Taylor Bell is a loyal reader of this site and column. Which delights me to no end, given his standing as a legend who covered Chicago high-school sports — and all its triumphs, tragedies and treachery — with appropriate diligence and energy. The other day, Bell suggested I write a piece on how the city’s sports landscape has changed since August 2008, when I departed of my own volition and handed back about a million guaranteed dollars to a failing newspaper.
My first thought was typically cynical. As I prepared for a sunny beachside bike ride on a 70-degree afternoon, hoping to avoid a crash and an ICU bed not available in Los Angeles, I wondered: “Chicago? Does Chicago still exist?”
After all, the only time sports is nationally relevant there is when someone produces a documentary about decades-ago stuff. Chicago was celebrated in the riveting re-tell of Michael Jordan and “The Last Dance,” just as Chicago was humiliated by the disgrace of meathead Steve Dahl and Disco Demolition Night at old Comiskey Park, part of a recent Bee Gees retrospective. As for the here and now, the news cycle is a Kennedy-in-a-snowstorm crawl. Even the surprising ascent of the White Sox — who’ve thrown as many World Series as they’ve won (one) in the last 102 years — predictably soured when an 84-year-old curmudgeon, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, hired a 76-year-old manager, Tony La Russa, to direct a clubhouse of millennials and Gen-Zers who either know nothing about La Russa’s long-ago achievements or don’t appreciate his past opposition to Colin Kaepernick’s racial protests.
The worst insult anyone can hurl at Chicago has come true. It’s a feeble, little sports burg compared to the neighboring state and city it likes to mock: Wisconsin and Milwaukee. Cheeseheads can’t frolic on the Frozen Tundra and absorb Lambeau Leaps right now, but they might be celebrating a Super Bowl title with NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, followed by another NBA postseason run from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the newly maxed-up, two-time-defending MVP. By comparison, Chicago offers up Nickelodeon goo prince Mitchell Trubisky and Lauri Markkanen when it once had, oh, Walter Payton and Jordan.
Look around. Examine the burning debris. As long as a McCaskey is in the building — from Virginia to George to the house pet — the Bears will shred the souls of their exasperated fans. Sneaking into the playoffs through a pandemic loophole allowed this family-run farce to retain general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, which saves the mom-and-pop owners about $20 million (the franchise is worth $3.45 billion) when both men were considered goners only weeks ago. By extension, this means Trubisky could return based on recent improved play that wasn’t evident amid the New Orleans slime last week. Every conceivable quarterbacking scenario has unfolded through time in the City of Weak Shoulders, mostly for the worse. The fans have been tortured enough since 2017, when Trubisky was drafted ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Now, you’re going to torture them more by bringing everyone back for another year of “Which Mitch?”
An idea: Watson is unhappy in Houston and possibly available. In acquiring Khalil Mack, Pace once pulled off a coup as impressive as his Trubisky plan was wretched. Might he save the franchise — and a lot of jobs, including his own — by exploring another megadeal? And don’t count me among those who think Pat Fitzgerald would thrive as an NFL coach. He has mastered the art of “Northwesterning” — a perception that any football success is gravy amid higher academia in Evanston — yet when pressured to win big outside that tame environment, he might fail with a rah-rah approach when leading grown men. Not that he should go anywhere near Halas Hall, where it’s 35 years and counting since January 1986, the month by which time is kept in a city that still dances in its head to “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” Let it go, people.
The Cubs have wrecked much of their goodwill from an unimaginable vision, a 2016 World Series title, by dumping salary and launching a reset. New boss Jed Hoyer insists this isn’t a rebuild, but no form of downsizing ever should happen inside a top-five, money-printing franchise with a treasure trove of celebrity fans and global outreach. Why are the Cubs crying poor when they’ve teamed with Raine Group and raised $375 million to acquire (WTF?) big-ticket entertainment companies? Owner Tom Ricketts and his oddballish relatives have mishandled the gift of a curse-lifting by corporatizing the Wrigley Field romance, borrowing heavily for a Cubs-themed hotel/office village that belongs in Buffalo Grove — and now is a ghost town. It might remain that way as Cubdom, despite generational allegiances, tries to reconcile the relationship of various Ricketts family members with Donald Trump after the U.S. Capitol riots. Notice how it took only days after his resignation for Theo Epstein, the savant who slayed the Billy Goat and the Bambino, to join troubled Major League Baseball as a consultant that hopefully leads to a commissionership. He knew when to let it go.
