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Time For All Sports Media To Unpack War Stories

Harassment of assorted forms has been a constant for decades in a sports world that mistreats media members, both female and male — and if the culture is to change, we’d better keep spilling our guts and telling all.

Jay Mariotti

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What’s especially twisted about Mickey Callaway, the latest figure accused of sexually harassing female journalists, is that we in the sports media have unwittingly enabled this anything-goes culture. Think about it. Through time, we’ve propped people in the athletic world onto pedestals with our relentless and mostly favorable coverage, helping them become famous and comfortable and entitled in part because we overglorify them.

I’m not seeing nearly enough inspirational long-form profiles, for instance, about front-line health workers and first responders. But during a pandemic, I’m still seeing a disproportionate number of features about sports people — just because they’re sports people. Shouldn’t the poetic Tom Rinaldi, recently wooed by Fox’s millions to leave ESPN, be doing the entirety of his estimable storytelling inside hospitals, homes and morgues? The most poignant stories of 2020 and 2021 are not in arenas and stadiums, yet they remain common backdrops because, hey, the broadcast networks and sports sites need to promote the industry and do their part in keeping the multi-billion-dollar mechanism humming.

So we’re supposed to be shocked when sports people think they can get away with inappropriate behavior? Sending a dick pic? Making lewd, crude unwanted advances?

Last month’s Jared Porter is this week’s Callaway and next week’s (fill in the blank). Again, I salute the courageous female media members who’ve gone public with horror stories, leading to the launch of at least two Major League Baseball investigations in recent days after detailed reports by ESPN and The Athletic. The time has come, I’d say, for all of us in sports media to unpack our grisly stories about the business. Because we all have them, women and men alike, weighed down by rough tales that don’t have to involve sex to constitute harassment and intimidation. I have mine, and I’ve dutifully endured them for decades — along with too many published lies about my career and personal life — within some inexplicable survivalist reflex that this is the reality I signed up for. But those stories should be told today, as part of an ever-growing cautionary playbook for the next generation of aspiring sports journalists.

There was the day Mario Soto, the gifted but impossibly volatile ace pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds, was upset about something I’d written as a 26-year-old columnist at the Cincinnati Post. At that newspaper, older writers generally had been homers for the local franchises before the Post’s visionary sports editor, Barry Forbis, hired younger and more authentic journalists — including Mike Bass, Mike Sokolove and Bruce Schoenfeld, all still active and successful in the industry. Before a game at Riverfront Stadium, Soto spotted me behind the batting cage. He held a bat in his hand. He began to scream at me and approach me with the bat. And I’m not sure I’d be alive today if the legendary Johnny Bench, retired then and working out with the ballclub, hadn’t placed Soto in a bearhug. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche, himself a hothead, couldn’t control himself after a close road loss. I was walking off the field with the Post’s Bengals reporter, Jack Brennan, when I was transformed into a human blocking sled — forcibly shoved from behind by Wyche as he ran to the locker room. Wyche didn’t like me, nor did his friend on WLW radio, Bob Trumpy, who constantly ranted about me and said he used my column as toilet paper. I asked Brennan, as we headed toward the tunnel, if he’d seen what happened. He said he did not when, of course, I don’t know how he could have missed it, in that I stumbled and almost fell. Years later, Brennan joined the Bengals and served as their public-relations director for 23 years. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day the Reds, now totally fed up with me, decided to teach me a lesson. After all, I was starting to notice sleazy people hanging out in Pete Rose’s clubhouse — the creeps who eventually would bring down the gambling Hit King and prompt his lifetime MLB ban. Dave Parker held me down on the clubhouse floor as other players threw condiments on me. A troubled soul named Cesar Cedeno claimed his urine was part of the slime, not that there was any unscientific way to confirm it. Author Gene Wojciechowski, now a Rinaldi type who gushes about a scandalous college football world for an ESPN paycheck, included the story in a humorous book about sportswriting. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Denver when Broncos fans were furious at me for writing that John Elway, who thought he was suffocating in a smallish market, would crawl back to the Rockies if he had to play in New York or Philadelphia. I became Public Enemy No. 1 in a town where another columnist, Woody Paige, liked to suck up to Elway. Hosting a radio program inside a restaurant, I was approached by security. Someone had threatened me by phone, so it was best I immediately leave the premises. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Chicago when my life was threatened on voice mail. I still hear that voice today, something out of a mobster movie: “IF YOU WRITE ANOTHER BAD THING ABOUT JOE MEYER AND THE DEPAUL BASKETBALL PROGRAM, I WILL BLOW YOUR SKULL TO BITS. I’LL DO IT GODDAMN IT!!!” I played it for my editors at the Sun-Times, who listened but weren’t exactly disturbed. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Chicago when I asked for a meeting with Nigel Wade, editor in chief of the Sun-Times. The sports department was a war zone, filled with copy-desk backstabbers and weaponized dysfunction, and I wanted us to redirect our mission toward beating the competition. A native Aussie who’d arrived from London, Wade wasn’t liking what I was saying. So I got up and left his office, but not before he forearm-shivered me — an act seen by reporters a few feet away in the newsroom, including a Newspaper Guild official. At some point, Wade was let go. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Washington when a colleague — I’m too embarrassed for him to mention his name — wanted to fight at halftime of a Bulls playoff game. Yes, he wanted to go outside and settle whatever he wanted to settle, the sort of tension that existed for years on that staff, including times in Jacksonville and San Diego when I had to break up scraps involving our football writers. Not until a familiar face walked by — would you believe Al Gore? — was I able to crack wise and remove myself from this folly. I told my editors. The general response?

