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Lavar Arrington Is More Enlightened Now

“It’s okay to talk crazy about something that another athlete or another person is going through, but to be able to do it with yourself, to me that is the differentiator.”

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Lavar Arrington

LaVar Arrington was once a self-described pissed off dude. He was an angry radio host in Washington DC. That is no longer the case. Arrington now has a different mindset as the driver of FOX Sports Radio’s brand new show Up On Game. He has a much more positive approach and looks for angles that are solution driven. Along with co-hosts Plaxico Burress and TJ Houshmandzadeh, the new show airs on Saturdays from 10am-noon PT.

Don’t mistake Arrington’s positivity for anything hokey or boring; the guy is flat-out interesting. The Pittsburgh native makes many compelling points in our conversation below. He offers opinions on cancel culture and the firing of his former radio partner Chad Dukes.

Arrington doesn’t bite his tongue when it comes to show babysitters in radio either. He also states which big name in the radio industry offered him a great piece of advice. As an added bonus, the former No. 2 overall pick uses the phrase “stretch him out”, which is now easily my favorite phrase of all time. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Tell me about Up On Game; what makes you so excited about doing the show with TJ and Plax?

LaVar Arrington: I’ve always had this idea that sports media in general has become too driven by controversy and debate. It’s just kind of taken on more of a Geraldo, drama type of feel when you’re talking about athletes and sports. I felt like there was a tremendous gap, a void so to speak, of kind of addressing the market of the youth and sports parents.

I went to Don Martin and Scott Shapiro and was like listen, I’ve got two guys that have stories to tell. They have experiences and these experiences are much like mine in the sense that we take pride in helping the next group of guys coming. We all mentor and teach and help younger guys. I just thought it would be an amazing opportunity to introduce a new way of looking at and approaching athletes in sports, which was solution-based and positive-based and not debating, just talking sports and giving real viewpoints. Just like the name of the show; putting people up on game as to why something happened from our perspective, how you could avoid it, or how you could do better moving forward. Just a breath of fresh air if I could use any type of way of describing it.

BN: How far back do you go with TJ and Plaxico? 

LA: A funny story about TJ is I never met TJ as a player. When we retired, I came out here to do NFL Network. Me and Antonio Pierce are really close and so I ended up coaching at Long Beach Poly. TJ coached at Long Beach too so we met each other and have been tight ever since. That’s got to be going on five years ago now that we met and started being cool.

He’s the reason why I got back into media. I was out of media after I left the network. He told me, he was like man I do these spots over at FS1. He was like you need to come over to FS1 and see what’s going on. I did, man. Charlie Dixon and those guys, Jason Whitlock, they ended up giving me an opportunity, Colin, they were all bringing me on their shows.

BN: How about Plaxico? How long have you known him?

LA: I’ve known Plaxico since college. We go way back. We played against each other since college. He went to Michigan State and I went to Penn State. I’ve known Plex for a long time because we’re from the same class. I guess me and TJ are from the same class kinda sorta as well but Plaxico was always a higher-rated dude. I was always a higher-rated dude. So we met in high school, college-type stuff on the circuits.

BN: Were you able to hit either of those guys on the football field?

LA: I don’t even think I played against TJ. As far as Plex, I never got a chance to stretch him out. I would have loved to have had an opportunity to get him. I’ve played against him multiple times and we even ended up being teammates the year before the first Super Bowl in New York.

BN: I like that, stretch him out. [Laughs] Are you guys doing the show remotely right now?

LA: Me and TJ go into the studio and Plex is on the comrex.

BN: How would you describe the way your sports radio style has evolved over the years?

LA: I used to be pissed off and I’m more enlightened now. I always tell people it was rightful for me to be pissed off because I covered the Washington Football Team. After a while, I did five hours of radio and I did it with Chad Dukes. Chad Dukes was mad and like an upset dude. We were just two upset dudes doing radio.

I just got tired of talking about how bad our teams were. Everybody was like he hates his team, this and that, and in a way they were right. I didn’t hate the team; I just didn’t like the owner. But I think it came out in the way that I delivered my information. I know it did listening to myself, just taking inventory and studying my style. There definitely was more anger behind my energy. My evolution has just been really — even when I’m on Speak For Yourself on television — every angle that I take is pretty solution driven and pretty positive even if it was something negative that took place.

