Have you ever watched a movie with the commentary on? I find it fascinating. Actors and directors share stories that add depth to a film. The movie Training Day is one of my favorites. The director of that film, Antoine Fuqua, said something that always stuck with me. Fuqua described the concept of the movie while paraphrasing a quote from Albert Einstein. “The world is a dangerous place to live,” Fuqua referenced. “Not just because of the evil people in it, but because of the people who do nothing about it. That’s what the heart of the movie is all about, that you gotta do something about it.”
Something had to be done about Matt Rowan, a high school basketball announcer in Oklahoma who was caught on an open mic using a racial slur. When a girls basketball team from Norman High School chose to kneel during the national anthem last Thursday, Rowan called them all the N-word. He also added, “F— them, I hope they lose.” The next day Rowan apologized (if you can call it that) while mentioning that he suffers from Type 1 Diabetes and was dealing with spiking sugar levels during the game.
First off, wow. Spiking sugar levels?
Move over “the dog ate my homework,” we have a new leader for all-time worst excuse. Anybody with sense knows that Rowan is a top-shelf jackass for his choice of words and has no business being on the airwaves. My question is what would you do in a similar situation if the mic wasn’t live and racist comments were made off the air? If you heard a broadcaster say something that the public didn’t hear, how would you handle it?
The short answer is that it’s essential to do something. The long answer is more detailed. I believe that it matters what is said exactly. Is this a Class A felony like the N-word, or is it more like a misdemeanor? If the comment is like an old school, five-yard facemask penalty in football for incidental contact, I’m at the very least telling that person, “Bro, you can’t say that.” If the person understands, is sorry, and corrects the mistake, that’s as far as I would take it.
Some might disagree with me. There are people who believe in alerting management immediately when an inappropriate comment is made. That isn’t how life works though. If a friend, family member, or stranger in public says something off-color, you can’t report them to HR. You have to confront them and make sure they understand that their comments are wrong. New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman did a masterful job of this last week. Edelman, who is Jewish, was responding to an anti-Semitic slur used by Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard while livestreaming a video game. Edelman penned an open letter to Leonard that was brilliantly worded.
“I get the sense that you didn’t use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance,” Edelman wrote. “Most likely, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment. That’s what makes it so destructive. When someone intends to be hateful, it’s usually met with great resistance. Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence. Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can rapidly spread. I’m down in Miami fairly often. Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends. I’ll show you a fun time.”
Edelman’s approach is much more likely to lead to growth. He didn’t condemn or cancel Leonard for his repulsive word choice; instead Edelman coached him up and offered support. The funny thing about cancel culture is that although a person may no longer exist in your world, that person still exists in the world. They don’t turn into fairy dust the second they are canceled. It makes more sense to offer insight and assistance to inspire change. Shunning a person for the rest of time is unlikely to do the trick.
Look, not every situation is the same. Obviously not every person is the same. Some people are lost causes while others who falter are capable of changing their ways. I’m just saying don’t confuse the two. It doesn’t make sense to cancel someone that can see the error of their ways and make improvements. By the same token, it doesn’t make sense to be lenient with someone who is a lost cause. Just understand the difference.
Something else that keeps swirling in my head is that I can’t imagine it was the very first time Leonard and Rowan used slurs. I highly doubt it was Leonard’s maiden voyage using an anti-Semitic slur while Rowan was an N-word virgin until last week rolled around. Anybody that heard Leonard and Rowan use those words in the past, and said nothing about it, is partially responsible for the awful behavior continuing. Whether it was a friend, family member, fellow video gamer, or whoever, allowing slurs to be said without objecting to them makes you an accessory to the crime. You may not be holding the bloody knife, but you drove the getaway car.
If we’re being honest here, the easy way out can be tempting. It doesn’t take much to imagine many scenarios where saying nothing could be appealing. Maybe you just landed your first gig in sports radio. You run the board during games when a local broadcaster says something crazy off the air. You have dreams of making it big one day. Maybe you start to think, “What should I do? Could saying something jeopardize my career? I don’t want to make things awkward. And there aren’t any flattering sayings about snitches. I’ve never heard ‘snitches get promotions.’ Maybe I should just let it go.”
It might be possible to trick your mind into believing what you desire. But the truth is; that isn’t good enough. Allowing racism and discrimination to continue, when you know it’s wrong, is a horrendous mistake. That’s what keeps hatred alive. Plus, it matters most when speaking up is uncomfortable. It’s one thing to write BLM on your online bio — hey, that’s great — but the true test is when you have something to lose. Pointing out inappropriate words might strain friendships. A family member might be greatly angered if you call them out. A coworker might turn against you. So be it. If someone uses an anti-Semitic slur, you don’t have to be Jewish to say it’s repulsive. If someone uses the N-word, you don’t have to be Black to tell them it’s despicable. It’s what needs to be done.
Fuqua made another comment about one of the final scenes in Training Day that applies to this column. “This is an important moment here on the bus because this guy makes a decision to go after Alonzo,” Fuqua said. “Jake [played by Ethan Hawke] could go home to his baby and to his wife, but if he does that, and he doesn’t do anything about Alonzo [a dirty detective played by Denzel Washington], his little girl is gonna have to grow up in this world. She’s going to run into Alonzo and other people like him. So he has to get on the bus and he has to go down into the belly of the beast here. He’s got to face the dragon; he’s got to face Alonzo.”
There are Alonzo’s all around us. What are you going to do when you encounter one? Will you simply go home, or will you do something about it?
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.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 75
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.
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.
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.
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.