The Tampa Bay Rays play ball the way America should operate. They maximize the mind and shun the ego. They won’t suffer cheats or fat cats. They waste no money, seeking efficiency by passing along their stealth DNA to identified castoffs, homegrown talent and modest free agents. They don’t bully with exit velocity, preferring finesse and earthy methods not common in a homer-or-whiff era: airtight pitching, circus catches, scratch-and-sniff run invention and deep preparation.
They are seen but not heard. The pandemic doesn’t faze them because they’re used to almost no one watching them, stuck inside a dated dome in a sleepy, forgotten town that still needs a state attached to the dateline. You inspect them for nine innings and wonder how in the hell they won the game. And even if you follow sports fairly closely, I bet you can’t name five of their players without Googling and might not know who manages them.
Yet here they are, just the small-revenue, no-pretense franchise around which this nation can rally. Having eliminated the haughty Yankees and their bulging payroll and needing one more win to purge the scandalous Astros and their unrepentant smugness, the Rays are stalking the World Series. If you don’t care, ask why you’d prefer football when the NFL and major college conferences are losing to COVID-19, to the point Nick Saban, arguably the greatest of college coaches, contracted the virus. The Rays are anything but a fluke, winners of 17 of their last 22. And after Houston star Jose Altuve struggled with a case of the throwing yips in the American League championship series, you wonder if this is the work of the baseball gods, exacting karma and justice that benefited the type of smart, honest, humble, industrious team appreciate by the purists.
“We have guys that play the game the right way,” said the acrobatic centerfielder, Kevin Kiermaier, the one player you might know. “We don’t have a whole lot of household names, but we have plenty of well-above-average major-league players in our clubhouse. We know we can play, and we are thriving on the big stage.”
If nothing else in this disjointed season, October is providing fresh material for viewers who are too immersed in pre-election drama to watch sports. The Rays are worth watching. The Dodgers would be, too, if they’re finally serious about winning a championship for the first time in 32 years. But even after dropping a 15-spot on Atlanta, we still aren’t sure, their fate again dependent on the health and performance of Clayton Kershaw, whose tragi-dramas are as predictable as Halloween. Are they back on track? Or are they setting up their fans for more misery? Besides, America doesn’t want to see Los Angeles — a place it can’t stand anyway — win a World Series and NBA Finals in the same month. It feels right that an unassuming spot such as Tampa Bay might claim a pandemic double, the Rays possibly following the NHL’s Lightning while, over at the Buccaneers facility, Tom Brady is still holding up four fingers and pleading for another down. The people won’t riot in St. Petersburg, Fla., the way the clowns did the other night in L.A. That wouldn’t fit the pervasive aesthetic: the Rays’ Ways.
Who cares if Fox Sports is dying about a likely Series between the Rays and Braves? So what if the games could be played in a peanut field on the Florida-Georgia line? The Rays feast on their arcane identity, thrilled to have buried a Yankees behemoth described as TV’s “golden child” by reliever Pete Fairbanks. Was he wrong?
“We may as well ruin their day up in Connecticut,” he said, referring to ESPN. “We’re fine with it. We love it. We’re a good club, and we’re trying to go out there and win no matter how big the market is for the team we’re playing across.”
Hopefully, viewers will abandon marquee bias and give the Rays a shot. They are a welcome changeup in a sport that could use the antithesis of big-city arrogance and blueblood wealth. Unlike the Yankees and Dodgers, they don’t have the financial freedom and market size to throw $324 million at Gerrit Cole or commit $365 million to Mookie Betts for 12 seasons. This has been the story in Tampa Bay forever: a franchise hamstrung by local politics that prevent a deal for a new ballpark, forcing the Rays to explore playing half-seasons in Montreal as a two-nation franchise while stuck with the usual abysmal crowds in dismal Tropicana Field. Only two MLB bottom-feeders, the Orioles and Pirates, had lower payrolls this season, and in recent seasons, the Rays have been dead last. Instead of succumbing to a plebeian baseball status, they have refused to settle. They are convinced that their mantra of outworking and out-strategizing the competition is failsafe, with no better proof than their record in one-run games: 15-5.
“Oh, I feel we have it. And I think the guys in our clubhouse feel we have it — that knack,” said manager Kevin Cash, someone else with whom we’re beginning to familiarize ourselves. “The one thing you learn with our club is, we’re in a lot of tight ball games. And tight ball games are going to teach you — or you’re going to have to teach yourself — how to win those. And that’s mistake-free. Playing clean, doing things that just don’t allow the extra 90 feet or the extra baserunner. … There’s no margin for error. And I think our guys take that approach every night when they take the field. Hopefully, it’s relentless. We show that we can do it in all facets of the game.”
“We want to be that complete team,” Kiermaier said. “We want to be able to hit, pitch, play defense, run the bases, do it all. I think we’re pretty close to all those at the elite level.”
So how did they get here?
Al Gorithm got them here. That is my hybrid nickname for the analytics geekery that took over baseball front offices years ago, but the Rays are the true “Ivy Leaguers” — as Alex Rodriguez grudgingly calls them — who have mastered the art of accomplishing the most with the least by being smarter than the pack. Major-market franchises have poached Tampa Bay for executives and managers, but here’s where the success story turns fascinating. Andrew Friedman leaves for the Dodgers, with their unlimited resources, and keeps falling short. Chaim Bloom leaves for the Red Sox, helps the high-heeled owners downsize by trading Betts and dumping other big salaries — and has been targeted by a tough New England crowd as a small-timer. Joe Maddon left the dugout for Chicago, where he won the unthinkable World Series with the Cubs, then was fired before landing in Anaheim, where his first season was another disastrous waste of Mike Trout’s prime.
