For some people, football is nothing more than a game. For the McGee family, it is a way of life. Family patriarch Dr. Jerry McGee was a prominent college football official, so his sons Ryan and Sam learned lessons from their father that go beyond the gridiron and can be applied to everyday life.
“The biggest thing I learned from Dad is to take a beat and process what your eyes just saw before making a decision, whether it’s throwing a penalty flag or anything else in life,” Ryan McGee says. “He taught me that it was always better to be accurate than to be first and have made a mistake.”
That lesson has served Ryan McGee well throughout his long and successful career in sports media where his primary focuses are NASCAR and college football. He is currently the co-host of the popular ESPN program Marty & McGee with Marty Smith, but has been involved with a litany of other projects, including The Bottom 10, a podcast, and regular contributions to the SEC Network to name a few. Whether it is as a print or digital journalist or as a radio and TV personality, McGee has diversified himself into many aspects of the industry. No matter the medium, however, he always goes back to lessons learned from his father.
“In everything I do, I just try to be fair,” McGee said. “People may not always agree with what I say or write and that’s ok. My goal is not to have people agree with me or to say something just to get clicks or viewers but to cover a story in a way where people say, ‘I don’t agree with him, but he was thorough, made a logical argument and did it fairly’. ”
Many of those lessons from his father, along with stories and experiences from Jerry McGee’s career are chronicled in a new book, Sidelines and Bloodlines, which Ryan co-wrote with his brother. The forward was penned by Ryan McGee’s ESPN colleague Rece Davis.
“We had a blast writing the book together,” McGee said. “We all lead such busy lives it was just an excuse to sit down with my Dad and my brother, share a pizza and some stories. Between the three of us, we have seven college degrees and I barley have one. My main job was just to write everything down and spell everything correctly.”
Even with the publication of a full length book, McGee says his father still has plenty of stories to tell and lessons to teach.
“Dad will be doing a radio interview and he will tell a story or say something that I have never heard before. I’m like, ‘dang it Dad. Why didn’t you tell me that? It should have been in the book’.”
His father planted the seeds, but McGee’s passion for sports that would eventually bloom into a successful career, were watered in his hometown of Rockingham, North Carolina. Even though he moved a lot due to his dad’s profession as a college administrator, McGee said his love of NASCAR began in the shadows of Rockingham Speedway.
“Marty Smith tells me all the time that I claim so many hometowns, I’m like (Country Music artist) Kenny Chesney. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite team because it seems like I have one no matter where I go,” McGee said.
“But living in Rockingham was everything (for me loving NASCAR). As with most things, everything goes back to Dad. He was in the National Guard in the ‘60’s. He was scrubbing toilets and there was a guy scrubbing toilets next to him whose name was Dave. He claimed to be a race car driver. They got to talking and Dave said that when he came to Rockingham he needed a gas can man and would call him up. Dad did not pay that much attention to it. Five years later, the phone rings and Dave turns out to be Dave Marcus. He is going to be in the Winston Cup and needed a gas can man. I grew up with Dad being a gas can man at the local races. NASCAR was always in the background.”
McGee’s love of college football began similarly.
“We basically grew up on college campuses and with Dad being a college official and administrator, that’s what we grew up talking about around the dinner table. Football was something our family bonded over. We lived in Raleigh when I was around 12 and in the 80’s ACC football was big. We got behind the scenes access and saw the game from a different perspective. We learned football in a completely different way from most people.”
Having a dad as a prominent college official led to many unusual experiences for McGee.
“When he coached our Little League or Pop Warner teams, he never took it easy on the umpires,” McGee said. “They really couldn’t say anything to him because he called the Georgia-Clemson game on National TV the week before. I also learned how to cuss by going to games and listening to people yell at Dad.”
It was that behind the scenes contact with NASCAR and college football, along with his Southern roots, that gave McGee an advantage to start his career.
“I was fresh out of college in 1994, just starting at ESPN,” McGee said. “Jeff Gordon had just won the Brickyard 400, so NASCAR was getting really big. Rece Davis, one producer and I were the only ones from the South. They came to me and said ‘you’re from Rockingham. You must know a lot about NASCAR.’ The truth is, I didn’t know as much as I probably should have, but I knew more than they did. So Rece and I started work on a program, RPM2Nite on ESPN 2.”
McGee’s career mirrors a NASCAR track itself, with a lot of twist and turns. Along with RPM2Nite, McGee became a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine, eventually climbing the ranks to Senior Writer. From 2001-03, McGee made the jump to rival Fox Sports, where he produced Totally NASCAR and then spent five more years as the head of the NASCAR Media Group. During that span, McGee brought home a pair of Sports Emmys in 2007 and 2008 while writing the script for Dale (a documentary on the late Dale Earnhardt) in 2007. But ESPN came calling again.
