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Sports Helped Biden, But Covid Reckoning Awaits

Unlike Trump, the President-elect vows to attack the coronavirus with a national mask order, which could jeopardize reckless leagues in 2021 until — or, if — a promising vaccine is ready.

Jay Mariotti

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We interrupt the celebrations inside the sports world — activism over Trumpism — for an urgent message from the President-elect. He vows to impose a nationwide “mandate’’ attacking COVID-19, which continues to ransack America but is viewed as just another nagging injury by pro and college football while being pooh-poohed, rather stunningly, by a baseball boss who didn’t punish Justin Turner as a potential superspreader.     

Pfizer says it has developed a promising COVID vaccine. The President-elect is hopeful, as we all are. He also is cautious, as we all should be.     

“Masks matter,’’ said Joe Biden, who wears one and wants everyone else to do the same. “It saves lives. It prevents the spread of the disease. All of the tough guys say: `I’m not wearing a mask. I’m not afraid.’ Well, be afraid for your husband, your wife, your son, your daughter, your neighbor or your co-worker. That’s who you’re protecting having this mask on. And it should be viewed as a patriotic duty to protect those around you. Anybody who contracts the virus by saying masks don’t matter, or social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them.’’

Biden reiterates call for nationwide mask mandates at second event with  Harris

Meaning, nothing has changed. “Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing and other measures to keep themselves safe into the next year,’’ Biden said Monday.

Got it, sports?

Probably not.

It was President Trump, remember, who encouraged and enabled the resumption of sports this year. He did so while mocking and dismissing the coronavirus, allowing leagues and conferences to take life-and-death risks in bulldozing and landmine-jumping through seasons. Schedules played inside Bubbles worked; schedules played outside Bubbles haven’t worked. The primary reason for the failures and outbreaks: Athletes and coaches haven’t obeyed protocols such as, oh, wearing masks. And if positive tests wreaked havoc, as they have in football, c’est la vie — even if means COVID chaos and major fines for NFL teams and scheduling chaos in the college game, such as the infection that sidelined the presumptive No. 1 draft pick, Trevor Lawrence, for the season’s best collision to date.

Without Lawrence, Clemson lost to Notre Dame in double-overtime, a thriller that shook the echoes hours after Biden and Kamala Harris spoke to the nation, this as people rejoiced on city streets coast to coast. America felt alive … until thousands of students and players’ family members — yes, thousands — rushed the field in South Bend, all packed together, some wearing masks and some not. How could this happen? I forgot. The Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, is a Trump supporter who tested positive at a Trump event and evidently doesn’t care much about a campus outbreak. Even when the public-address announcer repeatedly asked the throng to leave, everyone remained long enough … for a spread. Coach Brian Kelly, whose program has been rocked by the virus, had warned his players, “When we win this thing, the fans are going to storm the field. With COVID being as it is, we’ve got to get off the field and to the tunnel.”

Hypocritical Tweets Surface About Notre Dame's Field Storm

The players were slow to get through the green mob anyway. “I beat `em all to the tunnel,” Kelly said, “so that didn’t go over so good.”

Not that the players cared. “That was a cool experience for me, everybody rushing down,” said the star running back, Kyren Williams.

Oh, but there’s more irresponsible COVID news from the weekend. Only hours after MLB pardoned Turner for his self-indulging escape from COVID isolation following Game 6 — so he could celebrate a World Series title with teammates — nine members of the Dodgers organization have subsequently tested positive. If we can believe the Dodgers, five weren’t part of the MLB Bubble in Texas. The other four? The team and league haven’t commented, which smacks of a cover-up attempt.

The flouting, the recklessness, the megalomaniacal delusion that sports is bigger than the virus and can plow through it to recoup TV billions — this madness likely won’t be happening when Biden takes over as the 46th U.S. President. That assumes it isn’t an empty promise, which wouldn’t be a good way to start, and that he won’t back down to those who say a mask “mandate” isn’t legal. Biden already has formed a 12-person coronavirus task force, saying during his Saturday night speech, “We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality or relish life’s most previous moments … until we get it under control. That plan will be built on bedrock science and constructed out of compassion and concern. I will spare no effort — none — or any commitment to turn around this pandemic.”

