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Sports Must Ignore Trump, Continue To Purge Racism

“As the President tries to rally his white voting base amid America’s racial upheaval, it’s important that pig-headed team owners change insensitive nicknames and NASCAR reinforces its support for Bubba Wallace.”

Jay Mariotti

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It always circles back to sports, doesn’t it? Donald Trump dreamed of buying an NFL franchise, and if league owners had approved his 2014 bid for the Buffalo Bills, he’d be admonishing his fourth general manager and fifth head coach by now while ordering players to disregard COVID-19 and get their asses on the field.

He also wouldn’t be President of the United States.

Damn, what were the owners thinking? Choose Trump, vote down Terry and Kim Pegula, and America is saved, right?

Six years later, Trump is trying to breathe oxygen into his gasping re-election hopes by turning to, yep, sports for ammunition. Rather than see empathy in the plight of Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only African American driver, Trump claims the noose hanging in Wallace’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway was “just another HOAX’’ and bemoans the circuit’s decision to ban the Confederate flag. “Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!” tweeted Trump, pulling another muscle in a typing finger that pounded the same message during Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests.

NASCAR Reports Noose Found in Bubba Wallace's Talladega Garage

No sooner did Wallace respond in kind on social media — “Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are taught to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS’’ — than Trump had found another target: franchises that finally are changing racially insensitive nicknames. Landing a shot at a political rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he wrote, “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names in order to be politically correct. Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry right now!’’

All of which should be ignored, of course. Because if 2020 is the most disruptive and potentially devastating year of our lives — and a logistical disaster for sports, including the testing protocol screwups that threaten the restart of chronically inept Major League Baseball — this also is the year when sports attacked hatred with a purpose not previously evident.

Never usually means never, in particular when a boorish despot orders never to be used in capital letters. “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,’’ Daniel Snyder said seven years ago, referring to the nickname of his NFL team, the Redskins. But the outrage and flames of 2020 have melted away NEVER, even in the once-intractable domain of contentious sports names. As Trump continues to flout tensions that could make America explode again, Snyder represents a very unlikely source of — dare we suggest — hope?

The George Floyd horror itself might not have penetrated Snyder’s closed mind. But it terrified millions who do business with FedEx, the title sponsor of the Redskins’ stadium, and other prominent partners such as Nike and Pepsi. The shrinking of NEVER is a simple equation: consumers complain, CEOs react and pressure is applied on Snyder to either change the name or lose those companies as backers. And unlike 2013, when he made his flip comment to USA Today and prompted this response from then-President Barack Obama — “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing” — the new pressures aren’t as political as they are financial. If Snyder wants to avoid a mass corporate boycott of his team, and if he wants a new stadium to have a lucrative sponsorship at the old RFK Stadium site in D.C., he finally must bury a nickname that is insulting to Native American culture and belongs nowhere near any respectful, 21st-century context.

Stadium sponsors FedEx ask Washington Redskins to change ...

“We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name,’’ FedEx said in a statement.

Which, in turn, led to this: “In the last few weeks we have had ongoing discussions with Dan and we are supportive of this important step,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who can’t flip the switch to wokeness in a Black Lives Matter video and still allow Redskins as a nickname.

Which, in turn, will lead to a new name that will be offensive to no one, other than racists who aim to be offensive.

All walls won’t be toppled. Still, eyes have been opened, monuments removed and, in sufficient time, slurs such as Redskins and Indians will be purged from the lexicon by owners who are not heroes but billionaire businessmen with clenched teeth. This always was a complex subject for me as a columnist in Chicago, where nicknames such as Blackhawks and Fighting Illini were hailed by the NHL franchise and University of Illinois as proud sobriquets that honored Native Americans — and most of their fans agreed. Now, maybe the same fans will put down their beers and think.

For decades, pro franchises with contentious names have looked the other way, impervious to heat and ultra-protective of valuations linked to tradition and market size. Much as Snyder is loathed, much as his team has been a bust through most of his 21 years as owner, the Redskins have been financial winners  — currently worth $3.1 billion, ranking 14th among the world’s most valuable sports teams and fifth in NFL circles. But growth has flatlined as the Redskins struggle in their aging stadium, and Snyder needed a game-changer in his front office. I doubt he was shrewd enough to realize Ron Rivera might transform his life and his franchise’s shaky standing in America when, in January, he hired Rivera as head coach. But even if he doesn’t win much — and as long as Snyder is the owner, those fortunes likely won’t improve — Rivera will be remembered as the pioneer who gave vision to a blind boss and urged him to sandblast the name.