“With what’s happening with the coronavirus and the money the Cubs have, I wasn’t thinking about being traded,” pitching ace Yu Darvish said after Hoyer shipped him to the Padres. “Also, they are a winning team, and I thought we would be able to compete.”
Once the Cubs, always the Cubs. Of my current residence, the Eagles sang, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Of the one-and-done Cubs, noted fan Billy Corgan can say, “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” They ruined Kris Bryant with a cheap-ass fiasco involving service time. Why would Javy Baez want to return long-term to this culture? The fear is, this operation is transporting Cubdom back to the most woeful times of Tribune Co. ownership, the years before Steve Bartman and Sammy Sosa’s juicing exploits, when losing 90 games wasn’t so bad for Mark Grace if he could drink and get laid at Murphy’s Bleachers. I asked Sosa one day, after he tried to hug me with his suddenly massive girth, if he used steroids. “Flintstone vitamins,” he said with that dugout-wide grin, before mumbling something about a “creatine shake” that got my attention.
You always thought the Cubs were doomed to lose even when coming close, as Bartman Night exhibited in all its chilling freakery. Have they returned to death mode? Does anyone have faith that Ricketts, who has laid off staffers in his new building, will approach a championship again? When you launch a broadcast network to an audience accustomed to WGN-TV, going back to Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse, you’d better make sure optimum programming — say, a contending ballclub — is on the ledger every day. Ricketts has done things ass-backwards, and now, the Cubs join every pro franchise but the White Sox in the Chicago dumper. I will say this: The Cubs snaked the Sox in the broadcast wars, trading snooze-inducing Len Kasper for smart, fun-loving Jon “Boog” Sciambi, who fits Wrigleyville like another beer bar. But even Boog needs upbeat daily material to succeed on the Marquee Sports Network.
Was it me, or was a car parked behind the baseline during a recent Bulls game at the United Center? That’s how they did it in the Continental Basketball Association, which means the franchise of dynasties and docuseries officially has devolved into a minor-league mess. Since Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause wrecking-balled the six-pack before its expiration date, preferring to attempt their own dynasty, the Bulls have spent the last 23 years plummeting like no championship franchise in U.S. history. Worse, the man in charge is a younger Reinsdorf, Michael. The futility could continue for decades, and the only star on the premises, Zach LaVine, probably will be traded for another lottery pick that amounts to nothing.
Then we have the Blackhawks, the mighty Blackhawks. Please be thankful for the three Stanley Cups under owner Rocky Wirtz, who continues to donate funds that keep the space heaters on at my former paper, the Sun-Times. He might want to redirect all resources and brainpower toward his now-wayward hockey club, which has lost cornerstone Jonathan Toews to a mysterious illness amid its own rebuild. I’ve liked Patrick Kane since he approached me his rookie year and called me “Mr. Mariotti.” I would urge Mr. Kane to politely ask Mr. Wirtz for a trade.
Chicago, Chicago. It’s easy to look back and laugh at it all, like a running sitcom. Isn’t that where a crazy baseball manager called me “a f—— fag,” prompting a WMAQ-TV reporter named Don Lemon — now a crazy Trump basher on CNN — to call me for a comment? During the 17-plus years I rocked that market, starting in my early 30s, the city often was the epicenter of American sports. I arrived in time for Jordan’s dynasty, mostly glorious but needlessly maddening, chronicling both his sublimity and his scandals. I saw the sorry demise of Mike Ditka, ripping him for losing his mind and trying to climb into the stands as the city was ripping me. I watched the Bears trot out so many lame quarterbacks, I started bringing the Sunday New York Times to the press box in mid-December. The White Sox were a big story behind Frank Thomas, who swung a bat better than he delivers lines in Nugenix ads, then stopped being a story until hiring the aforementioned nut, Ozzie Guillen, who somehow won a World Series that America never acknowledged. The Cubs didn’t win hardware in my time, but they’ve owned a city that uses baseball to drive a socioeconomic wedge both unhealthy and unsafe. The Cubs are “the North Siders,” viewed as moneyed and privileged. The Sox are “the South Siders,” from the other side of the tracks.
At Wrigley, a fan might look at me and say he disagreed with a column.
At Whatever They’re Calling Sox Park, I found a nail in my tire one night.
