The first time a media boss asked me to use Twitter, I said, “What kind of noise can anyone make in 140 characters?’’ Obviously, I underestimated the power of microblogging and the enablement of any idiot to self-publish. That includes idiots in sports media, who derive cheap thrills from trying to be funny when, if they truly were funny, they’d be professional comedians and not sports media people.
When Chicago radio caveman Dan McNeil lost his mind and his job — and, most likely, his career — by comparing the outfit of ESPN’s Maria Taylor to that of a porn awards host, it created a moment of reckoning for the industry. Should executives continue encouraging on-air personalities to splash thoughts across social media because of a presumed formula (followers become listeners who feed ratings)? Or should bosses finally apply common sense: Why risk inflammatory tweets that prompt firings or suspensions and bring damaging corporate publicity when hosts could follow the golden rule of opinion-making?
Save it for the show!
That’s what I decided to do. After years of assuming my every thought about sports and life should be shared immediately, via that bird, I realized the daily churn was juvenile, dumb and counterproductive. Why not simply utilize Twitter as a convenient way to post my best daily work — columns, podcasts, appearances on other platforms — and restrict my observations about the world only to those vehicles? If a company is paying handsome or even homely salaries to broadcasters or writers, they should devote every morsel of creativity and brainpower to their gigs, not saving stuff for 9:52 p.m. after a second glass of red wine. Imagine Aaron Rodgers withholding two or three plays during a game, then running them later in his backyard.
I became the Marie Kondo of social media. I follow only one feed, a Los Angeles radio station that used to give away free tickets to music shows. My batch of followers, once ample, shrunk to the current 8,600 — though I still have the blue checkmark that verifies I have “an account of public interest.’’ To read some of the reactions from the Twitter rabbit hole, my strategic numbers decline reflects some sort of deep personal failure and rapid life deterioration that should cause me to “go kill yourself.’’ In truth, it means I’ve graduated from the kids’ sandbox.
If only McNeil and others in the discharged-by-Twitter club had made the same call. Think about it: Possessed by the same urge to insult Taylor on the air, McNeil likely would have been saved, albeit undeservedly, by a producer with a trusty, seven-second-delay dump button.
Social media is a brain suck. You spend too much time consumed with superfluous b.s. and not enough on integral career requisites: outworking, outthinking, outpreparing, outwriting and outbroadcasting the competition. The people who aren’t capable of beating you, honestly and fairly, resort to outsleazing you, such as those who hide behind burner accounts to criticize rivals. I had a “teammate’’ in Chicago who used such an account to smear me in the industry. I’ve sat in press boxes where reporters, paid to watch the game, are cracking wise in group chats. There’s a freelance baseball reporter in the Midwest who has tweeted 275,700 times; maybe if he spent more time breaking news and improving his writing, he’d land a full-time beat job. These people are wasting more energy trying to impress each other instead of the bosses who pay them and the consumers who read, watch and listen to them.
So, why tweet? I thought it was a way to personally engage with an audience, but when you’ve had a high-powered career of voicing strong opinions via a big-city newspaper column, a daily ESPN debate show and numerous radio hosting roles, many folks don’t want to engage. They want to exact revenge for something you’ve said or written, or perhaps threaten to gouge your eyes. Sure, bosses like social-media numbers, but at what point does it become a zero-sum game? As for a host’s contention that he or she should have freedom of speech, an employer should own the right to protect a brand from erosion or, in McNeil’s case, sabotage.
The entire tweeting exercise is phony, pumping a device with furious thumbs and fingers when being social is best experienced via face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. Even if you mean well, it often doesn’t end well. Every so often, I’d use Twitter to critique fine sports-media efforts and, occasionally, efforts that reeked. What was I thinking? One day, I wondered why a fledgling site that broke a major story — FanRag Sports — didn’t realize “Rag’’ is a derogatory term in the publishing world; I was attacked by 2,000 Rag-dolls in four hours, which didn’t prevent the site from shutting down two years later. The maulings were nastier when I reminded the Twittersphere that the founder of Barstool Sports launched his career by publishing nude photos of Tom Brady’s then-toddler son; the Stoolies bombed my podcast page with 3,200 poor ratings.
In San Francisco, I hadn’t even started a columnist/editor gig when the editor-in-chief of a rival news outlet, who should have known better, wrote a derogatory (and legally inaccurate) tweet about me. I didn’t respond — and one of her editors expressed regrets to me for her actions. But a year later, when our operation ran out of sufficient resources to continue a competitive sports section and I was heading back to L.A., I decided to tweet what I thought of her general job performance. Naturally, a crap website wrongly assumed I was fired for the posting, but such are the dangers of tweeting; there is no context from even an hour earlier, much less a year earlier. (The editor-in-chief no longer is there.) Later, in the same market, I asked why a grown man would go through life as the “Bay Area Sports Guy’’ when he has a given birth name. So I used Twitter to have him make imaginary tour stops at various towns in the region — such as, “Bay Area Sports Guy spotted in Fremont.’’ Hey, I was bored. These days, he actually goes by his given name at The Athletic, though I can’t recall what it is because I’ll always know him as this Sports Guy.
Then we had Scott Van Pelt Night. I’ve never been a fan of his brown-nosing of sports figures and overgrown-bro-dude act — the man is 54 years old — and during one particular show, he was more into a partying vibe than delivering the news I’d wanted from that day. So I tweeted my dismay, asking why “SportsCenter’’ at the time was missing the sensibilities and gravitas of the “30 For 30’’ documentary series. He Van-pelted me with a low-brow, ignorant tweet, I fired back with a meaty shot or two, and goodness gracious, I was in a Twitter war!
I’d like to think that episode was partially responsible for the improved, sharper-focused and more professional “SportsCenter’’ we see today. Which leads to my point. Why take to Twitter when the more effective and dignified vehicle would be a site such as, well, Barrett Sports Media, where I mix sports media criticism with sports columns every week?
Since 2018, my Twitter account has consisted primarily of columns, podcasts and show appearances. When I have something to say, my thoughts are confined to those platforms. Under my Twitter avatar, where I’m allowed to briefly describe who I am and what I’ve done, I conclude the word block thusly:
Best Life. Real.
Those descriptions were made possible only by getting out of the Twitter gutter, leaving the ants to march on without me.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.