It needn’t be argued that Drew Brees was racially insensitive, because he agrees. Beside a photo of two interlocked hands, black and white, he used Instagram to apologize for his pro-military, anti-Kaepernick stance about kneeling protests. Hours after reiterating he’ll “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America,’’ a contrite Brees acknowledged that he “completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy.’’
He never will live it down in some quarters of America, where he’ll be branded as a racist for life. Yet that life will continue nonetheless. He’ll try to win a Super Bowl, at 41, with the New Orleans Saints. He’ll shuffle into a lucrative broadcasting gig at NBC, where he’ll be groomed for “Sunday Night Football,’’ the highest-rated regular program in American television. He’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his obituary will call him one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. That’s how the career-recovery game works for most people in sports — apologize, take your lumps, carry on, keep earning your living.
But that’s now it works for Grant Napear, who was forced out this week as play-by-play voice of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and a daily talk-show host in that very small city. Napear, too, has been branded a racist for life after regrettable social-media comments, though it’s possible he’s merely an out-of-touch dope who didn’t know better. Is he perhaps just clueless about the world in 2020? Is he a 60-year-old male who, pathetically, didn’t realize that those six words he typed on Twitter — “ALL LIVES MATTER … EVERY SINGLE ONE!’’ — are tantamount in the Black Lives Matter movement to one final two-handed press on George Floyd’s neck?
And when you compare his comments to Brees’ comments, aren’t they comparable in their ignorance? So how does one man proceed to the next day while the other becomes one of 40 million unemployed Americans? How can Brees’ boss, Saints coach Sean Payton, say he’s “proud’’ of his handling of the situation? Why have the NFL and Saints ownership not publicly condemned the comments? Where is NBC, his future employer?
All as Napear fades away, canceled by his bosses.
Yes, he failed the woke portion of the culture exam. Yes, Napear’s lapse warranted a sizable suspension from the Kings, one of 30 franchises in the most woke league on the planet. But his punishment, unlike Brees’, was of the scorched-earth variety — he was summarily forced out of two jobs, his media career likely finished after three-plus decades in the market. It reminded me of what happened to my one-time talk radio partner, Brian Davis, who, as veteran play-by-play voice of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was so overtaken by Russell Westbrook’s performance one night in 2018 that he exclaimed, “Westbrook is out of his cotton-picking mind!’’ Shortly thereafter, the Thunder didn’t renew Davis’ contract. He shouldn’t have said it, just as Napear shouldn’t have tweeted it. Realize these are human beings who make mistakes, just as Brees is a human being who makes mistakes, just as numerous other athletes who’ve published racial slurs on social media have made mistakes.
But they also are allowed to apologize and carry on, such as rookie NFL quarterback Jake Fromm, who said in a 2019 text conversation, “Just make (guns) very expensive so only elite white people can get them haha.’’ Which means the Buffalo Bills have two racially insensitive quarterbacks on their roster: Fromm and starter Josh Allen, who apologized on 2018 draft night after referring to “N——-‘’ in several tweets in his younger days. Said the Bills in a statement about Fromm: “He asked for an opportunity to address and apologize to his teammates and coaches today in a team meeting, which he did. We will continue to work with Jake on the responsibilities of being a Buffalo Bill on and off the field.”
I could go on … and on … and on. Point being: If broadcasters are being held to considerably higher standards than athletes, I’m left to ask if hiring robots, programmed by coded instructions, is the next move by an industry that cowardly chooses to ruin longtime professionals instead of using their insensitive moments to teach protocol in the 21st century.
To be clear, there is no place in sports for social insensitivity. But that rule should apply across the board in this business — and it woefully does not, with too many cases of convenient, selective punishment (and non-punishment) mocking any fairness doctrine. For instance, how many times have media people — hundreds, I’m sure — been subjected to slurs from people they cover? And how many times have those slurs been ignored, or laughed off, by the sort of franchise owners and broadcast executives who seize the chance to dump Napear?
Every media person worth his or her oats has a story. I certainly have mine. I was called a “(bleeping) fag’’ by a baseball manager, Ozzie Guillen, who enjoyed firing foul-mouthed slurs at people on a frequent basis. He was rankled, as I wrote in this space recently, because I’d criticized him for rebuking a young Chicago White Sox pitcher who didn’t hit an opposing batter with a pitch as Guillen had ordered. Because I was covering the NBA Finals and U.S. Open golfing major, he decided I was a “(bleeping) fag’’ because I wasn’t in town to report to the clubhouse and take his abuse, whatever madness that might have entailed. The story raged — Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines’’ — and some wondered nationally if Guillen would be fired.
Not only was Guillen not fired, the slur was pooh-poohed by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, a supposed champion of diversity. There was a slap on the wrist by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Reinsdorf’s buddy, which gave Guillen the rope to eventually babble his way out of a job in Chicago and psycho-talk his way out of his next position in Miami, where, as manager of the Marlins, in the heart of Little Havana, he said, “I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here.’’ Guillen apologized and blamed drinking splurges that had been part of his life for “25, 28 years’’ — “I go to the hotel bar, get drunk, sleep. I don’t do anything else,’’ he said — yet the Marlins only suspended him for five games despite outrage in South Florida.
