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If They Don’t Feel Safe, Athletes Should Shut Down Sports

“As ominous signs and numerous positive tests threaten the resumption of seasons, candid concerns from Sean Doolittle and Mike Trout should warn desperate leagues and TV networks that players have all the power.”

Jay Mariotti

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My eyeballs did lock, admittedly, when MLB Network provided sweeping visuals we haven’t seen in eons: Wrigley Field swallowed by sunshine, the pause in Clayton Kershaw’s windup, Max Scherzer already in full uniform, Bryce Harper swinging in a bandana. Yep, the brainwashers had me going until I looked around those ballparks, at the start of “Summer Camp’’ in the most ass-backward year of our lives, and noticed a familiar disparity that has turned America into the globally mocked epicenter of COVID-19.

Some players wore masks.

Many players, defiantly and foolishly, did not.

I should have known this was the precursor of a debacle, a weekend that reminded us that Major League Baseball has no chance of surviving a pandemic-slammed season when it can’t even begin to repair the rampant troubles threatening its very existence. Just hours into commissioner Rob Manfred’s bumbling folly, the testing protocol already resembles a sham — filled with misinformation if not downright lies, including suspicions that MLB isn’t being transparent about a sizable number of positive coronavirus tests. All of which surprises no one accustomed to baseball as the most scandalous of sports.

Forget Harper, Kershaw and Scherzer. All attention should be paid to Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, a vocal critic of Manfred and the owners during the embarrassing recent labor squabbles with the players’ union. On a Zoom call Sunday, Doolittle told reporters that of his four tests, two required longer than 48 hours for results to return from MLB’s ridicule-made Salt Lake City laboratory. The Oakland Athletics had to cancel a workout for position players because test results weren’t available, and other teams were awaiting testing data before resuming.

Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle Reveals Phish-Themed Glove | 93 XRT

Only 17 days remain before Opening Day. At this point, Manfred has a better chance of putting people in body bags than pulling off a 60-game season. It’s about time to mercy-kill MLB, assuming Doolittle hasn’t done so with a memorable commentary.

“There’s a lot of players right now that are trying to make decisions that might be participating in camp that aren’t 100 percent comfortable with where things are at right now,’’ he said. “That’s kind of where I am. I think I’m planning on playing. But, if at any point I start to feel unsafe, if it starts to take a toll on my mental health, with all these things we have to worry about, and this cloud of uncertainty hanging over everything, then I’ll opt out.

“Those results gotta be back. That’s one of the biggest things — a lot of guys on the fence decided to try to play and see how this was going to go, because we were going to have our results within 48 hours.’’

Baseball is slow about everything. You thought a sport that can’t finish a game in three hours would have COVID-19 results in two days?

At least the NBA has a shot to resume a season, with its Disney World biobubble awaiting the arrival of players. Baseball looks dead before it starts. “I think there’s still some doubt that we’re going to have a season now. By no means is this a slam dunk,’’ said Cardinals reliever and union leader Andrew Miller.

Mike Trout, baseball’s transcendent figure and someone you don’t want to upset, wore a heavy-duty mask in the outfield after voicing considerable apprehension about playing a 60-game season in a pandemic. Emphasizing that his wife, Jessica, is due to deliver the couple’s first child next month, he said, “Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable. We’re risking our families and our lives to go out here and play for everyone. Obviously, with the baby coming, there’s a lot of stuff going through my mind, my wife’s mind, just trying to (figure out) the safest way to get through a season. I don’t want to test positive and I don’t want to bring it back to my wife. We thought hard about all this, still thinking about all this. It’s a tough situation we’re in, everyone’s in, and everybody’s got a responsibility in this clubhouse to social distance, stay inside, wear a mask and keep everybody safe.’’

MLB: AL MVP Trout still doesn't feel comfortable about this year ...

