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Tabloid Conversations Derail Real Sports Talk

“Having served a brief moment in an NFL personnel department, I still find it odd that sports media will spend more time focusing on the theatrics and gossip surrounding a player than the teams do.”

Stan Norfleet

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I have often wondered if we the fourth estate, are more regularly misusing our authority to the detriment of the very individuals whose labor we leverage for monetary gain. Are we perhaps, subconsciously even, perpetuating a timeless narrative regarding our sports figures? The narrative I am referencing, is the domestication and demonization of the black athlete in America. A dynamic I was introduced to as a student-athlete, within the African-American Studies discipline, at the University of Virginia.

The concept here is simple, how much entertainment value on and off the field would exist if, for example, every quarterback had a Russell Wilson type of personality? Therefore, we seek, provoke, and promote a Cam Newton type of personality for contrast. The masses have come to expect us to offer-up an Antonio Brown persona versus that of a Julio Jones. You with me?

I do not suggest these instances are exclusively motivated by race, bigotry, or prejudice, although these factors can contribute. I am merely citing an observation of our industry practices given the contemporary motivations to generate clicks, hashtags, retweets, and likes. Have we evolved too far from the origin of our civic responsibility, in the name of controversy and drama? I fear an unintended consequence approaching, “tabloid sports media” anyone?

What brought my attention here most recently, is the conversation surrounding Cam’s gameday attire, along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing of A.B. Although I view these two circumstances very differently, a commonality exists here; the unnecessary perpetuation of a twisted narrative.

As most of you know, Cam Newton was the victim of some appalling rhetoric spewed by retired NFL quarterback turned analyst, Jeff Garcia, after last Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. The notion of Cam’s ostentatious street clothes somehow impacting his recent poor performance is ridiculous! Many former players, pundits, and fans shared my sentiment throughout the week.

That said, what hasn’t been discussed is why an analyst felt the need to attack Newton’s threads in the first place? Could it be that Garcia was subconsciously feeding into a narrative and pandering to an audience because Cam has become an easy target? Would Garcia have made comparable remarks about Philip Rivers’ notorious bolo tie, or Brett Favre’s classic gameday attire consisting of a tee-shirt and jeans? Doubtful! Jeff, how about a little more respect for a former MVP rocking a really fashionable suit please!

Antonio Brown reuniting with Tom Brady in Tampa was a bit of a surprise to most of us. However, it wasn’t long afterwards the histrionics and past transgressions of the former All-Pro dominated the conversation. Why? We haven’t seen or heard from A.B. in months. What new information regarding his legal affairs was ultimately provided? None!

What I saw was wasted air-time spent on a narrative, which Brown has certainly aided in creating, yet has been continuously perpetuated by several of my fellow talking heads. What I believe would have been a better use of time, would’ve been the analysis of what route concepts best match his abilities within the offense, how his mere presence and well-renowned work ethic could elevate the performance of his fellow receivers, or how his significant playoff experience will impact the team moving forward. Instead, as much time was allocated to the prediction of him being a potential distraction as it was to his potential for high-level production.

Antonio Brown pokes back at NFL with funny helmet-related tweet

Obviously, I am aware that a player’s behavior and legal matters are grounds for conversation given the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy which could lead to further suspension. However, I would ask on–air talent to consider if the redundant discussion of these matters are relevant to the tone of the conversation at large, or add anything of value other than anticipated drama for audience consumption? 

Having served a brief moment in an NFL personnel department, I still find it odd that sports media will spend more time focusing on the theatrics and gossip surrounding a player than the teams do. Personnel people and coaches care much less about what a player is wearing, who they’re dating, or where they go vacay during the bye week. Are you compliant with organizational rules? Do you ball out in games? That is the order of the day!

Please do not mistake my position here; I am by no means exonerating the athletes entirely. It’s most certainly our duty to report and comment on pertinent player and team affairs whether positive or negative. I am simply challenging the motivation, frequency, and tone in which we do so. 

Professional integrity demands we be consistent with our recollection of player backgrounds as well. Too often we conveniently minimize past transgressions of certain players while routinely excoriating others for theirs. That’s a bad look for the home team, eh?

Many of you reading this piece have a platform and voice which viewers and listeners alike revere. They turn to us for information and guidance to help them formulate what to think and feel regarding these athletes. It is possible to perform our duties while being respectful and just in our critiques.

I implore you, brethren, to pause for a moment before you utter or write your next scathing or controversial take on an athlete’s life away from the playing surface, and consider if it’s tone appropriate and adding real value to the conversation. Then ask yourself, what is the true motivation behind your original impulse.

We are experienced and highly skilled writers and broadcasters! We don’t need gossip and controversy to highlight our work. Nor do the players, their performance should speak for itself.

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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