Remember the kid from your junior high algebra class that would say “you forgot to assign homework” to the teacher each Friday? I can’t say that kid in every school grew up to work in the sports media, but it seems a healthy number of them did.
Something happened on social media this weekend that made it clear to me that there are two different worlds in this profession. There are those of us that are there to report or comment on what we see happen. That group is loyal only to the fans, and so if something is interesting, controversial, or funny, the fan loyalists want to make sure the public at large knows about it.
Then there is a group that see themselves as “keepers of the game”. They are loyal to the power in the sport, be it coaches and athletic departments in college sports or owners and league offices in pro sports. Keepers of the game exist on every beat and their content is always as interesting as a lecture on the history of paper bags.
In my mind, the most famous keeper of the game incident came on January 9, 2005. That is the day that Randy Moss celebrated a touchdown in an NFC Wild Card game against the Green Bay Packers by pretending to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field. Joe Buck was on the call of the game and as Moss was daring to have even the slightest bit of fun in a rivalry that is downright nasty at times, Buck said “That is a disgusting act by Randy Moss and it’s unfortunate that we have that on our air live”.
Buck has since gone on the record saying that he stands by his original call. In fact, the FOX play-by-play man says that he received letters from fathers thanking him for making it easier to convince their sons that Randy Moss wasn’t someone to idolize.
Let’s cut the bullshit. The only people offended in that moment were Packer fans. They weren’t mad at Randy Moss’s celebration, which was just him playing a game of make believe. They were mad that the Vikings scored a touchdown. Buck went overboard to make sure the voice of the NFL was heard and he and FOX got their pats on the head from the commissioner’s office.
I want to be clear here. I like Joe Buck. I think he is really, really good at his job, and if you don’t agree that he is worthy of inclusion in the halls of fame for both football and baseball, that is a you problem.
The “disgusting act” comment is just a lowlight. That is all. Everyone has them. His just happened to inspire a column this week.
Now, let’s jump ahead in time to this past weekend. First though, you need some background.
When the Big Ten announced it would be cancelling the football season, no program was as vocal about its disagreement as the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Coach Scott Frost stomped his feet and demanded satisfaction. Athletic Director Dave Rimington openly threatened to pull the Cornhuskers out of the Big Ten.
The reaction was interesting because, well, Nebraska is AWFUL at football. It would be like if Andy Reid demanded to know why he wasn’t being considered for People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue.
So the Big Ten reneges on its decision, Nebraska gets it’s football season, and thus far it has gone exactly how you would expect. The Huskers are 1-3, including an absolute ass-whipping at the hands of Ohio State to open the year and an 18 point loss to Illinois this week, who’s only previous win came on a last second field goal against Rutgers.
Illinois’s social media department celebrated the win by dunking on Nebraska.
The tweet was a dumb, funny jab that fired up the Illinois fanbase and quickly went viral. That means the social media team did its job very, very well, right?
Well, that isn’t how Omaha World Herald reporter and self-appointed sportsmanship cop Sam McKewon saw it.
For the life of me, I cannot decipher what the goal is here. In his effort to keep the game of college football pure, he turned into the class tattletale.
“Mr. Whitman! The social media team is being mean to a thing I like!”
The @IlliniAthletics account eventually deleted the tweet and I assume Sam McKewon nodded in approval now that all was right and the Big Ten remained boring and joyless.
There are a long list of examples of keepers of the game sucking the fun out of the room and protecting the people at the very top in the way they cover sports. Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo will not stand for slander of Major League Baseball even if it means taking a dump on the players for making a reasonable demand for payment. Phil Mushnick has made a career out of complaining about any player showing any amount of personality on the field. Any reporter or commentator on the NFL Network, MLB Network, NBA TV, NHL Network, or any of the many conference networks should be taken with a grain of salt, because they are working for state-run TV. It’s in their best interests to take “keepers of the game” stances on every issue.
Look, teams and outcomes matter to fans, and that is great. It is the reason that we all have jobs.
But we are in the middle of a pandemic. We cannot be with our families for the holidays as Covid-19 makes a roaring comeback. The economy is on shaky ground and people are worried about their jobs. The democracy, that is the very foundation of this country, is under attack. Sports are just a fun, dumb distraction, right now. Why would any reporter or host waste their time being mad about people having dumb fun?
Call the keepers of the game types whatever you want: herbs, dorks, nerds. It is an attitude towards sports that is out of touch with audiences in a time when everyone has access to information on their handheld devices and can choose to consume just about any game they want virtually however they want.
The days of George Plimpton, Grantland Rice, and Red Smith are long gone. There is nothing special about us anymore. Anyone can start a blog or a podcast. Attention spans are so short that we are lucky to get someone to stay with our content for three minutes. If you’re using your platform to wax poetic about morality in sports or tisk-tisk someone for having too much fun, you’re wasting your audience’s time.
We all got into this business because we love sports and we love telling stories. You didn’t start writing or talking into a microphone because you were excited to see things play out the same way every time. You didn’t fall in love with a team or a player because they were purposefully boring.
Go back and read or listen to your content. Have you become a keeper of the game type, more interested in keeping the status quo than covering the weird characters and events that make sports fun? Forgive the frankness, but maybe you need to do us all a favor and consider a career change.
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.