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The Shame of Skip Bayless…and His FOX Bosses

“The FS1 personality made reprehensible comments about Dak Prescott’s depression battle, but don’t forget the executives who pay him and industry double-talkers who gave Charles Barkley a pass after similar remarks.”

Jay Mariotti

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Excoriate Skip Bayless. Eviscerate him, emasculate him. Attach him to a tackling dummy and let Dak Prescott take whacks at him, with follow-up body blows from Troy Aikman. Let his brother, the chef Rick Bayless, cover his body in hot chiles and threaten to deep-fry him until he apologizes.

But please know that the problems with this shameful story — Bayless mocking Prescott, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, for acknowledging his struggles with depression and anxiety — don’t stop at the microphone of the “Undisputed’’ opinion-spewer. Also to be indicted here, strongly, are the executives who employ this cantankerous cuss at Fox Sports 1, and the shallow-minded sports media peers who selectively admonish Bayless while not caring, say, when Charles Barkley makes similarly insensitive remarks about Paul George’s mental health challenges.

To me, last week’s Bayless eruption is what’s wrong with the profession in a single sound bite. He is paid handsomely not for his expertise but for his penchant to draw cheap attention by making outrageous, preposterous comments. FS1 thinks the formula is successful, even when lowly ratings suggest he has been a massive failure for his reported $5 million a year. So the boss who signed off on his 2016 hiring, Fox Sports CEO and executive producer Eric Shanks, continues to trot out Bayless like a baseball manager who won’t give up on a troublesome, washed-up pitcher. Shanks has been innovative in his career — he helped create NFL RedZone and the yellow first-down line on football telecasts — but the Bayless experiment is much like his glowing puck on long-ago hockey productions.

A grotesquely bad idea.

Media executives tend not to acknowledge their mistakes, you see. In this case, one of the Murdochs might notice the Bayless money drain and shank Shanks. Poaching Bayless from ESPN was the brainchild of Jamie Horowitz, who created the “First Take’’ success story in Bristol by pairing Bayless with Stephen A. Smith. But the hopes of then-fledgling FS1, which thought Bayless’ rants would make big noise, devolved into an undisputed ratings dud. The danger now is that he might be so desperate for attention and metrics that he’ll say anything. Should FS1 yank him from the chair before he sinks to even lower lows on the screech meter?

Let’s just make sure we point out, for the sake of accountability and fairness, that he’s not alone in the sin bin. The sports media, especially fanboy types who play favorites, expose their own flaws by trashing Bayless as a horrible human while giving Barkley his usual passes, which suggests their criticism is grounded in petty jealousy more than genuine disgust and nullifies their professional legitimacy.

Here is what Bayless said about Prescott’s depression issues, which surfaced early in the pandemic and worsened when his brother, Jace, committed suicide: “You are commanding an entire franchise. … And they’re all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team. Because of all that, I don’t have sympathy for him going public with `I got depressed’ and `I suffered depression early in COVID to the point that I couldn’t even go work out.’ Look, he’s the quarterback of America’s team. The sport that he plays is dog-eat-dog. It is no compassion, no quarter given on the football field. If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot.”

The take isn’t hot. It’s heartless, repulsive and a fireable offense. But is it any less disgraceful than Barkley’s response when George, the Los Angeles Clippers star, said he was in a “dark place’’ within the restrictive environment of the NBA Bubble? “I don’t think guys making millions of dollars should be worried just because they’re stuck in a place where they can go fishing and play golf and play basketball and make millions of dollars,” the TNT analyst told Dan Patrick. “That’s not a dark place. The thing that happened in Wisconsin (the Jacob Blake shooting), the things happening with this pandemic, all these people losing their jobs — those people are in a dark place. We are the luckiest people in the world to dribble a stupid basketball and make millions of dollars. We’re never in a dark place. I just think we need to be careful what we complain about.”

Any mental health issue should be discussed with delicate compassion by everyone. If Bayless should be fired for his comment, Barkley should be fired for his. Don’t chastise one because he’s a former newspaper columnist who never played big-time sports and pardon the other because he’s an NBA Hall of Famer. Either focus on the verbal crime itself — and not the popularity or likability of who said it — or return to the grade-school sandbox where too many sports media people belong anyway. This isn’t simply about Bayless, per se. It’s about the shocking inability of network commentators, amid the turbulence of 2020, to understand the most fragile basics about depression.

Yet industry people who openly hate Bayless make it only about Bayless, such as Sports Illustrated media writer Jimmy Traina, who returns here for a second time because he lacks intellectual equilibrium. While obliterating Bayless, Traina ignores Barkley because he likes Barkley. If a critic can’t separate his professional work from personal favoritism, he’s shouldn’t be a critic. Such charlatans only let TNT — and parent company AT&T — off the hook without having to answer for Barkley’s numerous low-blow takes.     NBA star Kevin Love has been a robust spokesperson for mental health. He supported George after his recent comments, tweeting, “… post game speaking about being in a `dark place’ and underestimating the effects of mental health, depression, anxiety — is HUGE coming from a player of his caliber. Was always a fan of PG but now even more so.’’