And today? Guillen is gainfully employed as a baseball analyst at NBC Sports Chicago, partially owned by Reinsdorf.
If you’re going to fire Napear and run him off the face of the sporting earth, then you have to fire Guillen and run him off the face of the sporting earth. Or don’t fire anyone. That especially goes for the Kings, who have their own ethical issues. Their owner, Vivek Ranadive, had the audacity to charge the state of California — where I am a taxpayer — a monthly fee of $500,000 to utilize their former arena as a field hospital for coronavirus patients. Public backlash forced Ranadive to end the landlord-sharking after two months, but he was allowed to keep the $1 million accrued. So explain how a greedy owner suddenly becomes a hero for canning Napear? It’s better to screw taxpayers out of $1 million? Again, if you’re going to jettison Napear, you have to at least investigate Ranadive on some level. And shouldn’t the NBA also be asking the Los Angeles Lakers, valued at almost $4 billion, why they applied for and received $4.6 million in federal loan aid intended for small businesses, which owner Jeanie Buss might never have returned if the Lakers weren’t caught red-handed?
Oh, that’s not how it works in sports.
Furthermore, Napear didn’t even initiate the social-media thread that led to his ouster. NBA player DeMarcus Cousins, a man with his own legal problems and personal flaws, started the dialogue by tweeting out of the blue, “@GrantNapearshow what’s your take on BLM?’’ Cousins was among many African-American players wary of Napear’s social tones when they played for the Kings, but Napear’s response to the tweet seemed more unenlightened than intentionally hurtful. “Hey!!! How are you? Thought you forgot me,’’ began Napear, actually writing back publicly instead of inviting a private chat via direct messaging. “Haven’t heard from you in years. ALL LIVES MATTER…EVERY SINGLE ONE!!!’’
The floodgates were open. Napear had revealed himself as a racist, or so said the social-media cops, and his critics refused to hear otherwise. Chris Webber, who works for TNT as an analyst after a successful playing career in Sacramento, weighed in: “Demarcus we know and have known who Grant is. The team knows as well. I’ve told them many times. They’ve seen it. They know who he is.’’ Webber followed with two clown emojis.
Wrote Cousins: “Lol as expected.’’
Wrote Matt Barnes: “Would expect nothing less from a closet racists.’’
Napear tried to apologize, but he only exacerbated the problem: “If it came across as dumb I apologize. That was not my intent. That’s how I was raised. It has been ingrained in me since I can remember. I’ve been doing more listening than talking the past few days. I believe the past few days will change this country for the better!’’
By now, nothing could help him. Wrote Andre Miller: “All lives matter is the go-to response from racist individuals when they’re asked about #BLM. How could you be so tone-deaf to not know that? Even if it wasn’t your intent to be racist, it was an incredibly dumb thing to say.’’
Tone deaf? Yes. Incredibly dumb? Yes. Suspension-worthy? Yes.
But we’re really going to ruin the man’s career? Napear should have stopped there. Instead, he continued to make matters worse: “100% … trust me I have more black friends than white. I grieve with them that before I leave this earth we can finally walk hand in hand.’’
Again, cringeworthy. But any different than Drew Brees?
After he had time to think, Napear found clarity, telling the Sacramento Bee, “I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea when I said `All Lives Matter’ that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across.” That’s a plausible explanation.
Later, Napear came on stronger to the New York Post: “It makes me feel sick to my stomach because it is absolutely the opposite of who I am. I am 60 years old. I will let the track record of my life and what I’ve done for my community and what I’ve done. … People who know me, of all races, I’ll let them tell the story.
“I have not once in my 32 years in doing the Sacramento Kings had any individual from either the radio station or the Kings mention anything in any way, shape or form about me and my relations with minorities, with any other group of people. That is an absolute disgrace that that would ever be said. That is an absolute disgrace.”
But hey, let’s fire him anyway. Even though Napear’s former employer, NBC Sports California, carries the same three initials as Brees’ future employer: NBC. It’s worth noting that a major name in sports media, talk host Chris Russo, came out in full defense of Napear, whom he has known since they were kids in suburban New York City.
“I have known Grant personally for 54 years. To say that Grant Napear is a racist is absurd,’’ Russo said. “In my knowledge of him … Grant Napear, trust me when I say this — this is me — is anything but a racist.”
Know what’s interesting here? Russo once said he couldn’t find a black host “worthy of doing a national talk show’’ on his Mad Dog Radio channel. Asked by a caller in 2014 about the racial imbalance, Russo said, “”What would you like us to do? There are not a million candidates. Would you like us to put on a black host for the sake of putting a person … an African-American so we can say we have a black host on? Or do you want to see if we can find a black host who is worthy of doing a national talk show?”
This was, in its way, a Grant Napear moment.
Except Sirius XM did not reprimand Russo, making him the Drew Brees of sports talk radio.
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.