Of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, Rivera is the NFL’s only Hispanic head coach and one of only four league head coaches of color. When the latest dump-Redskins avalanche came after Floyd’s death, Snyder couldn’t have had a better in-house ally than Rivera, the son of an Army officer who grew up on military bases. At his introductory news conference, he said the nickname issue “is of personal importance to me,’’ adding that he looked forward to working with Snyder “to make sure we continue the mission of honoring and supporting Native Americans and our military.’’

New coach Ron Rivera takes over the Washington Redskins | WTOP

The breakthrough came Saturday, Independence Day, when Rivera told the Washington Post that he and Snyder have been hard at work on a new name. Ever think you’d read those words? “If we get it done in time for the season, it would be awesome,’’ said Rivera, mentioning that he especially likes two possibilities.

Not that Snyder’s house doesn’t remain chaotic. Frederick Smith, the FedEx chairman who approved the letter demanding the name change, happens to be one of three minority Redskins owners who are tired of Snyder and trying to sell stakes. And why is Rivera, the coach, speaking to the media and collaborating with Snyder on a monumental reshaping of the team’s image? Because the team doesn’t have a football boss after the firing of president Bruce Allen. For all we know, Snyder will return from vacation — Bahamas and Europe, regardless of coronavirus — and have second thoughts about the nickname. But I doubt it, as even his friends are telling him it’s time to evolve or devolve.

What’s fascinating is how Rivera spent part of his formative years in the Washington metropolis and became a Redskins fan. He also loved the nickname. “It was hard to fathom that it was in any way a racist thing, to be honest with you,” he told the Post. “Now, putting it in perspective, there’s been a change. My eyes are wide open.’’

Because the Indians are based in Cleveland and not immersed in the politics and media swarm of the nation’s capital, their ownership group hasn’t been scrutinized nationally like Snyder. Only last year did the team finally remove the stereotypical, cartoonish, red-faced Chief Wahoo from its uniforms and caps. Will the Indians, after 105 years, finally seek a new nickname? Or will they continue to bow to pressure from traditionalists and racists? This time, they sound real. “We are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name,’’ the team said in a statement.

Indians manager Francona favors nickname change for club | WTRF

Like Rivera, Cleveland manager Terry Francona is publicly lobbying for change from the people who pay his salary. When a fan of a team sees a popular skipper take a stand — and the team knows he’s doing so — it sends a message that life is progressing at Progressive Field. “I think it’s time to move forward,’’ he said. “I know in the past when I’ve been asked, whether it’s our name or the Chief Wahoo, I think I would usually answer and say I know that we’re never trying to be disrespectful. And I still feel that way. But I don’t think that’s a good enough answer today.’’

And like Rivera, who is 58, the 61-year-old Francona acknowledges his belief system needed a revision. “Even at my age, you don’t want to be too old to learn or realize that maybe I’ve been ignorant of some things — and to be ashamed of it, and to try to be better,’’ he said. “I’m glad we’re going to be open to listening, because I think that’s probably the most important thing right now, is being willing to listen, not necessarily just talk.”

Just as Snyder says he has launched an “evaluation’’ of the nickname and logo, the Indians say they are “examining’’ the matter. Consider it an incremental pushing of a story to its inevitable, rightful end. Major League Baseball, mired in a diversity crisis on all levels, can’t afford to dawdle. That also applies to the Atlanta Braves, who ditched their urban ballpark for white suburbia three years ago and still don’t view their nickname and accompanying “tomahawk chop’’ chant as offensive. Wasn’t it just last October when Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was critical of the chant? Before the next postseason game, the team didn’t distribute the red foam tomahawks that fans have waved for decades in Georgia.

If they can take that step, the Braves certainly can embark on a more monumental social mission. For now, they say the team “honors, supports and values the Native American community. That will never change.’’

So Braves and Blackhawks are still acceptable when Redskins and Indians are not? This is no time to prolong the justification game. When Dan Snyder can take a jackhammer to NEVER, anyone can. And should.

BSM Writers

Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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BSM Writers

Radio Row Is One of The Worst Weeks For Our Listeners

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners.