But Love didn’t address Barkley, either, though naturally mentioning Bayless in a set of tweets: “You want to know why now, and always, it’s important for Dak Prescott to share his struggles … it’s because racial lines play a major part in people’s relationship with mental health — “opening up about a mental illness can feel like giving one more weapon to someone you know can use it against you.”…. Skip missed fact that BECAUSE Dak is the quarterback and leader of America’s team — him outwardly expressing this will lead young men and women of every demographic to be less alone and express themselves openly. Mental health issues rob us of achieving our full potential. … Dak helped move a number of people forward today.’’

Why do people attack Bayless and leave Barkley alone? Are they afraid of Chuck’s wrath? Is it the old Cosellian jockocracy at work? Hell, my phone used to ping every time Barkley torched me on “Inside The NBA’’ — not that my commentaries on “Around The Horn’’ ever exceeded a 7 on a scale of 1 (benign) to 10 (felonious). Think I cared about Chuck? The message of the column ALWAYS is more important than the preservation of relationships, kids. That’s why we’re columnists. We own the independent space.

In that vein, I’m not convinced Fox Sports would have issued a quick statement rebuking Bayless if critics and social media hadn’t railed against him. Shanks is attached to the hip of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to the point Erin Andrews actually thanked Jones for conducting an interview last week on behalf of Fox (WTF?). Therefore, Shanks was answering to many when he approved this release: “At Fox Sports, we are proud of Dak Prescott for publicly revealing his struggle with depression and mental health. No matter the cause of the struggle, Fox Sports believes Dak showed tremendous courage which is evident in both his leadership on the Dallas Cowboys and in his character off the field. We do not agree with Skip Bayless’ opinion on Undisputed this morning. We have addressed the significance of this matter with Skip and how his insensitive comments were received by people internally at Fox Sports and our audience.”

Not that Shanks ever would suspend him, which would have been an appropriate punishment. There was Bayless the next morning, back on “Undisputed’’ and not exactly remorseful, claiming he wasn’t aware during his commentary that Prescott’s brother had taken his life. Being aware is a primary part of Bayless’ job description, and if he doesn’t study enough to know the particulars about a prominent NFL player, he shouldn’t be in the chair. Saying his comments were “misconstrued by many,’’ he explained, “The only Dak depression I discussed on the show was from an interview he taped with (talk show host) Graham Bensinger. Dak said that depression hit soon after the pandemic hit, right after the quarantine. I said that if Dak needed help for pandemic depression, he should have sought it then.”

He concluded by describing Prescott as “my quarterback,’’ as if Bayless’ status as a Cowboys fan should supersede any and all misconstruing. I remind you that in a few months, this man-child turns 69 years old.

If Bayless wants to discuss one’s “weakness,’’ I know his. He exposed it years ago when we competed in Chicago — I was the Sun-Times columnist, he was at the Tribune. To his credit, he was passionate about his subject material, more than I could say about the city’s other sports columnists during my 17 years there. But when I’d take a stand, he invariably would take the other side. I happen to be right more than I’m wrong — insert laughtrack here — so it caught up to him. Also, I was writing lengthier pieces and he was confined to a narrow hole down the side of a traditional newspaper broadsheet, which led to internal Tribune disagreements and his resignation. From there, he headed to ESPN and his eventual debate pairing with Smith.

So blame me for Bayless’ transformation as a TV monster.

With networks willing to do anything — unethical, immoral — to spike a ratings book, it’s no coincidence Bayless voiced such a low-brow opinion only a week after Smith’s own regrettable opinion on “First Take’’ about “White privilege’’ — his belief that Steve Nash was hired as Brooklyn Nets head coach only because he’s White. Just as Smith won two days of news-cycle attention — and viewers — Bayless got his two days of eyeballs. Their  programs do compete directly, with Smith and Max Kellerman regularly blowing away Bayless and Shannon Sharpe in the numbers game. And it surprises no one that Smith, who still hasn’t apologized to Nash, seized Bayless’ misfire by delivering a powerful commentary about mental health while sympathizing with Prescott. Of course, he did. Would Stephen A. have done so independent of Bayless’ comments? I doubt it.

Such is the slime game of morning daytime sports talk. Years after FS1 trumpeted Bayless, to the outrage of Fox teammate Aikman, the reckless take-artist appears to have singlehandedly ruined a stalled network and stolen a fortune from the Murdochs. This episode ultimately might push FS1 not to renew Bayless, but TNT still loves Barkley, who recently rebuked Smith and frequently rebukes Bayless, all in the name of televised sports gasbaggery that decency and dignity long ago forgot.

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Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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