If he’s this determined, tell me: How will sports carry on in 2021, when leagues are hellbent to play outside protective lockdowns that allowed the NBA, NHL, WNBA and, eventually, MLB to survive in 2020? How will Biden win this war when too many human beings associated with sports aren’t responsible enough to wear facial coverings and maintain distancing? And when joyful Democrats, honking car horns and waving index fingers, weren’t wearing masks themselves?

In a pro-mask, no-vaccine, cases-surging, bleak-winter reality, sports could be reduced to intermittence or completely shut down. Did the anti-Trumpers in the industry ponder that when lobbying hard for Biden? Unlike Trump, who wanted games as weekend entertainment while doing favors for his owner pals, Biden will be judged early on how his virus directives impact states and municipalities. If he’s strict about banning fans from ballparks, there won’t be an MLB season. If he doesn’t want games played outside Bubbles in local arenas, there probably won’t be NBA and NHL seasons. If he objects to the rampant infections ravaging the NFL and college landscapes, how will football proceed? Trump cared about the multi-billion-dollar sports machine and its impact on the economy.

Biden prioritizes health over wealth, as he should.

Certainly, in retrospect, sports played a role in this transfer of power. If the vigorous efforts of LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and their partners in activism didn’t exactly lead to a repudiation of Trumpism — see the President’s 71 million votes and absence of a Democratic “blue wave” — their tireless campaign against Trump did achieve a purpose.

They helped run him out of office.

Without them, he might be headed to a second term.

It didn’t take long for James to toast his second historic victory in four weeks. In a social media blitz, he retweeted a GIF of Trump’s “You’re Fired!” catchphrase and posted a photo of his famous 2016 Finals block with superimposed images: Biden’s face onto his, Trump’s face onto Andre Iguodala’s. When James and fellow NBA players agreed to complete the season in isolation, they demanded the league raise voting awareness and open up arenas as election sites — including State Farm Arena in Atlanta, where 40,000 cast ballots in a key swing state for Biden. Truly, no one can say sports activism efforts weren’t influential.

“More Than A Vote!” James kept imploring on social media, on t-shirts and inside the Bubble. As 2020 morphed into an extraordinary year, he targeted an unprecedented double whammy: Win an NBA title and take down Trump in one swoop. To do so, he emphasized the lost concept of getting out and voting, particularly in inner cities, recruiting athletes to promote the cause. James grew weak at one point, almost quitting on the league and the Lakers in the restrictive environment of Florida before the intervention of a Biden guy — you’ve heard of Barack Obama — persuaded him to stick around. He realized the larger mission required his presence. On Election Eve, knowing Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she lacked urban support in major cities, James messaged his 74 million followers to vote for Biden, writing, “One more day. Please!! We need EVERYTHING to change and it all starts tomorrow.”

As Biden finally pulled away, in a race somehow more mind-numbing and bananas than the last one, James was responding with clapping emojis to a tweet detailing Biden’s success with Black voters in cities within decisive battleground states: Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Was the increased turnout and the more monumental development — the highest voter rate for a U.S. presidential election since 1900 — all about the urgings of sports figures? No. But they certainly impacted the stir. People noticed when athletes and coaches embraced “Black Lives Matter” as a historic power mission after the police-brutality death of George Floyd … when NBA teams boycotted games after the police shooting of Jacob Blake … when Patrick Mahomes and other Black NFL stars taped a video that prompted a philosophical 180 from commissioner Roger Goodell, who admitted the league was wrong to ignore longstanding racial injustice concerns.

In an election that needed a bump to make a difference, sports may have been the impetus to dethrone Trump, if not white supremacy, which is still alive and not well. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, America must re-start somewhere, even with a new president who might let the economy slip into chaos and, at 78, can’t get the names of his grandchildren straight. If Biden doesn’t finish his term, Harris will. She is a woman of color who lives in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, where James owns two homes. Connect the dots.