In essence, Trout was PLEADING that his Angels teammates not be COVID-iots in coronavirus-slammed California, where face coverings are mandatory in public places and Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti again is warning, “You should assume everyone around you is infectious.’’ And yet not minutes later, within a few feet of Trout, maskless teammates were frolicking and talking while shagging fly balls, oblivious to his concerns about an outbreak. This on a weekend when dozens of major-leaguers — including Braves star Freddie Freeman, who isn’t well and will sit a while — tested positive for the virus, along with NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, more soccer players amid an MLS restart collapse, a main-event fighter in UFC 251, and, naturally, Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend. Several NBA teams shut down facilities because of the virus. And in the haste to rush workouts, Giancarlo Stanton almost took off Masahiro Tanaka’s skull inside an eerie Yankee Stadium, counterproductive to the title cause.

It all seems so fragile, hapless, hopeless. But at least wear a mask, right? Reports had some major-league players discarding masks when, of course, they should be covering up when possible as a symbol of their commitment to safety, an infomercial for America to stop political mask warfare and a respectful nod to Trout, who, armed with the sport’s most lucrative contract, has every reason to sit out this shotgun season. He still might go home at any moment. Can we blame him?

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle, taking aim at mask warfare in America. “We’re way worse off as a country then we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are in their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are the reward of a functioning society. And we’re trying to just bring it back, even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands.”

Amen. Sean Doolittle for commissioner.

Or president.

It’s time to ask the question no one in sports wants to face: If enough marquee athletes bow out, will competitive integrity be diluted to the point it’s useless to continue what would be an illegitimate season? The thought of a total sports shutdown mortifies the broadcast networks that drive the sports engine, particularly Fox Sports and ESPN, both of which might crumble if the cash-cow NFL cancels its $15-billion-a-year, TV-dominant season as ESPN parent Disney suffers an abysmal fiscal third quarter. The pressure already is palpable as athletes begin to realize they ultimately hold the power in this restart ecosystem.

Dodgers pitcher David Price opts out of 2020 season

If too many players don’t want to play and scram, as David Price and Victor Oladipo have done and Buster Posey is pondering, down goes MLB, down goes the NBA and down goes the NFL. Once college football players (and their parents) realize they are assuming health risks without being paid, down go Clemson and other superpowers — and down goes the season. And down go the TV networks, doomed to financial disaster. A baseball season is not a baseball season without Trout. And as more prominent athletes fail tests and suffer injuries — bubble or no bubble — sports become less about the games and more about a coronavirus survival test that fans will not enjoy, much less the players.

“If I test positive, it’s my first child, and I have to be there,’’ Trout said. “If I’m positive, doctors have told me I can’t see the baby for 14 days. Jess won’t see the baby for 14 days if she tests positive. We’re going to be upset. I can’t put them in jeopardy. … It’s going to come down to how safe we’re going to be. You never know what can happen tomorrow or the next day, if there’s an outbreak. … A lot of guys have families, some are single and younger, need to get out of the house. One guy can mess this up. One guy can go out and not wear a mask and contract this virus and bring it into the clubhouse. I’ve talked to a lot of guys across the league. They’re all thinking the same thing, `Is this going to work? ‘ ‘’

For all his wondrous skills on the field, never has Trout been more valuable than he was in that virtual interview room. Passionately and reasonably, he spoke to a sports industry that insists on restarting play when common sense and workplace ethics demand a shutdown until 2021. As infections surge and new single-day case records are established daily in the U.S., leagues and broadcast networks that once derided President Trump are conveniently embracing his delusional belief the virus will “just disappear.’’ Driven by massive, stubborn business egos and a hunger to recoup billions of dollars, the industry’s power elite thinks it can beat down the virus and prove that humankind is bigger than a killer disease. And athletes? They’ve been conditioned most of their lives to think they’re superheroes when, in reality, nothing is heroic about resuming sports amid a still-raging crisis.

Jeff Samardzija: San Francisco Giants Starting Pitcher Snaps Bat ...