Al Gore's new Inconvenient Truth sequel is a strange artifact of a  post-truth year - Vox

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Chicago when journeyman major-leaguer Tony Phillips, who later would be arrested in a seedy Anaheim motel while holding a loaded crack pipe, wanted a piece of me in the White Sox clubhouse. “Mother f——! Mother f——!” he repeated for several minutes, as players, reporters and a club publicist stood there, not trying to stop him. Frustrated that most players were not available — including newcomer Albert Belle, who was sitting on the couch watching TV — I responded to Phillips with my own “Mother f——” stream. As I drove home, I was the lead story on a Sox-friendly sports station, The Score, whose beat reporter blamed me for instigating a clubhouse incident. I told my editors and asked if they were going to contact the White Sox, which meant entering the evil sphere of owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Chicago when Dan Patrick, still at ESPN, was hosting “SportsCenter” on the field before a White Sox postseason game. I was his guest. Halfway through the live broadcast, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen rushed over to the set and yelled at me, “Get off our f—— field!” Patrick was stunned but maintained his poise until we finished the segment. As I left the field and walked up an aisle through the stands, Sox fans — the same people known to chant “Mariotti sucks!” during games — showered me with various vulgarities. I told my editors about this and other problems in that ballpark, including an incident where problem child Carl Everett confronted me in a hallway. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Chicago when Guillen, the first Sox manager to win a World Series since 1917, made me the latest target in his long-running series of random verbal attacks on people. “F—ing fag,” he called me, wondering why I wasn’t at the ballpark to take my lumps. On a slow day at the U.S. Open golf tournament, I’d criticized Guillen — in soft and parochial Chicago, local always takes precedence over national — after he’d ripped a kid pitcher who’d failed to throw at a Texas batter, as ordered by the Blizzard Of Oz. Then I headed to the NBA Finals in Dallas, where I was informed of his words. Today, Guillen would be suspended for a lengthy period or fired for his homophobic slur. Back then? He was slapped on the wrist by the White Sox and the commissioner’s office and refused to issue an apology, not that I needed one from such a lunatic. I went on national TV shows and told other stories about Guillen — during his playing days, he’d once positioned himself behind me and simulated a sex act in the visitors’ clubhouse in Baltimore. I mentioned the situation to people at the newspaper. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

There was the day in Beverly Hills when a TV producer met with me and a potential co-host, former ESPN football analyst Sean Salisbury, about doing a show. Into the restaurant/lounge area of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel power scene came a prominent ESPN executive, John Walsh, who had a grand old time at the bar before ambling uninvited toward our table. He didn’t recognize me or Salisbury, but he did leave a business card with his room number next to the woman sitting beside me. To make sure it was his room, Salisbury and I went up and knocked on the door — and there was Walsh, saying nothing and just staring at us. I contacted ESPN president John Skipper, who immediately called back and tried to assuage the situation. I told him I had nothing against Walsh, but that he’d better address the bigger problem. About a year later, Skipper was feeding me a line of b.s. over dinner at Nobu Malibu about returning to ESPN and writing a lengthy feature about Michael Jordan — when the great Wright Thompson already was working on that profile in Charlotte. Some time later, a Deadspin hit piece/pack of lies claimed I’d tried to leverage Walsh’s episode into an ESPN job — wonder where that crap came from? Shockingly, the sexual harassment question became an afterthought in all corners, and it took a while before Walsh suddenly retired and Skipper was ousted in a cocaine scandal. I contacted a couple of lawyers in Los Angeles, home turf of the almighty Walt Disney Company. The general response?

Just deal with it, Jay.

And there was the day at home in Los Angeles, just last week, when I was slaughtered on social media by 11-year-old stories about a legal case that was expunged many years ago after we prevailed in a civil case. Why get the story right when you can keep smearing me with ancient untruths? Seems Dan Le Batard’s Reddit creeps were striking back after I’d written about the ex-ESPN host, while some people in Chicago were venting similarly after my piece on the city’s sickly sports and media scene. I asked a media friend if recent digital defamation cases have been successful. The general response?

Trolls abuse Twitter Lists to collate their targets - Malwarebytes Labs |  Malwarebytes Labs

Just deal with it, Jay.

The media business, which has brought me a very comfortable life and a continuing labor of love, does not have to be so wretched. Moral of the story: Don’t just deal with it, people. Write about IT and talk about IT promptly when IT happens. So that IT doesn’t happen again and again and again … and Mickey Callaway isn’t thrusting his crotch toward a female reporter who just wants a baseball interview.

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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