Not that my bosses cared about my safety. The Sun-Times kept giving me three-year contracts because I drove circulation — see the traffic when we started “Mariotti 24/7” posts on a primitive website — but they viewed me more as a necessary evil than a pillar. Too often, Reinsdorf and his lawyers were calling about me, and too often, the bosses jumped instead of hanging up. To his glee, the Sun-Times had tried to get rid of me once but failed, and the editor-in-chief was forced out. The next editor-in-chief, Nigel Wade, asked me if I was anti-Semitic — soon after, he was forearm-shivering me into a wall as I tried to leave his office, and he eventually was ziggied as well. Years later, Reinsdorf’s lawyers forced our ninny editors to print a retraction for contract figures that had run in my column — figures volunteered to me by a night editor straight from a Sun-Times news story on the same subject — yet no retraction was required for our news story, only for my column. No one cared that the Sun-Times’ figures had come from the agent of Bulls coach Scott Skiles (who had signed an extension) and only slightly differed from figures published by the Reinsdorf-friendly Tribune.
I was the one who took the muddy fall, as always, which was kind of fun for me, even as an absurd smear campaign was starting to bubble with the advent of clowns on the Internet. How about when my own paper refuted an ugly clubhouse episode, witnessed by many, in which a Sox player (Tony Phillips) littered me with a stream of “mother f—-ers,” prompting me to return fire at him when public-relations staffers just stood and watched? Between that and other Reinsdorfian nonsense, I chose to stop going to that clubhouse — it was the heyday of the Cubs, anyway, and I was covering national and global events as a columnist — because it was beneath my dignity. One day, disgusted by it all, I went on a sports station, The Score, and said the Sun-Times was in bed with the Sox. An editor, John Barron, threatened to fire me if I ever repeated the comment, but, of course, I soon was offered another three-year extension.
I’m writing about these events, years later, because it makes sense on this vehicle. Barrett Sports Media, where I write media criticism once a week and donate the compensation to charitable journalism causes, is read by aspiring young people who should know what they’re getting into if they are fiercely independent. Everyone mourns the demise of newspapers — I’m describing, through my eyes, how a once-thriving paper crashed. Every time I wondered about these endless episodes of dirty pool, I knew they were about politics, salaries, impact, outside influences and my success as a longtime regular on ESPN’s debate show, “Around The Horn.” When lies weren’t being told about me at both papers, the local alternative rag was obsessed, to the point an old, bitter writer with a Leonard Cohen voice called our home on a Saturday night for no particular reason. A few years ago, he needed a donor for a liver transplant. I e-mailed him a supportive note and never heard back.
For every editor who valued me, such as worldly Michael Cooke, there were locally born-and-bred editors who wanted me to wear a Sox cap in my column photo during the World Series. Or those who seemed aligned with the Tribune, our blood rival. See, I wasn’t a native Chicagoan, which, in their minds, gave me little right to criticize franchises that served as family heirlooms in a town much smaller in scope than its population suggests. Being an “outsider,” in their minds, just made it a bigger hoot for me.
I was shocked to discover many in the Chicago media were fanboys. If they didn’t grow up there, they were expected to adjust to a certain sappiness and parochiality-embracing — even when teams lost, they were “our” losers. After Guillen’s homophobic slur, among many arrows he slung across the baseball terrain (he later would admit to drinking issues), I was invited to appear on national news shows — one with Tucker Carlson, of all people. I couldn’t make it in time for Bill O’Reilly, who settled on short notice for a then-raw Chicago radio host, Laurence Holmes. Laurence actually took offense that I referred to Guillen as “the Blizzard of Oz,” the perfect nickname.
O’Reilly was incredulous. So the hell what? Was Holmes glossing over the slur and trying to claim I was racist? No, he was just another Chicago fanboy, not ready for national exposure.
My only goal was to beat the competition. But around me, there often was dysfunction — including the scraps I broke up between our football writers in Jacksonville (in a Super Bowl hotel lobby) and San Diego (outside a stadium elevator). Or the aging writer who said “Cancer, cancer” in the press box as a nearby colleague dealt with cancer in his family. Or the top editors — they, too, eventually would exit — who killed my column during the World Series when I’d broiled White Sox fans for harassing the wives of Astros players, a major story in Houston. One day, I was tipped off to a possible story involving a prominent Chicago figure, with photos. In prouder times, the Sun-Times would investigate anything and everything. Not this time. “Is that really our purpose?” newsroom boss Don Hayner asked me. All I wanted him to do was have news side check it out, but that evidently wasn’t our purpose anymore in Chicago, especially if the person in question was politically protected.