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From strictly a listener’s perspective, sports radio the week of Super Bowl’s Radio Row is one of the worst weeks.

Before I was a sports radio programmer, I was a sports radio listener. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, I was listening to sports radio with a programmer’s mindset. And every year, I would spend the entire week listening to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each year, I would wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

And now, as a former sports radio programmer, I will sit this week and listen to shows produced live — or pretending to be live — from Radio Row at the Super Bowl. And each day, I will wonder “What the hell is the point of this?”

Who does it serve? Let’s take an in-depth look at that question.

It serves the NFL. Hundreds of media professionals are stationed at its largest event, talking about it, ensuring it stays at the forefront of the public consciousness and providing millions in value for its sponsors.

It serves NFL players. Both past and present. Dozens of current and former stars will flock to Radio Row to record dozens of interviews. They’ll be paid thousands of dollars to pitch their wares as often as possible while expanding their brands outside the cities in which they currently or formerly played.

It serves the sponsors of NFL players. Radio Row provides a one-stop-shop for sponsors to send their endorsers down a line of interviews to continually get in front of new audiences. Scale, baby!

It serves the hosts, PDs, and executives. You get a working vacation! It’s awesome! I live in the Midwest, and yesterday was one of a handful of days I’ve seen the sun since November. Being in Arizona in early February is phenomenal! Plus, you get to hob knob with celebrities, get your photos taken, go to awesome parties with extravagant hor dourves and open bars, and it’s fantastic. You deserve the little break Radio Row provides; better yet, it’s all on the company dime. You get some bonding with your co-workers, you get to network, and it really is an awesome opportunity.

But you know who isn’t served? Your listeners. At least, the vast majority of them. Because here’s the reality: While it’s really cool that you’re hanging out with other radio folks, and you’ll have a plethora of former and current players swinging by for interviews, your listeners really don’t care. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s the truth. While there’s a subset of listeners who are living vicariously through you — and that can’t be completely shortchanged, it’s a big deal — the overwhelming majority couldn’t be less invested in your Radio Row interviews.

Think of it from a listener’s viewpoint: Outside of the Bay Area, do you think anyone has thought “Man, I wonder who Kyle Juszczyk thinks is gonna win the Super Bowl?” I’ll tell you that, no, they haven’t thought that, and they don’t particularly care what he thinks. Furthermore, they definitely don’t care that he’s sponsored by Old Spice, which gives him the P-P-P-Power!™

And it would be fine if there was one interview here or there, but there are some shows — both local and national — that will completely fill out their rundowns with interviews with people your listeners don’t especially care about, ask questions that your listeners don’t especially care about, and end the interview by asking who they think wins Sunday, why they think that way, and allow them to pitch their boner pills or whatever else they’re schlepping. Every day. For five straight days. For two, three, four, or even five hours.

It stinks.

Self-serving isn’t bad as long as you recognize it’s self-serving. And that could be potentially the biggest issue. Now and then, you’ll get a host that is sanctimonious and pretends they’re doing the listener a favor by spending a week away from their family in a warm weather destination, rubbing elbows with some of the greatest players — both past and present — in the game. You’re not. You’re spending a week eating all the free food you can find, drinking all the free beer you can find, and taking pictures to post on your Instagram. And that’s fine, but don’t pretend like it’s something it isn’t. You can talk yourself into its importance, but it’s important to you.

Radio Row is a great opportunity for hosts, PDs, and executives. But it isn’t an inherently great opportunity for your listeners. You can turn it into one with thoughtful questions, a unique spin on the traditional interview, or avoiding the same boring questions your subject has been asked 1,000 times during the day, but you’ve gotta go the extra mile to accomplish that. And I hope that’s not something you lose sight of this week.

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BSM Writers

What Are The Right Social Media Answers For Sports Radio?

“What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any?”

Demetri Ravanos

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Social media does not stand still. The platforms that matter today can fall out of favor with the general public in the blink of an eye. Conversely, the right feature or attention from the right people can catapult a site’s importance in the social pecking order.

How does a radio company determine what matters? Are all formats received similarly on social media or is sports radio such a unique animal that brands have to be much more deliberate in how resources are allocated? To answer these questions, I turned to some experts. 

Tom Izzo doesn’t exclude any platform when he is plotting WFAN’s social strategy. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter may each attract a different type of sports fan, but they all matter in building and serving the larger audience.

