America doesn’t need this, not now, not as it tries to jab 330 million arms and heal from an apocalyptic 2020. The NFL doesn’t need this, either, as the league achieves new prosperity with $100 billion-plus in broadcasting deals.
But here it comes, out of Houston like a hurricane, a national debate about whether a prominent Black quarterback is guilty of sexually assaulting at least three women — and as many as nine — as charged by a headline-hungry, social-media-wielding attorney once described as “a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big.”
The Deshaun Watson case is anathema to a country that was beginning to escape cable-news-show hell. Now, Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon have their fresh catnip, Chris Cuomo has a convenient topical diversion from his brother’s legal problems, and a more pressing crisis — anti-Asian hate — moves aside in the media tempest. The lawyer, Tony Buzbee, will be bombarding the American consciousness with constant appearances in coming days. And the NFL, which has avoided high-profile legal dramas since Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence case four years ago, has yet another legal nightmare that challenges whether commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal conduct policy is robust enough.
“I am extremely proud to represent those who have no perceived power against those who have PERCEIVED power,” Buzbee wrote on a Facebook post. “Things are changing in this country, in this great state, and in this great city. And I feel like it’s for the better, for all of us!
“Too many times women have put up with behavior that we all know no one should put up with. Should we make excuses for the famous? Or those who hold special positions, or quarterbacks on a local professional football team? I don’t think so! All people are equal, and all deserve dignity and respect.”
If Watson is guilty of a series of crimes against massage therapists — including one who says he forced her to have oral sex three months ago — he obviously would face bigger life issues than his future in football. But I’ll plead once again as I always do: Before the amateur judges and juries of a recklessly condemnatory America cast guilt upon an accused public figure, they should exercise a period of trolling restraint.
In Watson’s case, it would include these questions: Why are we just now hearing about his “inappropriate conduct” during massages from masseuses that allegedly occurred last year — on March 30, Aug. 28 and Dec. 28? And would three adjoining civil lawsuits ever have been filed this week in Houston if Watson wasn’t demanding a trade out of town, disgusted by what he views as incompetent management that has poisoned the NFL’s most bedraggled and dysfunctional franchise, the Texans? Rather than routinely ruin the life of the latest famous man ensnared by a #MeToo accusation, can we, for once, try pausing? And examining all angles, including the nefarious nature of sports when a team is embroiled in a perception war against a wildly popular figure?
Before the current offseason, Watson was the most celebrated athlete in a city once filled with sports stars. If he wasn’t Patrick Mahomes, he wasn’t far behind, a sensational, multiple-threat playmaker who would keep the Texans positioned as Super Bowl contenders for 10 or 12 years. But when he wasn’t consulted about the ill-advised trade of DeAndre Hopkins, then was omitted from the process when owner Cal McNair and mysterious front-office svengali Jack Easterby hired Nick Caserio as general manager, Watson tweeted the four words that ended the local love affair in January.
“Some things never change….”
At which point Watson became a ghost, though not before making it known publicly that he no longer wants to play for the Texans. This was a devastating blow to a city already reeling from the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal, which tarnished their 2017 World Series title, and James Harden’s demand to be freed from the Rockets, who dealt him to Brooklyn and have sunk into the NBA abyss, losing 11 straight games by double digits. The beloved J.J. Watt also asked to be released from his contract, fleeing the Texans for Arizona. Suddenly, Houston devolved from a proud title town to a ridiculed tar pit.
Enter Buzbee, a flamboyant character who wears blue linen jackets, throws wild parties at his mansion, threatens to shoot anyone who steals his art and compares himself to a shark, right down to the tattoo on his forearm. “The great white controls the ocean. We go for it. No fear,” he told Texas Monthly before a failed 2019 attempt to win Houston’s mayoral race.
