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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who is vaccinated but will avoid Cleveland and the NFL Draft.

Jay Mariotti

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 THEY GET IT

LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times — The most credible and important social commentators aren’t the ones who scream loudest, or the ones who remain intractably on a side and ignore factual details. Granderson, a Black columnist, didn’t hesitate to scold LeBron James, the foremost Black activist in sports, for a dangerous (and quickly deleted) tweet that was blasted by conservatives as a call for violence. “YOU’RE NEXT #ACCOUNTABILITY,’’ James wrote in a post that included a photo of the White police officer who shot and killed a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, in Columbus, Ohio. The tweet, Granderson wrote, “was inarguably premature. Body cam video appears to show Bryant attacking another teen with a knife seconds before the shots were fired; many consider the officer’s actions justified.’’ He went on to doubt whether White America ever will “let a Black man be Captain America,’’ but in the aftermath of the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict, Granderson’s take was measured and responsible in a country craving media restraint. The same can’t be said for James, who fired back at a Cincinnati bar owner for refusing to show NBA games at his establishment until James is “expelled’’ from the league. Tweeted LeBron: “Aww Damn! I was headed there to watch our game tonight and have a drink! Welp.’’ That’s just immature. Working in the same market, maybe Granderson can sit down with James and remind him of his accountability burden. Even better, Los Angeles Police Department officer Deon Joseph, who is Black, says he wants to meet with James to help him “understand the reality of the profession.’’

HBO — You’ve seen me decry a schmaltzy media world where Jim Nantz, Scott Van Pelt and other gush-and-mushers operate under a simple corporate mandate: Sell sports as religion and romance … remind the masses why they love sports and can’t exist without it … make athletes and coaches appear bigger than life … denounce legitimate media as bitter and negative when they’re sorely needed as watchdogs of an industry run amok. So I’m pleased — no, thrilled — that HBO is countering the creampuffery by reintroducing the antithesis of this vapid hypnosis, Sir Robert Costas, to the mainstream stage. On his new show, “Back On the Record With Bob Costas,’’ the leading sports voice of his time won’t be glorifying the business as much as, oh, covering it and scrutinizing it and saying what the hell he wants, which NBC didn’t appreciate in furtively replacing him with safe, harmless Mike Tirico. HBO promises marquee-name newsmaker interviews and roundtable discussions, along with spinoffs into entertainment, but the takeaway will be “signature commentaries from Costas that capture his distinctive voice and point of view.’’ Too bad the series includes only four episodes a year. Costas is needed weekly. Daily, even.

Ariel Helwani, badass — As the reigning bully of sports, Dana White usually rules his own personal Octagon. He stuffed 15,269 fans into an indoor arena in Jacksonville last weekend, openly defying an ongoing pandemic. When asked about Chris Weidman, whose leg snapped in a horrific kicking sequence, White changed the subject because it underlined the hideous violence in his freak sport, saying, “I don’t even want to talk about it tonight. I don’t want to say anything f—-ing …’’ Yet the UFC president can’t control a media member he loathes, Helwani, a fiercely independent reporter who is wisely shopping his services as ESPN dawdles on a new contract. We’re about to find out plenty in this negotiation about Bristol’s integrity — will ESPN, like Fox Sports a few years ago, weasel out and dump Helwani because White says so? He’s the kind of creep who leverages broadcast deals — in this case, a $1.5 billion pact with ESPN — to control media voices. He can do so because his thug league is owned by Endeavor, the Hollywood company run by Ari Emanuel, who is more bombastic in real life than the “Entourage’’ character inspired by him, agent Ari Gold. Of the media, White told Colin Cowherd: “Most of these people are full of shit and have no place writing or talking about anything.’’ This comes after a video in which White said, “Why should anybody listen to the media? Who are these people? What makes them experts? What have they ever accomplished?’’ He has referred to Helwani as a “girl’’ and a “douche,’’ but the multimedia veteran has maintained his professionalism and production. Does he have the support of ESPN? Will president Jimmy Pitaro reward a valuable UFC voice — and invite the possibility of Helwani reporting a White-related scandal — or cave to the bully? Either way, Ariel has my respect.

Turner Sports — With the addition of an NHL package dropped by NBC, Turner quietly has built a live sports portfolio that includes the NBA, Major League Baseball and March Madness. Hockey coverage needs dazzle, though, and it is hoped TNT and potential streaming partner HBO Max will lean toward fun analysts — where have you gone, Jeremy Roenick? — instead of NBC’s conservative studio voices of late. Also, who is the next Doc Emrick and does such a creature exist? ESPN and Turner, which will share the Stanley Cup Finals, are urged to look at Alex Faust, voice of the Los Angeles Kings. One hockey fan on the company payroll, Charles Barkley, is best avoided (see below). No one needs an international incident involving Canada.

