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Are You Allowed To Be A Fan?

“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that.”

Tyler McComas

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If there’s ever been a list of unspoken rules in sports media, not openly cheering for the team you cover seems like it would be at the top. In fact, at some point or another, you were probably told to be neutral about the team you talk or write about. ‘It’s unprofessional,’ is likely the line you were sold. 

But if sports radio is all about being your true self on the air, what if your true self is someone that’s openly a fan of the team you talk about on a day-to-day basis? If I grew up loving a team and now get to talk about them every day, why would I hide that from the audience in the pursuit to be neutral? 

Logan Booker, co-host of The Morning Show on 960 The Ref in Athens, Georgia, grew up a hardcore UGA fan. Rooting for the Bulldogs was in his blood and still serves as some of his best childhood memories. He realized a dream, when he enrolled at the University of Georgia and set out to follow his passion of covering the Dawgs. But he got a bit of a rude awakening when he found out what sports media would force him to do. 

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“The sports media program at the University of Georgia was so adamant about trying to knock that fan element out of you,” said Booker. “We were not allowed to wear anything with a sports logo on it to class. Otherwise, they’d say you’re not allowed to be here right now.”

Booker figured he’d have to give up his UGA fandom if he wanted to be in the business. Luckily, while interviewing a host at the station he works at today, he found out that didn’t have to be the case. 

“I interviewed my now co-host for a school project, during my internship at the station,” said Booker. “One of the questions I asked him, was how do you turn off the fandom when you’re working? He kind of looked at me like, what do you mean? I’m in radio I don’t have to do that.”

That was the moment Booker can pinpoint to where he knew radio was the route for him. All of the pretending he didn’t care about UGA athletics was no more. He grew up in Georgia and loved the teams within its borders. Sports radio gave him the option of wearing that on his sleeve every day.  

Richard Cross of SportsTalk Mississippi never hides the fact he graduated from Ole Miss. He’s also not shy about openly admitting he hopes the Rebels do well. Though a Mississippi State fan may occasionally call him a ‘homer’ that’s really not the case with Cross, nor is it his objective. In fact, he portrays himself about as neutral as it comes while broadcasting games for the SEC Network, no matter which team he’s calling a game for. But Cross realizes the most important factor when openly admitting you root for a particular team: He knows you have to be critical when it’s necessary. 

“I feel like the biggest thing in all of this is honesty,” said Cross. “If you’re honest with your listeners, whether it’s after a great win or a heartbreaking loss, you just have to shoot people straight. That’s where the credibility comes from.

“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that. I think people expect honesty and they don’t want someone who is constantly taking shots at their team, because that gets old as well.”

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Booker agrees. 

“One thing I take very seriously, if something is wrong, I’m not going to sit in the radio booth and say, oh, things are fine and we’re going to get better,” Booker said. “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong and what should be fixed without a fear of upsetting someone. But at the end of the day, my audience knows I identify as someone with a rooting interest and I thoroughly enjoy that.”

So is acceptable to openly root for the team you talk about every day on the air? Well, if that’s who you are as a fan, then absolutely. But as Cross and Booker said, you also have to be willing to be critical when need be. At the end of the day, it’s all about honesty with your listener. Be your true self and say what you think. 

“We are major parts of people’s daily routine,” said Booker. “For someone driving a car, whether it be for 10 minutes or 30 minutes every single morning, I think they far more identify with someone that’s a fan of the same program. We’re told this at the station a lot, we have listeners that look at us like friends. They think you’re their buddy and for all practical purposes, they are. You spend every morning with them and they’re not nearly going to be as connected or enjoy listening to someone if all I do is criticize this and criticize that. They want to connect with me and feel like they can have a beer with me and talk about the Bulldogs.”

But what if you’re labeled the ‘Ole Miss guy’ on the air in Mississippi? Though Cross isn’t viewed by all Mississippi State fans as that, his listeners that are MSU fans, still likely know where his loyalties lie. That can make for an interesting relationship when the two fan bases are evenly split through the market. 

