available to play, which likely would cause the SEC and Big 12 to fall into lockstep and shut down the College Football Playoff. Why are they even playing football when campuses are the nation’s hottest virus spots? “This is not a time when you can state with any sort of veracity that you’re going to play all your games,’’ Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted. “We could find ourselves in the same situation that the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are in later in the season. I’m not prepared to have any bravado about it whatsoever.”
Baseball never should have attempted a season. The Covid interruptions have made the games unwatchable, stripping an already dawdling sport of all continuity and interest. MLB Is in a shameful race to claim $1 billion in TV revenue if a postseason somehow is completed. But now players are balking at commissioner Rob Manfred’s proposal to utilize Bubbles in the playoffs, in Texas and southern California, wondering why qualifying teams would have to quarantine for a week and force players to separate from their families. The answer is as obvious as a swab up the nose: The NBA and NHL have succeeded in keeping Covid out of restrictive environments; baseball has failed miserably so far outside a Bubble. Yet the pushback is considerable, especially from teams that have been Covid-free. “You’re asking us to choose between our families and the playoffs?” Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ union rep, told The Athletic. “That’s a stupid question, especially when we’ve played however many successful games this season. Obviously, there were two blips early on (Marlins and Cardinals), but it was out of poor choices by individuals. Other than that, it has been a pretty successful season. Why change all the protocols now?’’
Is he really asking that question? Unlike a regular season in which a team’s games could be paused for days or weeks after an outbreak, one positive test makes a mess of a postseason that can’t afford hiccups.
Still, from Saturday morning through Sunday night, America managed to feel awake again, if not close to completely alive. This is the September buffet we’d heard about but never thought would happen, the full-blown resumption of sports that I railed against all summer. There’s still nothing remotely prudent about it, and if athletes who dare to play amid Covid are fighting significant medical effects years from now, please remember how I damned the leagues and networks that prioritized wealth over health. Billions of dollars breed corruption, and as we absorb Riley’s comments, tell me: Do you trust any people in power to be transparent when they can hide behind privacy laws or just openly lie? `As the NBA and NHL approach final rounds and MLB stumbles toward October, beware of such fakery.
It’s impossible to ignore the swirling convergence of crazy activity. The games are on TV around the clock, which gives the industry a chance to remind us “why we love sports,’’ as ESPN says. The surreal events of 2020 also mean people might not care about sports as much as they once did. They can watch, as a diversion, but can you really pull on a replica jersey when you’re trying to stay employed, pay a mortgage, educate your kids online and avoid the virus? I’ll be anxious to monitor the ratings. More sports are live in a single timeframe than ever before, yet even with a lack of original programming choices, who’s to say people will flock back to sports? The Jaguars, the only NFL team to allow fans Sunday, made 16,800 tickets available.
Only 14,100 showed up.
The games and individual performances still need to move and inspire us. Front and center were Brady and James, as they’ve been since the start of the millennium, creating new chapters in epic careers. James and the Lakers become the favorites to win the NBA title, resting as the hallway-rival Clippers crack as usual under pressure. Giannis is gone. Kawhi might be next. After all this time in confinement, think LeBron isn’t smelling the weirdest championship of his or any other lifetime?
“I understand the Laker faithful and what they felt or were going through over the last decade of not being in the postseason, or not competing for championships,” James said. “I took that responsibility as well. I’m happy I’m able to do a little bit and be a part of it.’’ Notice his humility when he’s in control.
Brady will be happy to survive his 44th year on Earth in one piece. He threw two interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked three times in a 34-23 loss to the Saints, and already, we hear Camp Belichick declaring victory — Brady was the product of the New England system and needed Belichick more than vice versa. It’s too early for all that, but so far, Newton — mobility! — owns one more victory in 2020 than the toast of Tompa Bay.
One of Brady’s picks went for a touchdown. The Bucs could have kept James Winston to do that. And if Brady thought Belichick was gruff at times, his new coach, Bruce Arians, blamed him for both interceptions.
“Poor execution. I made some bad, terrible turnovers,’’ Brady said. “I’ve obviously got to do a lot better job. There’s no excuses. We’ve got to clean that up for next week.’’
And we’ll see him, at home against Carolina, on Fox.
The same can’t be said for the anthem, which, at the moment, is much more important to the national condition than Tom Brady’s arm strength.
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.