Buzbee claims in the first lawsuit that Watson “committed civil assault” by touching a massage therapist with his penis at her home, which she uses as an office. According to the therapist, he wanted “a massage for only one reason — sex” and exposed himself before touching her, claiming Watson “purposely touched (her) hand with the tip of his erect penis.” When she asked him to leave, she says he threatened her with this comment: “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” He then left her house, she said, later apologizing to her via text message.
The second lawsuit also accuses Watson of assault, claiming his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.” He allegedly used Instagram to book a massage with another masseuse and flew her from Houston to Atlanta, where, during a session, she said he ignored her requests to cover his private area with a towel and also touched her.
The third lawsuit, based on an alleged incident in a Houston office building, accuses Watson of barely covering his buttocks with a small towel and, in the middle of a massage, turning over on his back and “forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.” He then forced her, she alleges, to perform oral sex, with the lawsuit stating she “was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.”
To hear Buzbee, he’s just getting started, claiming to represent nine women prepared to sue Watson with more details forthcoming. The NFL’s investigative arm contacted Buzbee on Thursday, he said, and wants to interview him and the accusers as part of its own probe.
I don’t know Watson. I don’t know if he’s a creep. I don’t know if he was protected for months before his trade demand flipped the script. And the police haven’t been involved and aren’t commenting — an important reminder that no criminal charges have been filed. But I do know this about Buzbee: This week on social media, he referred to McNair as “my neighbor.” He did so in a post recalling how he once purchased billboards in the Houston area, urging the Texans to draft the since-disgraced Johnny Manziel. Above one such billboard — which screamed “Keep Johnny football in Texas!” beside a mention of a DraftJohnnyManziel.com site — Buzbee wrote, “Remember this? @jmanziel2 Seven years ago I put ten billboards around Houston asking my neighbor Mr. McNair to draft the greatest college football player ever. Obviously, it didn’t happen.”
Which begs a fair question, given the wretched internal workings of the Texans: Do the civil suits, involving mistreatment of women, act as a strategic advantage that now makes it easier for McNair to trade Watson? In that sense, is Buzbee doing his “neighbor” a public-relations favor? Or, might the situation serve to keep Watson in Houston if interested NFL teams back away?
Enamored of Manziel as Buzbee continues to be, we’re obviously not dealing with someone with a keen current knowledge of football. Or someone with a steady equilibrium. But he is hellbent on convicting Watson, writing: “My dad was a butcher. My mother drove my school bus and worked in the snack bar. Knowing what I know now: My momma had more dignity in her pinky finger than most executives or coaches or politicians or famous athletes have in their whole bodies! This case we just filed against Watson isn’t about money — it’s about dignity and stopping behavior that should be stopped, NOW! Stay tuned for details. LET ME SAY THIS. I’m a Marine. I’m not easily intimidated. If you have info or have been part of this, contact my office.”
That quickly, the teams named by Watson as preferred destinations — New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins — had reason to think twice about troubling red flags. And that quickly, I believe, the chances of Watson remaining in Houston rose exponentially.
All of which prompted Watson to seek a Texas attorney, noted sports fire extinguisher Rusty Hardin, but not before taking to Twitter himself, claiming Buzbee earlier had demanded a six-figure settlement. “As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me,” Watson wrote. “I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I Have never treated any woman with anything than the utmost respect. The plaintiff’s lawyer claims this isn’t about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me — it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”
Said Hardin, in an ESPN interview: “I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts … (He) has a great reputation here in the Houston area and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”
Only days ago, we were poised for a historic quarterbacking shakeup in the NFL. But Russell Wilson remains in Seattle, with the Seahawks rejecting a Chicago package that reportedly included three No. 1 draft picks, forcing the Bears to sign retread Andy Dalton. And Dak Prescott signed a deal he hasn’t earned: a maximum value of $164 over four years, including $126 million in guaranteed money with a no-trade clause and no-franchise-tag provision. For now, Watson isn’t going anywhere, either, at least until his cases are resolved and the NFL decides his fate.