BN: What was your reaction to Chad getting fired last month?

LA: I hit him up and I just told him straight up I know you to be an a-hole. I don’t know you to be what they accused you of being. He has a weird sense of humor and a weird sense of how he entertains. That’s why he has such a very dialed in and focused audience. A lot of the things that come from him and the way he sounds at times, it tows the line. It definitely has towed the line and maybe has even stuck a toenail or a toe over the line, but what I’ve learned about radio is that radio is supposed to be a forum where you can communicate how you feel.

I just feel like if it doesn’t go too far, you’re still exercising the right to paint a picture that represents some part of the population that’s out there whether you like it or not. If you got in trouble for what Chad got in trouble for, from what I allegedly hear, there would be no Howard Stern. There would be no Rush Limbaugh. Eventually some of them got hit up, but you’re still talking about some of the most influential heavyweights of radio that would have never gotten an opportunity. They would have been fired because something they said would have offended somebody.

BN: Do you think it’s good that the standards are higher, or do you think it’s constricting to some artists who can’t get away with what they could have before?

LA: Well I don’t make the rules, I play by them. Whether I think it’s right or whether I think it’s wrong, I will say this, I really believe that people should understand the power of what they bring to the table and to put people in a place where they feel as though it’s right for them to look at a certain group of people a certain type of way. If that’s how you’re using your platform, I think it’s dangerous. And I think it’s dangerous more so now than it’s ever been because people have voices. I think it’s dangerous these days because people are more aware and there seems to be more awareness just towards these types of behaviors.

I never realized how chauvinistic the business can be. When Joe Namath said to Suzy Kolber I want to kiss you, could you imagine if he said that today? You know what I mean? Could you imagine in the social climate that we live in today, Joe Namath doing that? He’d be one of the biggest villains. He goes from being beloved to a villain.

I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of what people’s liberties should be in being able to talk about and discuss what they want to talk about and discuss. I just know there is the idea of presenting the different sides. I understand that. Will that get lost in cancel culture? It might.

I think cancel culture is kind of a product of just how connected the world has become through social media. We’ve always had a mob mentality. That just goes back into time. The mob mentality is now on 150,000 steroids. It’s an overkill of steroids with cancel culture and the mob mentality. One influencer says vote for this person, you’re going to vote for that person whether they can do it or whether they can’t. You’re going to vote for him because the cancel culture, the mob mentality, it’s there. An influencer can have you do what they want you to do. That can be great and that can be horrible all at the same time.

Why this show is so important, you just got to put things into the proper perspective and understand that we all have a voice and we all have some things that we have to get off our chests. At times you should be able to get those things off your chest without you always being labeled something. There are a lot of things that I have started to not say in media and in social form because you just don’t know.

BN: When did you initially break into sports radio and why did you want to do it? 

LA: I wanted to do it because I didn’t feel like we, as the athletes, had enough voices representing us the right way. I wanted to get into media and provide a perspective and an angle that was unique to us, the player and the athlete, that really took the time to see what it was and understand it for what it was versus just talking crazy about what somebody is doing.

I’ve always kind of been a part of media even when I played, but I think I started working with Comcast SportsNet, man, I don’t remember, bro. It’s been a long time. It had to have been maybe ‘08 that I started doing stuff with them. Then I think ‘09 was when I went into radio. Whatever year it was that they launched The Fan in DC. They launched it with me as one of the anchor shows. I was the afternoon drive show with Chad.

BN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten, or something that you figured out on your own about doing good sports radio?

LA: When you create the identity of what your show is going to be, you need to live within the identity of what you’ve created. Don’t deviate from the values and just what you want the listener to understand about the identity and the values of the show when they’re listening. People will either agree or disagree but they will invest enough of an emotion to come up with some type of a conclusion.

BN: That’s good, man. Is that what you figured out?

LA: I was actually taught that.

BN: Who taught you that?

LA: Whitlock.