At some point, with my daughters having to answer Ozzie questions about a silly topic they knew little about, the high salaries and accompanying big gigs on ESPN weren’t as important anymore as quality of life. I reluctantly agreed to another Sun-Times extension with a caveat: The paper, stuck with a crappy site, had to up its digital game. I headed to the Olympics in Beijing, only to realize the site wasn’t posting content for hours from our two-man China staff. There was no hope for the place. When I returned home, I resigned peacefully, and when the Tribune called and asked about rumors, I was honest: I wasn’t going down with the Sun-Times ship, and the story was blasted atop the Trib’s business section. Roger Ebert, the famed film critic, called me “a rat,” but, sadly, I was spot on. At the time, daily circulation was around 340,000, and we had ruled the city’s sports coverage for years. Today, the Sun-Times is a ghost that claimed a 2018 circulation of 120,000, though I’m figuring 95,000 at best now and not much more from a site that never got going. The latest executive editor, Chris Fusco, left months ago for a start-up in Santa Cruz, Calif. No permanent replacement has been named, maybe because everyone who takes the job eventually is fired or leaves.
Shortly after opting out, I was featured on HBO’s “Real Sports” series as a newspaper columnist who’d signed with an ambitious digital site. One of my industry heroes and ex-bosses, Frank Deford, was putting together a segment about the demise of sports sections. Clutching a copy of that day’s print edition during our taping atop a Wrigleyville rooftop, Deford was shocked to hear me reference a nearby Starbucks and note that several people, as we spoke, were reading their news on computers.
And here we are today.
Do I look back? Never. I accomplished more than ever I wanted there, made a better living there than I ever dreamed, put my successful daughters through high school there. A robust media writer with zero political tendencies, Jim O’Donnell, has been lobbying for me to return to a dismal sports-radio market with cratering ratings. Once upon a time, I delivered potent ratings for ESPN 1000, but the White Sox were leaning on the bosses about me — to the point the program director, somehow still employed in the business, asked me to sign a document promising not to criticize the Sox or Bulls. I refused. They fired me the morning after Christmas, claiming I had weak ratings. My ratings, in fact, were terrific, and after a legal threat, the station was forced to pay incentive escalators in my contract.
Last year, a new market manager finally took over. I wrote him a note, wishing him luck but also testing him: Had he been infected already by the politics of Chicago sports and ownership? He wrote back, same day. Months passed. You know what comes next: Reinsdorf was bringing the Sox to ESPN 1000. Wrote O’Donnell last month: “Yet another rough residual of the White Sox landing on ESPN 1000 is that the move effectively ends any chance of Jay Mariotti working at the station.”
Ratings be damned.
Has it occurred to Chicago fans that team owners who control the local media give themselves leverage to perpetuate year-to-year mediocrity — an unconscionable condition in America’s No. 3 market? This reduces media members to a bunch of complicit stooges … or, fanboys. As for the Sox, the signing of lockdown closer Liam Hendriks has calmed the natives, but I am ever the realist. In those rare years when they’re expected to win big, they don’t. And there’s a reason only a few teams are spending real money this winter: There might not be much of a baseball season in 2021, and maybe no season at all in 2022. So enjoy the hope hype, a Reinsdorf specialty.
With the Sun-Times and Tribune in intensive care, The Athletic appears to be the last vestige of sportswriting in Chicago. I’m not confident. Speaking for every sportswriter — myself included — who brainlessly has consumed beer after an event and gets into a car to drive home, I cringed as Jon Greenberg crowed about a drunken memory in a recent column. After standing behind Hoyer at a Pearl Jam concert, he woke up “hungover” after a short night and drove from Chicago to South Bend, Ind., where Darvish was on a rehab stint. Did Greenberg consider that his blood-alcohol level, during a 100-mile drive on challenging expressways, might have been higher than Darvish’s WHIP at the time? We all make mistakes, but most don’t publicly brag about them years later. And are we really supposed to be impressed that Jon, yet another fanboy, was hanging by a Cubs executive as Eddie Vedder belted out the hits?
There you are, Taylor Bell.
Excuse me, but I have a beach bikepath to navigate.
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.