In 2021, a reputable massage business would have video cameras on the premises. And the claim that he apologized with a text is easy to investigate, as well. So, knowing the American legal climate involving celebrities, I predict a quiet settlement for larger sums than what allegedly have been demanded.
And I predict that, yes, Deshaun Watson will be quarterbacking the Texans next season, arm in arm with Cal McNair.
In which case, Houston wins and a franchise superstar loses. Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.”
Who are you s—ing, Sherlock?
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
The Future Is Now, Embrace Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible.
This week has been a reckoning for sports and its streaming future on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and more.
Amazon announced that Thursday Night Football, which averaged 13 million viewers, generated the highest number of U.S. sign ups over a three hour period in the app’s history. More people in the United States subscribed to Prime during the September 15th broadcast than they did during Black Friday, Prime Day, and Cyber Monday. It was also “the most watched night of primetime in Prime Video’s history,” according to Amazon executive Jay Marine. The NFL and sports in general have the power to move mountains even for some of the nation’s biggest and most successful brands.
This leads us to the conversation happening surrounding Aaron Judge’s chase for history. Judge has been in pursuit of former major leaguer Roger Maris’ record for the most home runs hit during one season in American League history.
The sports world has turned its attention to the Yankees causing national rights holders such as ESPN, Fox, and TBS to pick up extra games in hopes that they capture the moment history is made. Apple TV+ also happened to have a Yankees game scheduled for Friday night against the Red Sox right in the middle of this chase for glory.
Baseball fans have been wildin’ out at the prospects of missing the grand moment when Judge passes Maris or even the moments afterwards as Judge chases home run number 70 and tries to truly create monumental history of his own. The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand has even reported there were talks between YES, MLB, and Apple to bring Michael Kay into Apple’s broadcast to call the game, allow YES Network to air its own production of the game, or allow YES Network to simulcast Apple TV+’s broadcast. In my opinion, all of this hysteria is extremely bogus.
As annoying as streaming sports is and as much as I haven’t fully adapted to the habit yet, Amazon and Apple have done a magnificent job of trying to make the process as easy and simplified as possible. Amazon brought in NBC to help with production of TNF and if you watch the flow of the broadcast, the graphics of the broadcast, NBC personalities like Michael Smith, Al Michaels, and Terry McAuliffe make appearances on the telecast – it is very clear that the network’s imprint is all over the show.
NBC’s experience in conducting the broadcast has made the viewing experience much more seamless. Apple has also used MLB Network and its personalities for assistance in ensuring there’s no major difference between what you see on air vs. what you’re streaming.
Amazon and Apple have also decided to not hide their games behind a paywall. Since the beginning of the season, all of Apple’s games have been available free of charge. No subscription has ever been required. As long as you have an Apple device and can download Apple TV+, you can watch their MLB package this season.
Guess what? Friday’s game against the Red Sox is also available for free on your iPhone, your laptop, or your TV simply by downloading the AppleTV app. Amazon will also simulcast all Thursday Night Football games on Twitch for free. It may be a little harder or confusing to find the free options, but they are out there and they are legal and, once again, they are free.
Apple has invested $85 million into baseball, money that will go towards your team becoming better hypothetically. They’ve invested money towards creating a new kind of streaming experience. Why in the hell would they offer YES Network this game for free? There’s no better way for them to drive subscriptions to their product than by offering fans a chance at watching history on their platform.
A moment like this are the main reason Apple paid for rights in the first place. When Apple sees what the NFL has done for Amazon in just one week and coincidentally has the ability to broadcast one of the biggest moments in baseball history – it would be a terrible business decision to let viewers watch it outside of the Apple ecosystem and lose the ability to gain new fans.
It’s time for sports fans to grow up and face reality. Streaming is here to stay.