BN: Interesting. What other things has he said or anybody else said that you thought was impactful?

LA: I’ve learned a lot from a lot of guys. Mike Harmon has been super instrumental in my development as well in radio. I co-host with him. I’ve learned a ton from him in terms of just my approach of how to get in and out of segments, how to approach the topics that we’re going to talk about, and just how to prep. Knowing how to not talk over one another or understanding how to present your points.

There’s a very distinctive way of how I approach each topic. Answer the question first. Or if you’re presenting something and you’re the one driving it, make sure that you set the table before you begin to try to eat. Nobody can eat if you don’t set the table. You’ve got to just follow the process, a very strict process, of how to go through your segments depending on if you’re the driver or if you’re a passenger in the studio seat, it doesn’t matter. There’s still a process that you have to follow and I didn’t always know that.

BN: Is this the first time you’ve done a three-man show? 

LA: Radio wise, yeah.

BN: What’s it like for you to get a feel for that setup?

LA: Well I’m the driver of the show so it’s a challenge. But I feel like I’ve done so much radio at this point, I’ve done so much media at this point that I’ve gotten so many reps doing shows with three or four or more guys. I’ve worked with The Junkies at times; I’ve done Speak For Yourself where it’s a panel of four on the set. That’s harder. It’s harder with four men on television than it is three guys on radio. I’ve gotten great reps in terms of understanding how to manage the flow of multiple guys.

I like the challenge of it and it excites me because you have three very strong personalities, three very pronounced personalities. As long as we can manage how we’re moving and directing traffic, it’s going to be amazing radio and I don’t ever see that being an issue.

BN: Besides the positive tone of the show, what are some other things that you think will appeal to listeners?

LA: I would love for people to really take the time to listen to the show. It’s only two hours. It goes by really quickly, but we prep. We do prep calls and everything. Some of the things that happened on the show we hadn’t even discussed. I think that’s the coolness of this show is that you’re going to hear some things — like I didn’t even know that a lot of people attribute the Bengals/Steelers rivalry to when TJ Houshmandzadeh cleaned his spikes off with the Terrible Towel. I didn’t even know that. Jerome Bettis says it on the show. That was the first time I’ve ever heard that. It was the first time I had ever heard how TJ even got ahold of a Terrible Towel.

For me it was like oh my gosh; that’s when I knew we had the potential to be one of the biggest shows in all of sports radio because of the organic approach and the open approach. The one part of it that people should know is that we are not taking a hands-off approach to the vulnerability of what we’ve gone through. It is very in your face. It’s okay to talk crazy about something that another athlete or another person is going through, but to be able to do it with yourself, to me that is the differentiator. You have to be comfortable enough to be in that forum and be able to talk about things that you’ve gone through that you aren’t necessarily proud of.

BN: That makes for good radio, man. How did TJ get the Terrible Towel?

LA: He purchased it off of a fan, man, that had just bought it. He randomly was on the elevator with a Steeler fan that had just bought a Terrible Towel.

BN: Wow, I would love to know who that fan is. That’s a huge offense to Steeler Nation.

LA: And if they didn’t listen to our show, they probably don’t even know that their purchase that day would fatefully lead to the starting of a rivalry between two franchises and two cities.

BN: As far as your future goals, what do you think would make you the happiest going forward?

LA: Well the happiest going forward is just having the opportunity. Don and Scott believing in the concept that I pitched to them, getting behind me, and continuing to teach me and school me up on how it all works has been a tremendous deal. I’m super happy with where we are. I’m definitely poised for us to create a new brand and usher in a new way and looking at former athletes or even current athletes and how we can handle ourselves in media.

Up On Game

It would really make me happy to pioneer. I always say — and no offense to the Mike Harmons and Steve Hartmans who I’ve worked with or even a Chad Dukes — I think there’s something to be said about not having a show babysitter. I’ve always felt like in the past, host or co-host is like a code word for babysit the athlete. There is a place for those types of media personalities. It’s not meant as an attack or a slight on them, everybody has a role to play, but what I’m saying is just maybe there should be some shows out there that don’t have to have a babysitter on the cast.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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