Rich Eisen, NFL Network — The image of a 51-year-old man running a 40-yard dash — designer suitcoat flying, slight gut protruding, hands flexed like a sprinter, cleats digging in, clipped-on tie straight — is a tribute to a charitable endeavor known as “Run Rich Run.’’ Since 2015, Eisen has raised millions for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and though cancellation of the NFL Combine prompted a scheduling revision, he’s back with football legends and business entrepreneurs who sprinted — or limped — through the challenge at SoFi Stadium. The segment airs Saturday during the network’s NFL Draft coverage. In related news, Eisen is keeping his promise to eat the soiled sweatshirt of a talk-show caller if the 49ers don’t select a quarterback with the No. 3 pick. If he’s wrong, is he at least allowed condiments?

Tony Reali, ESPN — His multi-year extension is a testament to hard work, sturdy professionalism and knowing when to stand back when a friend and mentor such as Dan Le Batard self-sabotages his ESPN career. I recall the revolving door of auditioning hosts after Max Kellerman left “Around The Horn’’ for Fox, and Reali stepped in as the ideal adhesive, like a Jonas Brother with sports acumen. The current problem with ATH is not his fault — the producers have made him the only “face’’ of the show, as ESPN boss Norby Williamson describes him, when hosts of more prominent network shows are in supportive roles. For instance, Molly Qerim Rose is the host of “First Take,’’ but she is the traffic controller for the show’s outspoken superstars, Stephen A. Smith and Kellerman, an arrangement that allows for maximum impact and viewership. Back in ATH’s peak years — I don’t really care how selfish this might sound, because it’s true — our ratings were off the charts thanks to sparring panelists who drove the banter (me vs. Woody Paige, with me as Godzilla) while Reali played the Rose role. Now, Reali is the lone constant as an endless procession of “contributors’’ come and go — and the ratings have severely suffered. Hey, it’s their network and afternoon programming block. But if Williamson and showrunners Erik Rydholm and Aaron Solomon combined Reali’s magnetic presence with more heat from a consistent stable of combative panelists, ATH might rock again. And, no, I’m not stumping to return. I like my life without TMZ following me and sleaze websites lying about me, and I like being able to routinely add a sixth entry to Five Who Get It.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Dan Le Batard, sellout — So let’s see if I have this straight: He painted his ESPN superiors as undesirable partners because they didn’t want him causing political wars on the radio … yet he’s ethically willing to jump headfirst into the gambling cesspool. In the end, he’s the grimiest of all. In the latest example of desperation leading to hypocrisy, LeBatard’s lengthy search for a company to distribute his podcast led to DraftKings, the tout louts who will control ad sales and licensing arrangements. This will sink Le Batard’s show into the betting crapper and complete the demise of a once-great journalist. He claims DraftKings is “truly sponsoring our freedom … (and won’t) corrupt us in any way,’’ but just wait until he’s required to read non-stop wagering spots. Maybe he should familiarize himself with the DraftKings statement: “Additionally, the network of shows will prominently feature DraftKings’ odds, betting trends and general sportsbook and daily fantasy information.’’ I have an idea: Papi’s Power Parlays! Another day, another betrayal of a media industry gone putrid.

Charles Barkley, lost cause — The only recourse, I’ve concluded, is to start publicizing the names of Barkley’s bosses at TNT — Casey Bloys, Brett Weitz, Sam Linsky, Adrienne O’Riain. The network is operated by WarnerMedia, which is owned by AT&T, so let’s go higher — Jason Kilar, Ann Sarnoff, Jeff Zucker. Or even higher — John Stankey. People tiring of Barkley’s gross potshots at the appearances of women should use their AT&T-contracted phones to bombard the aforementioned with protests. Barkley thinks he’s bulletproof because, in the past, his bosses haven’t publicly reprimanded him for comments such as: “Some big ol’ women down there (in San Antonio) … that’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there. They wear bloomers down there … ain’t nothing skimpy down there.’’ So Barkley used his “Inside The NBA’’ perch last week to insult women in another state: “Georgia … the only school in the world they named their mascot after the women down there.’’ As in, bulldogs. Know those serious commentaries Barkley delivers about race and life? He renders them useless with these mindless, needless insults. And the longer his superiors — male and female — let him ramble unfiltered without a long suspension or firing, they will be complicit in the denigration. Meanwhile, the nation’s talk-show hosts, from Dan Patrick to locals, will fawn and keep inviting him on their airwaves. Barkley is a fat, unattractive dope. How does he feel that I wrote that?

Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — On the eve of the baseball season, the esteemed columnist wrote a piece titled, “Why the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers will be the greatest team in baseball history,’’ beside an illustration of Mookie Betts holding a 2021 championship banner while his teammates celebrate. I cringed, wondering how Plaschke could make such a wild proclamation when so much could go wrong the next several months. “Clip this claim. Print it out. Tape it up. You read it here first,’’ he typed. “The Dodgers aren’t just good, they’re surreal good.’’ Well, those surreal good Dodgers were booed the other night while blowing a six-run lead to their feisty new rivals, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Padres, who won three of four at Dodger Stadium and lead the season series 4-3 with a dozen games to go. I’m not saying the Dodgers won’t repeat as World Series champions, but at present, the “greatest team in baseball history’’ is only the third-best team in California in 2021. Also guilty of hype tripe was The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, the former big-league general manager who wrote last week: “The Dodgers might be the best baseball team I’ve seen in my lifetime.’’ And don’t forget Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, who wrote: “It’s always mesmerizing to watch greatness in real time. A young Mike Tyson. An ageless Tom Brady. The Boston Celtics of the 1960s. The New York Yankees of, well, several different eras. Which brings us to the 2021 Los Angeles Dodgers. This group could become the most exceptional team in baseball history.’’ At one point, I too wondered if the Dodgers could challenge the 125 wins of the 1998 Yankees, but I didn’t do so excessively. Surreal good?

ESPN — Evidently, I can’t say this enough in a desperate media climate: A sports event is a sacred competition featuring athletes guided by the common tenet that nothing — nothing — shall infiltrate The Game. ESPN is among those mucking up that virtue with demographic-shilling crap. I never thought Bristol would stoop as low as an all-gambling alternate broadcast of an NBA game, but here comes a 3D alternate farce. Yes, Hubie Brown, next week’s Warriors-Pelicans game will include an accompanying collaboration with a fellow Disney Company property — called “Marvel’s Arena of Heroes’’ — featuring Steph Curry, Zion Williamson and other players teaming up with Iron Man, Black Panther and Captains Marvel and America to battle an alien army. Said the ESPN release, written by an actual human being: “Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions. The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.” Worse, two men paid to report professionally on the NBA — play-by-play caller Ryan Ruocco and analyst Richard Jefferson — must work the ESPN2/ESPN+ superhero-cast. This obviously is a ripoff of a CBS/Nickelodeon experiment involving an NFL postseason game, also a debacle. Look, there are ways of engaging a youthful audience without bastardizing existing cachet. What’s frightening: The people who make such decisions believe they’re bigger than The Game.

Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — As he swirls from one studio to the next, thinking about his next flight more than where his feet are grounded, Smith tends to make mistakes. Most are factual, but his latest is professional and hurtful. In a tweet applauding the network’s UFC coverage, he dropped the names of Joe Rogan, Jon Anik, Chael Sonnen and other men — but forgot to mention Megan Olivi, highly visible as a co-host and interviewer. This is akin to Al Michaels forgetting to mention Michele Tafoya, or Joe Buck omitting Erin Andrews. Said Olivi: “It’s, unfortunately, something the women in this room have dealt with before and will have to continue to deal with. I don’t think he did it on purpose. I don’t think there was any intent. I don’t think he was trying to be rude by any means. I just think it didn’t really matter to him. … I don’t know how much he actually watches. I know he’s supposed to be an MMA insider and he does his best, but he has a lot on his plate, as well. I don’t know how much he actually sees.’’ It’s a polite way of stating what his bosses never will admit: Stephen A. is overworked, sometimes to the point of superficiality.

Mike Thomas, ESPN 1000 Chicago — Would Bill Belichick leave the Patriots to coach in the XFL? The sports radio equivalent of such a head-scratcher is Thomas, who quit one of America’s top-rated talk stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, to run a dead-end shop in his home state. To say WMVP has hit rock bottom is an insult to all rock formations. Ratings for its local shows are now worse than numbers for ESPN’s national programs, shocking in a parochial market, and Thomas’ presence has made no impact. Neither has the addition of the White Sox as a flagship partner, proving Chicago’s baseball metrics haven’t changed — the Cubs have at least four or five times more fans than the Sox, even when the South Siders are pennant contenders and the Cubs might be headed to a fire sale. I hope Thomas is compensated very well. Otherwise, WTF? Some might question why I’d include such an irrelevant story as a sixth entry in bonus coverage. I did because Chicago deserves better sports talk.

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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