MLB Network is another option
If you don’t feel like going through the hassle of watching the Yankees take on the Red Sox for free on Apple TV+, MLB Network will also air all of Judge’s at bats live as they are happening. In case the moment doesn’t happen on Apple TV+ on Friday night, Judge’s next games will air in full on MLB Network (Saturday), ESPN (Sunday), MLB Network again (Monday), TBS (Tuesday) and MLB Network for a third time on Wednesday. All of MLB Network’s games will be simulcast of YES Network’s local New York broadcast. It wouldn’t shock me to see Fox pick up another game next Thursday if the pursuit still maintains national interest.
- One of the weirdest things about the experience of streaming sports is that you lose the desire to channel surf. Is that a good thing or bad thing? Brandon Ross of LightShed Ventures wonders if the difficulty that comes with going from app to app will help Amazon keep viewers on TNF the entire time no matter what the score of the game is. If it does, Amazon needs to work on developing programming to surround the games or start replaying the games, pre and post shows so that when you fall asleep and wake up you’re still on the same stream on Prime Video or so that coming to Prime Video for sports becomes just as much of a habit for fans as tuning in to ESPN is.
- CNN has announced the launch of a new morning show with Don Lemon, Poppy Harlow and Kaitlin Collins. Variety reports, “Two people familiar with plans for the show say it is likely to use big Warner Bros. properties — a visit from the cast of HBO’s Succession or sports analysis from TNT’s NBA crew — to lure eyeballs.” It’ll be interesting to see if Turner Sports becomes a cornerstone of this broadcast. Will the NBA start doing schedule releases during the show? Will a big Taylor Rooks interview debut on this show before it appears on B/R? Will the Stanley Cup or Final Four MVP do an interview on CNN’s show the morning after winning the title? Does the show do remote broadcasts from Turner’s biggest sports events throughout the year?
- The Clippers are back on over the air television. They announced a deal with Nexstar to broadcast games on KTLA and other Nexstar owned affiliates in California. The team hasn’t reached a deal to air games on Bally Sports SoCal or Bally Sports Plus for the upcoming season. Could the Clippers pursue a solo route and start their own OTT service in time for the season? Are they talking to Apple, Amazon, or ESPN about a local streaming deal? Is Spectrum a possible destination? I think these are all possibilities but its likely that the Clippers end up back on Bally Sports since its the status quo. I just find it interesting that it has taken so long to solidify an agreement and that it wasn’t announced in conjunction with the KTLA deal. The Clippers are finally healthy this season, moving into a new arena soon, have the technology via Second Spectrum to produce immersive game casts. Maybe something is brewing?
- ESPN’s Monday Night Football double box was a great concept. The execution sucked. Kudos to ESPN for adjusting on the fly once complaints began to lodge across social media. I think the double box works as a separate feed. ESPN2 should’ve been the home to the double box. SVP and Stanford Steve could’ve held a watch party from ESPN’s DC studio with special guests. The double box watch party on ESPN2 could’ve been interrupted whenever SVP was giving an update on games for ESPN and ABC. It would give ESPN2 a bit of a behind the scenes look at how the magic happens similarly to what MLB Tonight did last week. Credit to ESPN and the NFL for experimenting and continuing to try and give fans unique experiences.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
ESPN Shows Foresight With Monday Night Football Doubleheader Timing
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7 and then 10 on their primary channel.
The Monday Night Football doubleheader was a little bit different this time around for ESPN.
First, it came in Week 2 instead of Week 1. And then, the games were staggered 75 minutes apart on two different channels, the Titans and Bills beginning on ESPN at 7:15 PM ET and the Vikings at the Eagles starting at 8:30 PM on ABC and ESPN+. This was a departure from the usual schedule in which the games kicked off at 7:00 PM ET and then 10:00 PM ET with the latter game on the West Coast.
ESPN is obviously testing something, and it’s worth poking around at why the network wouldn’t follow the schedule it has used for the last 16 years, scheduling kickoffs at 7:00 PM and then 10:00 PM ET on their primary channel. That’s the typical approach, right? The NFL is the most valuable offering in all of sports and ESPN would have at least six consecutive hours of live programming without any other game to switch to.
