The 2021 NFL draft is just over two measly weeks away, a mere fortnight. On April 29, I’ll be a pig in ball slop while watching the first round unfold. One of the things that fascinates me most about the draft is watching which teams that need to make bold moves actually do so, and which teams that need to take big swings get tight sphincters as if they’re crumbling under the pressure of a five-foot putt to win the Masters. Pressure makes diamonds or it bursts pipes.
The Denver Broncos are one of the teams facing a huge decision; go bold or play it safe? On one hand, getting conservative in the same division as Kansas City Chiefs stud quarterback Patrick Mahomes is like hoping a supermodel will pursue you instead of the other way around. It could happen. But it’s not happening. On the other hand, the Broncos have been a disaster at evaluating quarterbacks after Peyton Manning retired. Manning threw 140 touchdown passes in four seasons. Since then, Denver QBs have combined to throw 95 TD passes in five seasons. Paxton Lynch? Nightmare. Trevor Siemian? Yeesh. Brock Osweiler? Too soon. Drew Lock? It’s early, but so far a dog eating roadkill makes better decisions than Lock does in the pocket.
What should the Broncos do? Before I dive into that, consider some big swings that worked, some that didn’t, and others that are pending.
In the 2017 NFL draft, the Chiefs swapped first-round picks with the Buffalo Bills. Kansas City also included another first-round pick and a third-round pick to be able to move up and select Mahomes. They hit a grand slam and haven’t looked back. Mahomes was named league MVP and Super Bowl MVP before turning 25 years old. The guy has won one Super Bowl, played in another, and still looks young enough to get carded if he orders a Blue Moon at Applebee’s.
The Toronto Raptors struck gold when they traded for Kawhi Leonard en route to their only championship in franchise history. The move looked reckless to some, including me, as the Golden State Warriors had Kevin Durant, the Splash Brothers, and Draymond Green. But the planets aligned and the Raptors beat a hobbled Warriors squad as I ate my words. Tom Brady won a seventh Super Bowl after leaving the Patriots for Tampa Bay. It also involved a good amount of risk. Brady could’ve retired a six-time champ. Instead, he put himself in a position where if he didn’t win big in Tampa, haters would’ve arisen like zombies in Night of the Living Dead to eagerly squawk, “Brady can’t win without Belichick!” From 7-9 the previous season to Super Bowl champs is an insane accomplishment.
Colin Cowherd also took a big swing by leaving the Worldwide Leader in favor of FS1 and FOX Sports Radio. He was an institution at ESPN. But Cowherd pulled a Brady before Brady. Thought by many to be the best host in sports talk, Cowherd wanted a less rigid atmosphere and took a chance with a company that had a lot of potential but hadn’t arrived yet. (Sounds an awful lot like Brady leaving New England for Tampa.) ESPN Radio now resembles the 2020 Patriots — a huge brand name with a noticeably less talented roster than previous years. Cowherd took a chance and is winning big.
Fortune favors the bold. But consider this; a saying reveals a lot if you look closely enough. Fortune isn’t drawn to the bold like a magnet. Fortune favors the bold, meaning it isn’t a slam dunk that great things will be achieved simply due to aggressiveness. Gonzaga was favored to beat Baylor in the NCAA men’s championship game. Look how that turned out. Sometimes big risks turn into big losses.
There’s a reason why the 2017 NFL draft is known as the Mahomes draft and not the Trubisky draft. The Chicago Bears aggressively traded a pair of third-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up one spot. With the No. 2 pick, the Bears selected quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Ouch. Trubisky compared to Mahomes is like Danny DeVito standing next to Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover of the movie Twins. Trubisky was a gigantic disappointment and is now a backup QB for the Buffalo Bills.
Here’s another swing and a miss; former quarterback Brett Favre had a great season with the Minnesota Vikings back in 2009. His team lost a heartbreaker to the Saints in the playoffs just one win away from the Super Bowl. Although he was about to turn 41 later in October, Favre decided to take a chance and return for one more year. It was a disaster. Favre threw 11 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, with a passer rating that didn’t crack 70. His record ironman streak of 297 consecutive games played also came to an end due to multiple injuries.
Favre’s last year was a failure, but at least he doesn’t have to sit around and wonder how things might’ve turned out had he retired earlier. This quote from former Fresno State head football coach Pat Hill — a man who loved to schedule tough competition — always stuck with me, “I’d rather have been in the fight and failed, than never been in the fight and talked about what we could’ve done.” Amen to that. I think the biggest failure is not attempting to succeed.
Sports host Dan Le Batard is taking a huge swing by leaving ESPN and spearheading a brand new content company, Meadowlark Media. Along with co-founder and former ESPN president John Skipper, securing investors and building a company from the ground up is a monumental task. To put it in perspective, consider Rich Eisen’s path. Eisen established himself as a successful SportsCenter anchor working alongside the late Stuart Scott. Eisen left ESPN for the fledgling NFL Network. Eisen grew his profile and showed that he is much more than a spoke on the ESPN wheel. That’s huge. Now imagine if Eisen was working with a co-founder to build NFL Network on top of all of that. What Le Batard is doing is like former MLB player Juan Uribe swinging from his heels while trying to hit a ball 600 feet. Salute to him.
The San Francisco 49ers have already taken a big swing leading up to the 2021 NFL draft. The team traded three first-round picks and a third-rounder for the No. 3 pick. While I think drafting Alabama quarterback Mac Jones that high would be like dropping out of college to open a ‘70s clothing store — I guess it could work, but there have to be better options — the fact remains that San Fran is in go-for-it mode.
This is exactly where the Denver Broncos should be as well. Denver is doomed, especially in the AFC West, without a franchise QB. Mahomes is all-world and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has already hit the ground running. Hell, Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is also much better than anybody the Broncos currently have on their roster. Good Lord, take a risk. Actor Shia LaBeouf said it best, “Just doooo it!” Although risky, if the Broncos walk away from the top 10 picks without a quarterback, it’ll be a complete failure.
I saw a quote today from Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Liberia’s first female president once said, “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” That’s powerful. In the sports radio industry of NFL draft, risk shouldn’t prevent the pursuit of dreams. Whether it’s the job you accept, the opinions you share, the host you hire, or the player that is drafted, there are rarely great rewards without big risks. You might strike out swinging, but you won’t regret it nearly as much as watching strike three with the bat still on your shoulder. Take big swings.
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.