This week, when former Florida Gator Tim Tebow signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I wanted to tweet a few things. Then, I remembered that unlike years past, Twitter has become more toxic. After dealing with the blowback of “Wear a mask,” I held my social media tongue. Then, it dawned on me. I don’t think I could do a show in Jacksonville right now in the slightest.
My issues with Tebow go back to a documented incident in 2013 where he wanted to speak at a church in Texas that was known to be anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-Jewish. I said on Fox Sports Radio then that I was anti-Tebow. I still remember hearing the complaints from listeners.
I do not apologize for my thoughts on Tebow. I reiterated my sentiments when he signed a publicity stunt disguised as a minor league baseball deal with the New York Mets. It was something I believed in then and stand by now.
The challenge is, how to objectively cover something or someone when it goes against your morals and principles.
“Be honest with the audience, but you don’t have to tell them the whole truth,” FOX Sports Ft. Myers morning show host David Moulton explained when I approached him with my Tebow dilemma. “You can say, Hey, I’m not a Tim Tebow guy, but you don’t have to go to the depth of explaining why that is.”
“In Alabama, if some kind of scandal went on with (Alabama) coach (Nick) Saban, here they would be like ‘we know Saban and all that stuff, so you know, we gotta be nice to the guy,” John Mountz, Program Director for the Alabama Radio Network. “What’s worse is if your station has a relationship with the team you run the risk of possibly losing some relationships by what you were going to say as an objective broadcaster.”
“I’ve known talk show hosts that make nobody mad,” Mountz elaborated. “They also entertain nobody. And they usually don’t last very long. It’s the ones that actually kind of shake things up really are the ones that get the following and last long-term. Yeah, you’re going to tick people off. It just comes with the territory and, I guess that’s where you do have to be careful. I think being a smart businessperson is knowing that there are dollars to be made.”
Alabama is a unique market in that college football is such a massive part of the culture. Last year, I was bothered by Alabama’s apparent defiance at Covid-19 when the subject was raised that college football maybe should not have been played. I was pro-NFL, but against college, because those young men were being asked to take great risks while pro players could opt out and still make huge sums of money. College kids do not get a penny.
I asked Mountz if there were any broadcasters whether in his employ or not, that objected to the Crimson Tide playing at the height of the pandemic in Summer 2020. Shockingly, he could not think of any. (sarcasm noted)
Standing up for what you believe is something I was instilled with early in age. It’s something I try to impart to my children. In sports radio, that is a slippery slope.
“I think if the last year and a half has taught sports media hosts anything, it’s that kind of be open, be honest and give your opinions,” said Mike Rutherford, radio host and owner of the blog Card Chronicle, covering Louisville sports. “If people don’t like it, they will not come back. That’s kind of the way I’ve handled things. Maybe they’ve lost a few listeners or lost a few readers, but I think in the long-term, it probably has been more beneficial for them.”
In 2008, Red Sox DH Manny Ramirez got into an altercation with a traveling secretary for the team. Jack McCormick had not gotten tickets that Ramirez requested. Ramirez then pushed the 63-year-old McCormick to the ground.
I was working for Major League Baseball in 2008. I called for Manny to be suspended. Instead of suspending the slugger, the Red Sox traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers. MLB launched the “Manny-Wood” campaign and celebrated his arrival in Southern California.
I was outraged. Yet, I was an MLB employee. I was not asked to change my opinion, but rather to downplay it. It is the same skin-crawling feeling that I felt when Tebow signed with the Jaguars.
Rutherford explained that while Louisville is a liberal city, its sports fanbase is rather conservative. Covering the Rick Pitino saga as well as the return of Bobby Petrino was like walking a tightrope.
“If you are open and honest about your political beliefs or about your views on society, people will respect you,” Rutherford said. “And the ones who don’t are probably going to come back to the sports stuff anyway.”
Play-by-play announcers and most reporters can be factual without injecting their opinions. A good example of that is the story of three controversial baseball players: Roberto Osuna, Aroldis Chapman, and Domingo German. All have been suspended for domestic violence incidents.
Calling the games where they are pitching is a challenge. A bigger challenge is trying to discuss Chapman’s fastball while finding his actions to be despicable on a talk show.
Another example is new Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. His mother raised a controversy this week after she went on Instagram complaining about Disney World having strict mask rules.
Instantly, Wilson’s mom was characterized by the controversial rhetoric that splits the nation regarding masks, which are tangled within political landscapes. Wilson does not need the headache, but now might be asked to weigh in on a subject that might be received differently at BYU than in the Big Apple.
Wilson has a long career ahead of him. Fans will hope he makes more headlines about his football acumen than his mom does on Instagram.
“At the end of the day, you are trying to attract that audience,” said Moulton. “You’re not trying to just inform and entertain an audience or doing that after you attract it.”
It is good to stand by your opinions, but it should also be noted, how difficult that can be.
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.