Instead, they staggered the starts so the second game kicked off just before the first game reached halftime. They placed the games on two different channels, which risked cannibalizing their audience. Why? Well, it’s the same reason that ESPN was so excited about the last year’s Manningcast that it’s bringing it back for 10 weeks this season. ESPN is not just recognizing the reality of how their customers behave, but they’re embracing it.
Instead of hoping with everything they have that the customer stays in one place for the duration of the game, they’re recognizing the reality that they will leave and providing another product within their portfolio to be a destination when they do.
It’s the kind of experiment everyone in broadcasting should be investigating because, for all the talk about meeting the customer where they are, we still tend to be a little bit stubborn about adapting to what they do.
Customers have more choices than ever when it comes to media consumption. First, cable networks softened the distribution advantages of broadcast networks, and now digital offerings have eroded the distribution advantages of cable networks. It’s not quite a free-for-all, but the battle for viewership is more intense, more wide open than ever because that viewer has so many options of not just when and where but how they will consume media.
Programmers have a choice in how to react to this. On the one hand, they can hold on tighter to the existing model and try to squeeze as much out of it as they can. If ESPN was thinking this way it would stack those two Monday night games one after the other just like it always has and hope like hell for a couple of close games to juice the ratings. Why would you make it impossible for your customer to watch both of these products you’ve paid so much to televise?
I’ve heard radio programmers and hosts recite take this same approach for more than 10 years now when it comes to making shows available on-demand. Why would you give your customers the option of consuming the product in a way that’s not as remunerative or in a way that is not measured?
That thinking is outdated and it is dangerous from an economic perspective because it means you’re trying to make the customer behave in your best interest by restricting their choices. And maybe that will work. Maybe they like that program enough that they’ll consume it in the way you’d prefer or maybe they decide that’s inconvenient or annoying or they decide to try something else and now this customer who would have listened to your product in an on-demand format is choosing to listen to someone else’s product entirely.
After all, you’re the only one that is restricting that customer’s choices because you’re the only one with a desire to keep your customer where he is. Everyone else is more than happy to give your customer something else.
There’s a danger in holding on too tightly to the existing model because the tighter you squeeze, the more customers will slip through your fingers, and if you need a physical demonstration to complete this metaphor go grab a handful of sand and squeeze it hard.
Your business model is only as good as its ability to predict the behavior of your customers, and as soon as it stops doing that, you need to adjust that business model. Don’t just recognize the reality that customers today will exercise the freedom that all these media choices provide, embrace it.
Offer more products. Experiment with more ways to deliver those products. The more you attempt to dictate the terms of your customer’s engagement with your product, the more customers you’ll lose, and by accepting this you’ll open yourself to the reality that if your customer is going to leave your main offering, it’s better to have them hopping to another one of your products as opposed to leaving your network entirely.
Think in terms of depth of engagement, and breadth of experience. That’s clearly what ESPN is doing because conventional thinking would see the Manningcast as a program that competes with the main Monday Night Football broadcast, that cannibalizes it. ESPN sees it as a complimentary experience. An addition to the main broadcast, but it also has the benefit that if the customer feels compelled to jump away from the main broadcast – for whatever reason – it has another ESPN offering that they may land on.
I’ll be watching to see what ESPN decides going forward. The network will have three Monday Night Football doubleheaders beginning next year, and the game times have not been set. Will they line them up back-to-back as they had up until this year? If they do it will be a vote of confidence that its traditional programming approach that evening is still viable. But if they overlap those games going forward, it’s another sign that less is not more when it comes to giving your customers a choice in products.
Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at Danny@DannyOneil.com.
Media Noise: Sunday Ticket Has Problems, Marcellus Wiley Does Not
On this episode of Media Noise, Demetri is joined by Brian Noe to talk about the wild year FS1’s Marcellus Wiley has had and by Garrett Searight to discuss the tumultuous present and bright future of NFL Sunday Ticket.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.