“The fascinating thing with me and Mississippi State fans, is that forever I was just the Ole Miss guy,” said Cross. “But because of the television work that I’ve done, even a bunch of Mississippi State games, there’s some that will never see or hear anything but, oh, Richard, he’s an Ole Miss guy and I don’t give a damn what he says. But I think most people have noticed how I approach doing TV broadcasts. I do a Mississippi State game the same way I do a Tennessee or Ole Miss game, or whoever I’m calling. I think I’ve developed some credibility along the way as a result of that. Hopefully that’s carried over to the radio side.”

Doing radio in Athens, Booker doesn’t have to compete with two fan bases. It’s all UGA, all the time. When the vast majority, if not all, of your listeners have the same rooting interest as you, it makes being open with your fandom on the air a whole lot easier. 

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But what if another station outside the market wanted to hire him? Say, Atlanta? Would he totally change his on-air persona? 

“If I were in a bigger market, especially in Atlanta, yeah I would be able to be the exact same person,” said Booker.  “If anything, I would lay out both sides on the table a little bit more. I would probably be a little bit more, hey, this is good, but this could also be the same thing. All of a sudden your audience isn’t going to be 90% your fandom, your audience will be split into a lot more different fan bases. It would be a little bit more difficult, but at the end of the day, I would be who I am.”

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Tyler McComas: Doing radio in Athens, do you feel like you have to be a guy that openly roots for UGA on the air? 

Logan Booker: No, not 100 percent. I’ll use one of our afternoon show hosts as an example. He’s from Miami and went to the University of Miami. He’s an outspoken Miami fan. He’s not over the top, like “I’m going to rub it in your face, Go Hurricanes and the Dawgs suck”. I think he understands that in order to connect to your listenership he needs to talk about the Dawgs as if it was his wake up, check the news, find out what’s happening with Georgia, and, oh, Miami is just something I do on the side. Whether that’s true or not I think when you’re in a small market, especially a college town, where you know 90 percent of your listenership either graduated from that university or even goes to that university, or employed at university, they have a major rooting interest in the local team. But if you’re not an outspoken fan I think it’s important to make sure you legitimately care about what’s going on with that team. Not necessarily in a blindly positive way but it has to be an interest of yours.

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TM: You did something interesting with a poll a while back to gauge how fans view media. 

LB: I put up a poll back when I was trying to become a beat writer and kind of get that fandom out of me, asking my Twitter following, hey, do you think that beat writers are fans of the program? Overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, were absolutely, the beat writer is supposed to be a fan of the program.

They don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everyone is from the state or grew up loving the team. We have a couple guys in our market that are Maryland grads. But the fans don’t get that and that’s actually a testament to the good job those guys are doing on the beat.

TM: In general, is it ok for a host to root for the team he talks about every day? 

Richard Cross: I think it was Scott Van Pelt that famously said, “Everybody’s from somewhere” Everyone that’s in this business are fans of some teams. If you’re in the sports talk radio business you’re a fan of sports, right? You like it, or at least I hope you like it. Odds are you grew up watching or following some team.

I’m coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, because I host a sports radio show and I work with the Ole Miss Radio Network but I also work with ESPN and the SEC Network. They’re the same skill set, for the most part, it’s kind of different in terms of how I treat each broadcast. But I try not to be over-the-top ever from hosting a sports talk show in a state like Mississippi where you have Ole Miss and Mississippi State, you have to be fair to both sides. I graduated from Ole Miss and I don’t try to hide the fact I want to see them do well. But I feel like the biggest thing in all this is honesty. 

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TM: Just be genuine, right? Don’t force or fake it to your audience. 

RC: Sure, absolutely. I never approach it on the radio side from the standpoint of, let’s talk about the Ole Miss game because I love Ole Miss. It’s not the approach should I go with. Let’s look at all the different angles and point out all the stuff that’s good, but also the things were bad. And I try to do the same thing with Mississippi State. But I’m just not a rah-rah guy. I never have been.

BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3z9hErM

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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BSM Writers

Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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BSM Writers

Grading How the Networks Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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