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Foolish Denial: Saban And King Football Vs. Covid

Between the coaching legend’s hypocrisy and the NFL’s games-first stance in plowing through daily infections, the sport still isn’t taking the pandemic seriously enough — as consequences await.

Jay Mariotti

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Nick Saban

Now that they’ve turned the coronavirus into an intercollegiate sport — Nick Saban rallies late to thwart the nasal swabs! — and now that NFL teams routinely play games just days or hours after closing facilities, we see what the football megalomaniacs are doing now.     

They are raising fists, thrusting middle fingers higher than the heavens and telling all health-minded Americans to bug off, that they have important work to do the next few months. This work is so critical to humankind that Saban had a state trooper meet him at his home after the coach’s “fifth consecutive negative” COVID-19 test, that according to the Alabama team physician, who, of course, couldn’t have reported otherwise without Saban firing him on the spot. The state trooper then escorted St. Nick from “self-isolation,” which involved Zoom-spying on his team every day and night, over to the team hotel so he could join meetings seven full hours before Alabama played Georgia, a game that never, ever could have proceeded without Saban on the sideline.     

Nick Saban: Alabama football coach tests positive for Covid-19 - CNN

Most anywhere else in America, a 68-year-old man who tests positive is quarantined for at least 14 days as an elevated risk, which protects him and others from spread. In the warped and corrupt sphere of college football, the athletic conference grounded in the country’s virus-dumbest region — the Southeast — already had devised a farcical and nakedly suspicious plan to cover coaches in case of a “nuisance” such as a positive test. Never mind that Saban looks like a complete fraud and hypocrite after imploring people all summer to wear masks and even scolding the school mascot, Big Al, for not covering up. Never mind that Saban, if he was sincere about COVID, would have responsibly stayed home and allowed the able Steve Sarkisian to take over. His ego needed to coach. Alabama needed him to coach. CBS needed him to coach and drive prime-time ratings.     

So he relied on a nine-day-old combination of hokum to clear him: The Southeastern Conference’s “Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Test Force Protocol,” in conjunction with “The University of Alabama System Health and Safety Task Force,” indicated Saban was given five tests via two labs after his positive test on Wednesday — and all magically turned up clean. The final test was flown by private jet to to an “SEC-approved lab” in Mobile, which, in case we’re supposed to be impressed, happens to be in Alabama. “Out of an abundance of caution,” said the school statement, which smacks of, “Oh, we really didn’t have to do all of this, but we’re covering ourselves in case those fancy, big-city doctors scold us.”     

And when his return to the sideline finally was complete, with Alabama upholding its No. 2 ranking in a 41-24 win, what did Saban do? He DANCED WITH HIS PLAYERS, WITHOUT HIS MASK, INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM — as captured in a Twitter video since deleted by his staff — before, ahem, voicing appropriate fear for the virus. His words didn’t reflect his actions.  

“I think I gained a lot of respect (for COVID) thinking I had this even though we’ve done everything to set a good example relative to social distancing, wearing the mask, washing hands,” Saban said. “I think everybody should have the proper respect because, I’m gonna tell you, when they tell you that you’ve tested positive, that’s not a good feeling. Now I wasn’t sick. All right?”  

Sure, Nick, sure. Whatever you say. After all, you’re bigger than life.     

On the same weekend, the Jacksonville Jaguars became the latest NFL team to shut down their building after a positive test. But because the infected person was a practice-squad player, the Jaguars quickly said their Sunday home game wouldn’t be impacted — despite the 12 practice-squad players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Aren’t they in the same facility as active roster players, coaches and team personnel? This as the New England Patriots, already slammed by the Cam Newton-Stephon Gilmore virus whammy, were placing four players on the COVID-19 list — including starting guard Shaq Mason and running back Sony Michel — after another player tested positive. Not that it stopped an already-postponed home game with Denver from happening — and Newton from devolving into a turnover machine in a bad loss. Until now, the NFL needed only one positive test to move games. Now, the league is coldly trudging forward with the schedule, virus be damned.     

Didn’t the Tennessee Titans assume they’d be safe after a solo positive test late last month, only to play matador to a massive virus outbreak that eventually infected 24 people and played havoc with the NFL schedule? Are we expected to just forget and ignore the league’s numerous fires, which suggest more NFL outbreaks are inevitable as cold weather emerges and COVID cases rise to national levels not seen since July?     

That’s what King Football would like America to do. Shut up, sit back and be happy that we still have games to watch, while the NFL makes its billions, the Power Five conferences make theirs and broadcast networks make theirs. Think about whether it’s Russell Wilson’s year in the NFC, or if Tampa Bay’s trash-talk riddling of Aaron Rodgers gives Tom Brady a shot to join the Rays and Lightning in a pandemic title threesome (no chance). Ponder whether the rejuvenated, balanced Steelers can upend the Chiefs in the AFC, as they head to Nashville next weekend for an early showdown. And why the interim Texans coach, Romeo Crennel, blew a game when he eschewed an extra point (it would have put his team up by eight) and chose a two-point conversion that failed, allowing Derrick Henry and the Titans an opening they seized. In college ball, fantasize about — ugh — yet another Clemson-Alabama rematch, about the only decipherable projection for a four-team playoff amid out-of-whack schedules and belated Big Ten and Pac-12 starts. They want us to appreciate, you know, the entertainment.    