Generally, I don’t endorse sports figures as political hell-raisers. The Kaepernick kneeling campaign was proud and powerful, but his supporters conveniently ignored that his once-estimable quarterbacking skills had waned — and the protests began to drag. There were times during the Trump presidency when relentless, top-this activism interfered with the fun and escapism of the games, such as when the esteemed NBA coach, Gregg Popovich, endlessly unloaded on Trump as a “soulless coward” and “a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it.” His disciple, Steve Kerr, would chime in, and the messages grew stale and orchestrated. Another title team rejects the White House invitation? Yawn. But as America moved toward Election Day, the Kaepernick influence took effect. It was difficult to ignore what Trump had said in 2017 as NFL players continued to kneel: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, `Get that son of a (expletive) off the field right now. Out. He’s fired!’ “

He also engaged in a needless Twitter rift with U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe, who said she wouldn’t visit the White House if her team won the World Cup. Trump should have wished her luck. Instead, he wrote, “WIN first before she TALKS!” She won, and Trump was a perceptive loser again. This came after Trump, with more dumb timing, mocked James’ intelligence after he opened his “I Promise” school, which came after James refused to stay with his team at the Trump SoHo in New York. But unlike other loose cannons, James went months without another firebomb. He waited to pick his spots … and the summer and fall of 2020 were his windows, especially amid Trump’s limp response to COVID-19.

A change in the White House, of course, doesn’t mean the end of Trump. His supporters will grow even louder, and their influence continues to be an ominous enemy for a sports world damaged by his lax approach to COVID. Significantly fewer people are watching events this year. If the pandemic is the big reason, a recent MKTG-SRI survey showed 33 percent are tuning out because “sports have become too political.” The NBA ratings collapse can be attributed, in part, to predominant “BLACK LIVES MATTER” messages on the Disney World courts. And it’s telling that commissioner Adam Silver is finished with the signage, telling ESPN, “(T)hose messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor. And I understand those people who are saying `I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game.’ “

The athletes, emboldened by their Trump purge, will want their voices to be louder in the future. But the future of sports is too uncertain, with COVID blazing uncontrollably, to let activism carry the same weight. The entire industry, athletes included, should focus on helping Biden confront the virus and lifting sports from its current niche space. Just because there’s a new president doesn’t mean people will flock back to sports, with 20 million Americans still unemployed as a nation pivots. Responsible as Silver and other commissioners have been in handling the virus, Goodell and MLB’s Rob Manfred continue to be negligent. It’s appalling how Manfred, after initially condemning Turner, flipped when no one was watching him and issued no penalty.

“In retrospect,” Manfred said in a statement, “a security person should have been assigned to monitor Mr. Turner when he was asked to isolate, and Mr. Turner should have been transported from the stadium to the hotel more promptly.”

Why did MLB suddenly take the p.r. hit, allowing Turner to conveniently apologize in the same statement? Because Manfred and the owners, who’ve pocketed $1 billion for getting through October, don’t really care anymore what happened that night. Never mind that the L.A. County Department of Public Health said nine people associated with the Dodgers — and at least one family member — had tested positive. Never mind that the Dodgers, thrilled to finally have won the big trophy, have vanished.

Such is the sham of sports and the coronavirus. “You know,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Lawrence, “if he was going back to his desk job, he’d be right back to work on Thursday.” Remind Dabo that Trump lost.

LeBron and the rabble-rousers refused to shut up and dribble. They won the biggest championship of their lives, in fact. “There are so many bigger things and so many greater things that’s going on,” James said. “If you can make an impact, if you can make a change, if you can have a vision, it just helps out so much, not only in the community but all over the world. Where do we go from here? We don’t stop, obviously.”

How LeBron James Evolved Into a Social Activist and Became Donald Trump's  Most Influential Adversary | Complex

Next, the activists must help sports confront the virus. If they can sway a presidential election, they surely can support Biden by making sure their brethren in all leagues are masking up and growing up.

If not, they might not have jobs themselves in 2021.

BSM Writers

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!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

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BSM Writers

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.

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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!”

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BSM Writers

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. “

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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.

Keeping up?

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.

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