If anything can be redeeming about a pandemic, it’s the weeding-out process. We discover who’s real and who’s phony, who’s empathetic and who’s apathetic, who prioritizes health and who prioritizes wealth — and who doesn’t care if college football players contract COVID-19, get sick, suffer heart problems and transmit the evil droplets to teammates and family members in the very definition of superspreading.
“Play College Football!’’ tweeted President Trump, who is thinking only about himself, his re-election bid and his feeble response to the virus when he types his hot take.
And as quickly as you can say FOUR BILLION DOLLARS, the greedy men desperately trying to keep an industry alive have their convenient bad guy. Meaning, if the SEC, Big 12 and ACC want to continue playing football while the Big Ten and Pac-12 wisely demur, they do have a presidential hall pass, for what it’s worth. The thought of Trump encouraging young people to risk their health, when he’s not the one taking his helmet head onto the field, is as disjointed as American life itself in 2020. But that’s what he has done, taking advantage of a clumsily operated machine with no semblance of unified leadership in normal times, much less during a human catastrophe.
In good medical conscience, all the university presidents and athletic officials determining college football’s fate realize the 2020 season should be shut down. They also don’t want to be perceived as leading the charge, fearing political and business-world backlash and social-media barrages. But now that Trump has weighed in, siding with Trevor Lawrence and other #WeWantToPlay advocates pushing for a season, the decision-makers can flip the script if they’re overwhelmed by money pangs and still prefer to chase the TV jackpot: “Hey, if Trump says it’s OK to play, let him take the heat while we backdoor this baby and make our fortunes!’’
I hope this isn’t their sneaky agenda, that they err on the side of science and academia. I pray they not only can spell and pronounce the condition emerging as the flashpoint of this debate — myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle that has impacted young people infected by COVID-19 — but realize it’s one of many coronavirus concerns that quickly could turn an unnecessary season into an all-time health and administrative debacle. These are supposed to be institutions of higher learning, not money-grab chop shops employing cheap labor.
Ah, but I am an idealist. Pardon my foolishness. Since the tweets of Trump and Lawrence, the Clemson quarterback and current face of the sport, the groundswell of start-the-season support has been astounding. The door was swung open to self-interests in athletic factories everywhere, with some coaches woefully lacking perspective, as if they’re in the fourth quarter of a playoff game when a human touch is needed. A Big Ten pause wouldn’t stop Ohio State or Nebraska from looking at other scheduling options, according to their coaches, in the first sign that programs are willing to sell souls and form a crazy-quilt season even among a handful of teams. “Swinging as hard as we possibly can right now for these players!! This isn’t over! #FIGHT,’’ declared Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, sounding like an army general. If that isn’t raw desperation, consider Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, bucking the reported wishes of his own university president by presenting facts — facts! — on why the season should proceed. According to Harbaugh, his program hasn’t had a single positive test in the last 353 administered. In his view, it’s why the Big Ten and the other four major conferences should play on.
“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players’ desire to play — but because of facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus,’’ Dr. Jim said. “We have developed a great prototype for how we can make this work and provide the opportunity for players to play.’’
What he’s omitting, by design, is the fallout when his players face other teams in a violent, close-contact sport. And when his players are mingling with other students on campus. And when his players are attending mask-optional parties. And that Harbaugh will die another death if he has to wait another year for a crack at Ohio State, the rival he can’t beat. You also wonder about the megalomania of the sport’s overlord, Nick Saban, who is using the Lawrence argument: Players are safer on the Alabama campus than they are at home with their families. Said St. Nick, to ESPN: “I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety. Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2 percent positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”
So if they’re going to get the virus, let them at least get it on a football field, goes Saban’s rationale, so his program can bring in its $180 million in revenues. I thought Nick was urging Deep South COVID-iots to wear masks, concerned enough about the virus that he feared a lost season. Now, facing that possibility, Saban isn’t nearly as concerned. It begs a question: Do you trust these coaches? Will they be transparent about testing results when no law requires them to be? They could be lying. Would we ever know?