So what if they get us all infected? So what if they’re falling victim to virus impatience and fatigue at the absolute wrong time? So what if we have no idea if they’re being transparent about test results — positive, negative, false positive — with huge money on the table? So what if the host of the NFL’s ever-popular “Red Zone” show, Andrew Siciliano, missed work for the first time in 15 years because he has COVID? What if Saban still had the virus? He could have passed it on to players, who could have passed it on to loved ones and other students on a campus already ravaged.     

They’re trying to wear us down, of course, like a strong running game, only through denial and deceit. I don’t know how many times I have to write it: Without the use of Bubbles — and the NFL reiterated it has no plans to move to a restrictive environment — football is dangerously pushing its luck by not pausing seasons, waiting until someone becomes seriously ill as a result of this self-serving delusion.     

And even then, it probably would take someone to die before these commissioners, from the NFL’s Roger Goodell to the SEC’s double-talking Greg Sankey, think about stopping a season. At least the players are being paid in the NFL. College players not only are assuming health risks without pay, they’re being brainwashed by masculinity-related pressures within the system — sit and you’re less of a man — if not overtly then subtly. In the SEC, I’m not sure if anyone would care if a kid died from COVID. That’s how blind they are to the pandemic, as enabled by President Trump. This is the league where Ed Orgeron, coach of defending national champion LSU, thinks most of his players have contracted the virus — though he isn’t sure — and openly hopes they achieve herd immunity. This is the league where Georgia coach Kirby Smart, interviewed before the Alabama game in a stadium with only 21,000 fans, said, “It’ll be a raucous environment’’ … before catching himself. This is the league where Florida coach Dan Mullen sounded brain-dead when he demanded The Swamp be packed with 90,000 breathing, expectorating fans for an LSU game that thankfully didn’t happen — it was postponed when the Gators, pounded by a virus breakout, didn’t have enough scholarship players.     

“Coaches sometimes say things outside of their area of expertise,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said. “And they’re really good at what they do. Dan is really good at calling ball plays.”

Mullen also is really good at playing the fool — he, too, eventually tested positive for COVID, finally conceding, “I am proud of how our players, staff and campus community have navigated this unprecedented time and hope all continue to be safe.”     

One Week After Wanting to Pack the Swamp, Florida Coach Dan Mullen  Announces He Has COVID-19 | Bleacher Nation

This is the league where Sankey, the boss, is a flim-flam man. He keeps scolding SEC programs for “not following proper COVID-19 protocols” and threatening $100,000 weekly fines, writing in a memo, “Do not relax — and do not let those around you relax — because of a few weeks of success.” He did sock Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Tennessee with financial penalties for mask violations, yet on a weekend when two conference games were postponed, Sankey let Saban jump out of quarantine and into his sideline windbreaker in no time. By coaching only hours after testing positive, then dancing maskless with his players afterward, Saban was setting a lousy example for the millions watching the game — the same lousy example set by the rest of college football and the NFL.     

Too many Americans are thinking now, “Hey, if Saban was back in three days and all of these NFL games are happening despite daily positive tests, how serious could this stupid virus be? It’s a hoax!” And anyone who thinks the recklessness will change if Joe Biden is the president doesn’t know the stubbornness of a football coach, player or fan. Or the irresponsibility of a broadcast network, a betting operation or anyone else who makes money off a football season amid a pandemic.     

Decades from now, assuming Planet Earth hasn’t imploded, scholars will look back at 2020 and ask, “Why were those men and boys playing football and perpetuating spread?” In a world presumably more health-conscious by then, they’ll be appalled to learn it was about money and money only. The university presidents who are supposed to teach and protect young people only put them at risk. And the NFL, which foolishly thought the virus would have subsided by now, is presiding over a tsunami, callously rescheduling games while advertisers squirm, wondering when a tenuous landscape will explode. The league, in a cosmetic attempt to show it is serious, is forcing players and team staff members with any symptoms to go home, with the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills explaining, “Because there’s so much overlap (in symptoms), we have to assume it could be COVID.” All of which only will dilute the quality of play, already suspect in a league of calamitous injuries — be well, Dak Prescott — and all-time record scoring that seems kind of phony. Yes, we love spectacular offenses. No, we don’t like defenses that can’t tackle or scheme.     

In a country where 46 states and the nation’s capital are experiencing COVID surges, as we near the holidays amid a creeping reality that THIS is our world now, these crazy men are still trying to wedge in football games. It’s easy for NFL owners and university administrators to stay inside their bunkers and preside over bank deposits. It’s easy for broadcast executives to sit in their handsome homes and feel good that the lights are still on. But who’s thinking about the players? Or the long-term ramifications of COVID, including a mysterious brain fog that some survivors compare to dementia?    

The attitudes won’t change when the Titans, Team COVID, are 5-0 and actually taking football inspiration from those 24 positive tests. Said quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “What this team and this organization has been through, to really fight that off, shake that off … I think it makes a statement.”     

Shake it off? That quickly, a coronavirus outbreak is nothing but a Taylor Swift song?     

Nor will the attitudes change after Nick Saban — for all we know, still carrying an infectious disease — bursts from his house and whips those Bulldogs just as he whipped that ol’ virus. “I have a tremendous amount of gratitude to the unbelievable number of people who texted or sent prayers,” he said. “It was just phenomenal and I believe in things like that so I think all of that helped. I’d like to thank all those people for their support and help and the relationships and people I know all over the United States — calling, checking, texting. It’s heartfelt, and I really appreciate it.”     

And his players? “They handled the disruption really well,’” he said.     

Don't Bet Against Nick Saban Coaching Alabama Against Georgia Even After  Positive Covid-19 Test

The football victory, you see, is all that matters in life.     

Even if it leads to the symptoms of death.

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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