Meanwhile, inside a 1989-built relic that looks like a Campbell’s soup can with its lid caved in, the same constants simply carry on — owner Stuart Sternberg, top executives Matt Silverman and Brian Auld — while Cash arguably is an upgrade over Maddon as baseball boss Erik Neander continues the work of Friedman and Bloom. We’ve seen other franchises with self-styled blueprints, from the Cardinals to the Dodgers to wherever Theo Epstein works, but the Rays’ Ways have been remarkably sustainable. This is about more than hatching trends such as an opener to replace the traditional starting pitcher and defensive shifts that drive us nuts but work within the Cash machine. This is about still using scouts — remember them? — to do investigative legwork on potential acquisitions and make sure a player’s character translates to winning. Notice how the Rays deftly unearth and project specific players for their system, don’t give up much for them, then optimize them once in uniform. That’s why the Yankees and Dodgers are seething. They spend for the Lamborghinis and Bugattis when the Rays are getting to the finish line first with Audis and even a few Kias.
“We know we have enough information about how those players can match on the field,” Cash told ESPN, “but how do they match in the clubhouse?”
“Our front office, they understand our formula,” Kiermaier said. “If you’re going to sit here and bring in all these great pitchers, acquire guys through the minor leagues and through trades, you’ve got to have the proper guys to play behind them. We have the perfect roster for just that.”
Their best everyday player, Kiermaier was drafted in the 31st round. MVP candidate Brandon Lowe was a third-round selection. Their Cy Young Award pitcher, Blake Snell, was a first-round smash hit. Otherwise, this is cutting-and-pasting as an art form. Mike Brosseau, the Yankee killer, was undrafted. Consider the shrewd trades: 6-foot-8 ace Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows arrived in a deal for Chris Archer, who has lost his way in Pittsburgh and missed 2020 after arm surgery; Willy Adames came in a three-way deal involving David Price, Yandy Diaz arrived in another three-way. While the Yankees were throwing the Bank of America at Cole, the Rays were signing playoff-seasoned Charlie Morton for two years and $30 million. What looked like minor pickups became finds — Joey Wendle, Ryan Yarbrough, Nick Anderson, Ji-Man Choi out of South Korea, Yoshi Tsutsugo out of Japan.
But three startling maneuvers have defined the Rays this postseason. When the Cardinals deemed Randy Arozarena expendable after he filmed a clubhouse speech by manager Mike Shildt, the Rays gladly absorbed him — and watched Arozarena become Mr. October after a quarantine period with COVID-19. When productive outfielder Tommy Pham blasted the lack of fan support, the Rays shipped him to the Padres for Hunter Renfroe, who has been a better culture fit while Pham was hospitalized in San Diego this week after being stabbed outside a strip club — definitely not one of the Rays’ Ways. And Manuel Margot? You know, the right fielder who dominated Game 2 of the ALCS with a three-run homer and a tumbling catch over a right-field railing that left him sprawled on a concrete aisle in his former home, Petco Park? He arrived last offseason for reliever Emilio Pagan and now is the inspiration for a t-shirt — “I’m good! I’m good’’ — that quotes him when his teammates rushed over to make sure he was OK, bleeding leg and all. Margot could have quit on the play. He has experienced a difficult year, after all: his father’s coronavirus-related death in the Dominican Republic and a rental car that “exploded” in Florida — his word — with his family inside, requiring bystanders to rescue his three children. “Luckily, I’m able to tell you guys about it,” he said.
So what’s a little scrape in the first of numerous spectacular catches that symbolized the ALCS? “He sold out,” Morton said. “Those guys are all in for each other and they put their bodies on the line. They’ve been doing that all year.”
Often, the Rays are outhit. Cash changes the batting order and lineup so often, he’s out of ink. You’d think the Braves or Dodgers would overwhelm them with their murderous lineups, but that’s what the Yankees and Astros thought. Whoever prevails in the National League Championship Series, the World Series won’t pull America from the next haywire presidential debate and all the accompanying cable news prattle. Like all sports leagues in 2020, NFL included, the ratings will crater and only the diehards and a few thousand fans — masked and otherwise in the venerable baseball hub that is Arlington, Texas — will be participating.
It’s just as well. No one knows who the Rays are or why they’re here, except those of us who appreciate minimalism. They are the Marie Kondos of sports, and if you aren’t sure what that means, you shouldn’t be watching anyway.
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.
In Defense Of Colin Cowherd
“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”
I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.
Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.
Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.
Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?
A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.
That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.
The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.
Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!
This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).
“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.
On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.
Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.
You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?
It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.
Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?
I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.
School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.
Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…
Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.
“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman. “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”
Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.
Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.
This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.
She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.
“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”
Waldman has also changed the industry.
She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.
Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.
“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”
Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.
For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.
“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”
There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.
Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.
It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.
“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”
Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.
And many of these people were co-workers.
“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman.
It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.
She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.
“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t. You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”
There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.
“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”
While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.
The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88. I just wish he were here.”
Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.
Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.
“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.
“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports. You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming. I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”
And made it she did.
And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.
“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman.
Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.
“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.
She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.
“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer. That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”
And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.
But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.
Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.
“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women. I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.”
During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.
But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?
“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”
To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words
“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “
For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.
If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.
So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.
Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.
Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.
Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.
As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.
Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.
When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.
On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.
You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.
Pot, meet kettle.
I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.
Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.
And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.