Starring in his own movie, “Dabo Vs. The Virus,’’ Clemson coach Dabo Swinney declared after a practice in pads Monday night that he and his team will play football regardless of what the ACC decides. If you’re keeping score, that’s Clemson, Ohio State and Nebraska so far in the rogue league. “I fully support what we are trying to do at Clemson and elsewhere in college football to have a season. I’ve made my decision, and I have a football team that has made their decision, and hopefully people will respect what we want to do,’’ Swinney said.
“This game is important to so many people. I wish everyone could have seen our practice today, the energy, competitiveness and fun — just trying to win the day. This is the safest environment we could have our guys in, without a doubt, as opposed to not getting tested every day at home or not being in such a sanitized environment as we have here. Everything here is mitigated. We have had one player test positive since early July. We all know there is risk with the virus. If you told me we wouldn’t get the virus if we canceled football, I’d be the first person to sign up. But if we cancel football, the virus doesn’t go away.’’
Yet if you cancel football, Dabo, that’s one less way of spreading it during hundreds of college games, which are taking an average of three hours and 24 minutes these days. Why so long? Answer: Commercials, which reimburse media companies for the lucrative amounts they pay to conferences for rights, such as the $2.25 billion the SEC has negotiated with Disney/ESPN.
Then you have the politicians, such as COVID’s best friend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. `The Southeastern Conference and ACC — I think most of those institutions do want to play because I think they do understand, you know, how important it is for the well-being of their student-athletes,’’ he said. “So yeah, I’m 100 percent in favor. We’ve got to play.”
All of which only brainwashes players who don’t know better. “Years of work will come down to votes from presidents and execs who haven’t even witnessed our protocols and safety measures with their own eyes,” Ohio State captain Justin Hilliard tweeted. “Our guys are safe.’’
Or so says Ryan Day, anyway.
Has anyone checked with the kids who don’t want to play? Or their parents? Jake Curhan, a Cal offensive lineman, is part of the grass-roots unity group demanding compensation and other benefits to play the sport. His research turned up numbers different than those of Harbaugh and Saban: A scientist estimates an infection rate of 30 to 50 percent if a season is played, with as many as three deaths. For direct proof of how the virus ravages the system, Harbaugh should have mentioned a Big Ten player, Indiana offensive lineman Brady Feeney, who fears heart-related issues after contracting the virus.
“COVID-19 is serious,’’ tweeted Feeney, an incoming freshman. “I never thought I would have serious health complications from the virus, but look at what happened. We need to listen to our medical experts.’’
Feeney’s mother was more outspoken, writing on Facebook: “Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition, and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues (and spent) 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus. … Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems. Bottom line, even if your son’s schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN’T PROTECT THEM!!’’
If you wonder why we don’t hear from more parents, well, wouldn’t you be intimidated by the money hoarders? Protest too loudly, and your kid is canceled in the sport. From the first time a coach stepped into a recruit’s living room, we’ve heard the sales pitch about “taking care of your son at (Power 5 program) as we build his bridge to manhood,’’ or some b.s. of the such. In truth, the young athlete is a servant. He will keep a scholarship and perks as long as he contributes to generating massive profits that cross well into nine-figure, two-comma territory for a football behemoth. And if he isn’t a good soldier, in the parlance, he’ll be shipped away. After all, football money accounts for more than 60 percent of a major public university’s total annual operating revenues. It’s a pity if your son develops heart issues, but, hey, the games must go on.
The stance is too familiar. It mirrors what Trump has said for months about the virus death toll: “People are going to die,’’ he says, wanting to believe the number is a pittance when the World Health Organization says it’s 750,000 globally. Donald, why risk young lives in the name of football? Pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who was to have been the Opening Day starter for the Boston Red Sox, opted out of the baseball season after a COVID-19 infection led to heart problems. Why aren’t we focusing on the illnesses, the patients?
Do I really have to answer that? The president again has been allowed to politicize and mock the health crisis of our lives, this time giving oxygen to a football season that should have been canceled months ago.
“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay,’’ Trump tweeted.
No, the politicians, coaches and universities have too much at stake for their season to be cancelled. #Money #Power #Ego #Deceit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.