“There is sports radio audience on every social media platform, you just have to talk to them differently depending where you are,” he told me. “The language and audience on Twitter is different than the language and audience on Facebook, but there is audience everywhere.”

Audience is everywhere. That’s what is at the heart of the conundrum. How do you best utilize your assets in a landscape that isn’t just constantly changing? It’s also constantly growing!

Lori Lewis has overseen social media strategy at an executive level for Cumulus, Westwood One, Jacobs Media and iHeart among others. Now she coaches companies on creating great content with her own company, Lori Lewis Media

She told me that the key for not just sports stations, but for any brand, is understanding what their audience prioritizes. That doesn’t mean it should be the brand’s only focus though.

“Obviously, for sports radio, it’s Twitter. But don’t sleep on short-form vertical video,” she said in an email. “When done right, you’ll see success (meaning converting views into new fans) with YouTube Shorts and/or Instagram Reels as well as playback videos on Facebook (those are visual replays from the audio show).”

Converting views into new fans was taken to a bit of an extreme in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone launched Zone TV in 2021. Will Boling took the lead in creating the product. He says that launching a proprietary video stream was never about moving away from other social platforms. It was about giving listeners more access to better content in more places.

“Our video platform affects a lot of our social strategy,” he said. “On Twitter, we don’t want to just be seen as a radio station, but as a media company. Our Twitter stream allows us to react to breaking news while also sharing our broadcast at the same time. And with Twitch’s video producer, we can create featured clips from shows whenever we want. That allows us to push video out of featured guests, funny callers and anything in between to promote our podcasts from each show too.”

Video matters so much more than ever before. It does not matter who you talk to or what platform it is you are talking about. The answer always comes back to using video to attract more eyeballs.

TikTok, our most controversial social video platform, is trying to figure out what its reach could be without the visuals. Last month the company announced that it would experiment with its version of podcasts – a mode on the app that would allow users to experience TikTok content as audio-only entertainment.

I asked all three of my experts what their initial impression of the story is. Only Izzo expressed reservations.

“Probably no need for us to be first anywhere if there isn’t any particular benefit to doing that,” he said. “We’ll watch and see what happens and if it turns out that people like consuming podcasts on TikTok we will certainly address that.”

That doesn’t mean WFAN hosts and bosses won’t keep a keen eye on the feature. I would anticipate that there may be some experimental posts that either don’t receive much of a push or perhaps never see the light of day at all.

Boling is adamant that any use of TikTok is a wise one for stations. He says anything set up with an algorithm that rewards creators for posting content the audience connects with is an asset that cannot be ignored.

“We use social media to push listeners to our YouTube channel because it’s an algorithm based platform. If we get someone to click on our page once, then our channel will get recommended to them the next time they get on YouTube. TikTok helps radio companies accomplish that and own every space in the digital market right now.”

Unsurprisingly, it’s Lori Lewis that approaches the feature in the most scientific way. Do TikTok podcasts represent a sort of new frontier for audio brands? Sure, but just like Grogu and the Mandalorian, you have to go there and poke around before you can figure out how it will work best for you.

“If TikTok expands to audio, how might you complement the mothership (The FM/AM stick) and build on the trust you’ve earned from your show? What’s a unique way to tap into new features? As social media evolves, so should our approach.”

What are the limits of social media for radio brands? Are there any? Since the onset of the pandemic, so much listening has shifted from terrestrial signals to digital streams. We have totally rethought what we are. Why should it stop with how our audience consumes our content? 

I asked Lewis if we are too narrow in thinking about how social media can serve us. Are we so focused on what is that we have not considered what could be? Can a brand have one identity on air and use social media to create something that does not mirror it, but instead compliments it?

“Depends on why you’re using social media,” she answered. “If you’re leveraging social media for increased awareness and building trust to drive more engagement during your show, it might not make sense to be different on social than on-air. But, if you’re a vanilla brand limited to creativity on-air, why not? Throw yourself out there. Show your real, relatable self (assuming it’s legal and appropriate, ha-ha). Relatability wins every time.”

Do we have to be deliberate in sports radio with how we allocate our social media resources? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there is a single correct answer. 

Strategy matters on air. It’s no different on social media. But in order to figure out the best strategy, you have to be open-minded and eager to play around with new offerings to determine what works.

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