“I’m an ESPN-lifer,” McGee said. “Even when my career took me other places, I was looking for a way to get back in. I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”
McGee credits his longevity to adaptability and his diverse skill set.
“The days of being a one trick pony are over,” he said. “I know many extremely talented writers who are out of work right now because that’s all they do. It’s not a knock on them. That’s just how the industry has changed.”
The perfect example of that change is ESPN The Magazine, which ceased print production in September of 2019.
“I got a little emotional working on that last issue,” McGee said. “I was a little sad but mostly proud of the 20 years of high-quality storytelling we had in every issue. I had a byline in issue # 4 and one in the final issue. I think Rece and I are the only ones still around from the beginning. Working on the magazine was a lot of fun.”
In fact, writing a 2009 magazine article on Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt led McGee to the most memorable experience of his career so far.
“They sent me out to Jamaica just before the Track & Field Word Championships,” McGee said. “I was only supposed to spend one hour with him (Bolt), but I ended up spending three days. This isn’t at some resort. We are way back in the mountains and he is visiting with kids in poverty stricken areas. I am out of touch with everybody. Nobody could get to me.
“While I was there watching Usain Bolt win four events in his home stadium, some other guy named Ryan McGee overdosed at a party in Lake Norman (North Carolina). Word gets out that Ryan McGee of ESPN is dead. Everybody’s calling my phone, but I don’t have a signal. I land at Myrtle Beach when I get back and my phone just goes crazy. I call a friend of mine who works at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway to find out what in the world is going on. He’s like, ‘oh my gosh, you’re alive.’ He runs into the media room and yells, ‘McGee’s alive!!! McGee’s alive!!!’ That was my Paul McCartney moment.”
As much as McGee enjoys reminiscing over memories of ESPN The Magazine, he says it is time to look to the future and he believes the future of sports is bright.
“You know, sports are supposed to be fun,” McGee said. “With the pandemic and the much needed calls for social change coming from athletes, people seem to have forgotten that. But now that seems to be coming back. People are reaching out to me, giving me ideas or telling me which teams to consider for The Bottom 10. They are having fun with it and that’s good to see.”
“Fun” is the driving force behind the success of Marty & McGee, along with the chemistry between the two co-hosts.
“Marty & McGee was born out of a road trip we took to Martinsville for a race. We have the same sense of humor and we were just talking and giggling over nothing,” McGee said “I thought people might actually enjoy hearing this and that’s what we pitched to ESPN. After every show, we look at each other like ‘can you believe we got to talk about that and have that much fun on National TV and people watched it?’ ”
McGee says Smith’s energy and enthusiasm in particular, are what connects with viewers.
“I feel like I have known Marty Smith my whole life,” McGee said. “We can’t even remember the first time we met. What you see is what you get. People ask me all the time if he is really like that in real life. Yes, he is. He is authentic. The same energy he has on the show, he also has at four o’clock in the morning visiting schools that have made the NCAA Tournament, and in a text message at 10 pm. Sometimes it’s intense, but it is totally genuine.”
McGee also understands that it is his duty to strike a delicate balance, having fun, while at the same time reporting and offering commentary on some serious issues.
“Some of the things like NASCAR allowing drivers to kneel during the National Anthem or the other drivers supporting Bubba Wallace, that’s news. You cover it just like anything else,” McGee said. “The column I wrote about NASCAR banning the Confederate Flag, that’s my opinion. I didn’t write it to get clicks or to popular. I wrote it because it was time for the flag to go. I knew some people would not be happy about it and that’s fine, but it wound up being one of the most read pieces I had ever written.”
McGee adds that the removal of the flag has opened NASCAR to a new demographic and believes the sport can still stay true to its Southern roots.
“Michael Jordan doesn’t get involved with NASCAR without that flag coming down or Bubba Wallace being a driver,” he said. “For years, Brad Daugherty tried to get his friends to come to races. They wouldn’t because they assumed certain things that are not true about NASCAR because of the flag. Now they are giving it a chance and they are falling in love with it. The sport is growing. A lot of these new fans are as Southern as Grits and Sweet Tea, so I don’t think it will lose its Southern roots or appeal by welcoming new fans. I’m excited for the future of NASCAR.”
As for McGee’s future, he has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
“I’m going to keep going as long as I can. I love what I do,” he said. “I want to keep doing Marty & McGee for sure. When I do retire, I want people to be able to say two things about my work – that it was fun and that it was fair. That’s the goal with everything I do and I hope that’s what people remember about my work.”
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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