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You Only Have To Worry About Cancel Culture If You Aren’t Worth The Fight

“Like everything else in the American business world, the act of getting cancelled is a market response.”

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Last week felt like one long discussion about the evil effects of cancel culture. First it was former MMA fighter turned actress Gina Carano. She was fired from her role on The Mandalorian after posting some questionable opinions. I’m a Star Wars nerd, so I made a point to know exactly what was said that was so objectionable, and aside from one tweet misrepresenting the Holocaust as something that was “just like today” and another insinuating the January 6 raid on the US Capitol was justified, Carano’s offending posts were largely just bad jokes and conspiracy theories only the stupidest in Q’s ranks would entertain.

Image result for cara dune

Then Friday night came word that Chris Doyle had resigned from the role he was recently given with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Urban Meyer hired Doyle despite a long list of accusations against him from his time at Iowa. It started with verbally abusing players and ended with accusations that he was an unapologetic racist. Urban Meyer defended Doyle at first, but by the end of the week, the fight was done and Doyle was gone.

We can bemoan cancel culture if you want. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is all these two moves were about. But is that the truth? Is cancel culture even a real thing? 

Culture, any culture anywhere, is ever-evolving. What was acceptable to one generation isn’t to another. What yesterday was “harmless fun” or “boys being boys” is looked at with more scrupulous eyes today. That isn’t a bad thing.

Sure, that can be a tough road to navigate, but in a business where we talk for a living, doesn’t it make sense to understand what the line is now and make educated choices about your words and which hills are worth dying on? Doesn’t it make sense to pay attention to what the new norms are for your audience? It doesn’t mean you can’t take controversial stances. You just have to be aware of what is unpopular versus what is unforgivable.

While I’ve never really been one to dwell on cancel culture and its effects on America, I saw a video on Friday that totally reframed the argument for me. People don’t get cancelled just because they said something stupid and offensive. They get cancelled because they said or did something offensive and they are not valuable enough for their current or future employers to weather the storm that will inevitably die down.

As a fighter, Gina Carano fought just eight times, and not at all in the last 11 years. As an actress, she has been in eleven movies and two scripted TV shows. You’ve heard of a total of 3 of them. Gina Carano has name recognition. She doesn’t bring irreplaceable value to anything she does. Even in the case of The Mandalorian, her character’s story arc was pretty much done. There was no reason Disney had to think she might be worth the headache.

Chris Doyle is a strength coach. You can find a replacement at any athletic program in the country. The position he was hired to fill in Jacksonville was some made up bullshit title, “Director of Sports Performance”. It was Urban Meyer trying to help a buddy out. I guarantee it is a role that doesn’t even exist after the weekend.

The video I mentioned earlier featured Dave Chappelle. Whether you like the guy or not, you have to admit that he is an absolute legend in the stand up comedy world and that he is a guy people with money look at and say “he is worth it.” 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CLLdODIHcmW/

In the video, Chappelle says some objectionable stuff, as he often does. Remember, this is a guy that has rightfully been accused of blatant misogyny and transphobia in the past. He also explains why he asked Netflix and CBS/Viacom to take down episodes of Chapelle Show, the sketch show he created for Comedy Central early this century and then walked away from after just two and a half seasons. More importantly, he explains why the two companies obliged his request.

Here’s the thing about Dave Chappelle. Theater owners, Netflix executives, and anyone else he does business with think Dave is worth the fight. Killing Them Softly remains a standup special on par with Eddie Murphy Raw and Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker. Chappelle Show has the misfortune of existing the exact same time as The Sopranos and The Wire. The show didn’t get nearly as many fawning think pieces as its peers, but make no mistake, it is one of the very best TV shows that has ever aired on cable television and it should be remembered along with those giants of its era. A track record like that establishes a loyal audience.

In the first two minutes of the video, Chappelle talks about contracting Covid-19 and seems to insinuate that people staying home more, wearing masks when they go out, and following other precautions are cowards. As someone with a wife that works in a hospital and spent most of the winter coming home in tears, I wasn’t a huge fan of that, but I stuck with the video because I love listening to Dave Chappelle. It’s not just that he is incredibly funny. It’s that he is a great speaker and storyteller. I am a fan. I could look past the stuff that bothers me.

Cancel culture is really two things. It is the public saying that you have done something that it can no longer support, and it is your bosses telling you “sorry, but you aren’t worth it.” The latter is way more consequential than the former.

The broadcaster bemoaning cancel culture is the college football coach railing against the transfer portal or NIL legislation. They aren’t worth being taken seriously because their complaint boils down to not wanting to try harder.

We have seen this before in radio. Phil Zachary, WEEI’s then-market manager stood by Kirk & Callahan despite any number of objections from activists that complained something the duo did was unforgivable. As long as the show was winning ratings battles and staying profitable, the duo were worth the fight to Entercom.

Image result for kirk and callahan

Certainly you can name examples where management did not go to bat for talent, and I won’t argue with you. The fact of the matter is that “getting cancelled” isn’t something unruly mobs of people on Twitter or TikTok make happen. 

Like everything else in the American business world, the act of getting cancelled is a market response. The people actually deciding who loses and keeps their jobs have just done a really really good job of rebranding getting fired as something that isn’t the work of a corporation looking out for its bottom line, but the fault of young people with a different world view from previous generations and a world wide platform thanks to social media.

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 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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