It’s stupid, actually. And exceedingly dangerous, a recipe for outbreaks in all leagues and an abrupt end to all sports seasons, which underscores the importance of the preeminent baseball superhero speaking out. He’s not alone. “I think we’ve seen with these owners, they’re not scared of anything, and they’re not scared to put anyone at risk if they get the opportunity to, especially if it makes them money,’’ Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. Not only is it unfair to ask athletes to resume seasons and assume all health risks — commissioners and owners, remember, will be bunkered down with their accountants — the reset ignores data that sounds alarms about the outsized impact of coronavirus in the black community. When about 75 percent of NBA players and 70 percent of NFL players identify themselves as African American, the discussion has been suspiciously non-existent about: (1) a COVID-19 mortality rate that is 2.3 times higher for black people than for whites and Hispanics, according to the Washington Post; and (2) a metric that shows African Americans are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than white people, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The leagues can take all the measures they want to appease black athletes in a turbulent, potentially explosive summer, from the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter’’ on the Disney World courts and allow players to wear “social justice’’ slogans on jerseys to the NFL’s plan to play “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing’’ before “The Star-Spangled Banner’’ in pregame ceremonies. Daniel Snyder finally can find a non-racist nickname for Washington’s NFL franchise, and the Cleveland Indians can do the same. If players don’t feel safe in a pandemic, they’re not playing. Major League Baseball, mired in a disastrous diversity crisis on all levels, looks worse when Price follows Ian Desmond in opting out. It was Desmond who said baseball is “failing’’ in efforts to aid minority participation, writing on Instagram, “Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war. We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners. Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it. If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now.’’

Well said.

The NBA has racial peace. But to prevent the virus from spreading in the bubble, all players will have to obey the safety protocol and commit weeks, if not months, to life in isolation. Do they have it in them? I’m not the only one doubting it “My confidence ain’t great,’’ said All-Star guard Damian Lillard, “because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules.’’

How A DeMar DeRozan Sign-and-Trade Would Work - Project Spurs

Said Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, whose publicly shared battles with mental health underline another issue with players in virtual lockdown: Will they go stir-crazy? He can’t understand why ping-pong doubles games are banned. “Guys can’t do this, but we can do this and battle over each other (on the court),’’ he said. “I got through 10 lines of the (safety) handbook and just put it down because it became so frustrating and overwhelming at times, because you just never thought you’d be in a situation of something like this. It’s hard to process.’’

On the mental health topic, Doolittle said,  “I can already tell this is going to be a grind mentally, and I might go crazy before anything else. There’s this cloud of uncertainty. You’re always kind of waiting for more bad news. Every time I get a text message or something on my phone throughout the day I’m worried that it’s going to be some kind of bad news, like somebody in the league tested positive or somebody opted out or so-and-so broke protocol and there’s pictures of people going out on social media when they shouldn’t be.’’

Then there was JJ Redick. The NBA veteran delivered the defining observation of the restart, surely speaking for many athletes when he said, “To say that we have any sort of comfort level would be a lie. There is no comfort level. We’re not with our families. We’re not at our homes. We’re isolated in a bubble in the middle of a hot spot in the middle of Florida — while there’s social unrest going on in the country — and we’re three months away from potentially the most important election in our lifetimes. Now, we have to figure out a way to perform and play basketball and all that, because I do believe it is the right thing to go and play. But there is absolutely no comfort level — none.’’

All weekend, like a toxic drip, the news digest offered more reasons not to play sports in 2020. I even read a story suggesting the PGA Tour will continue to risk outbreaks as long as winners hug caddies, as Daniel Berger did after winning the Charles Schwab Challenge. Maybe that’s why ESPN.com refused to budge for hours on what it viewed as the leading story: Joey Chestnut (a record 75 consumed) and Miki Sudo continued to dominate Nathan’s Famous Dog-Eating Contest, even when separated from other slobberers by fiberglass panels.

It wasn’t proper journalistic judgment. But it did generate a grin. When was the last time we grinned about sports?

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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