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Five Who Get It, Five Who Don’t

A weekly analysis of the best and worst in sports media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from the burner accounts of media people.

Jay Mariotti

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THEY GET IT

Naomi Osaka’s skeptics — Too many columnists are writing scared. Too many commentators are talking scared. To wit: Anyone who raises doubts about the motives behind Osaka’s media boycott and French Open withdrawal — as I did in a column — fears they’ll be vilified as barbaric, insensitive and anti-Asian by the social media mobs. Such backlash, in return, might lead to rebukes from media bosses trying to cover their asses and keep their jobs. This explains the flood of sympathetic pieces that couldn’t look past Osaka’s two operative words — “mental health’’ — when her tug-of-war with tennis officials is more about control. Look, I don’t know of a soul on Planet Earth who isn’t dealing with some sort of mental health issue, nor do I know a person who’s entirely happy to perform all required job responsibilities. That doesn’t mean everybody should just quit and go home; there wouldn’t be a workforce, right? So, should we be disproportionately compassionate toward a 23-year-old superstar who earned $55.2 million last year — more than any female athlete — because she doesn’t want to face certain questions in news conferences? Osaka’s stance is about athlete empowerment, as I opined, and her memorable tribute to police brutality victims wouldn’t have made the same impact had she boycotted media at the U.S. Open. I feel for anyone dealing with depression — unlike FS1’s Skip Bayless, who mocked Dak Prescott for talking about his battles. Contrary to Osaka, Prescott kept suiting up and playing football, making Bayless look worse. All I know is, when a family member fell ill one spring, I asked my radio network boss if I could take a few days off for mental reasons. “No,’’ he said. That’s the real world, Naomi.

Reggie Miller, TNT — The legendary provocateur, reviled in Madison Square Garden and NBA arenas everywhere, is best equipped to address the alarming series of fan incidents this postseason. And he delivered, criticizing the league for enabling a culture in which a water bottle is hurled at Kyrie Irving, popcorn is dumped on Russell Westbrook, Trae Young is spat on, Ja Morant’s parents are peppered with racial slurs and a goof somehow rushes onto the court in Washington. “I was part of `Malice at the Palace,’ ‘’ said Miller, reintroducing the league’s dreaded fans-vs.-players violence narrative to a modern audience. Rather than focus on his large turnstile counts, league boss Adam Silver might confer with Miller, who asks the question on all of our minds: Where the hell is security? What I liked most about his commentary, on a topic broached by broadcast partner Kevin Harlan: Miller pointed directly at the league, not an easy task when his Turner Sports bosses are partners with the NBA. With Irving saying players are treated as if “they’re in a human zoo’’ and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Durant telling fans to “grow the f— up,’’ yes, the league has a very dangerous problem that keeps growing worse.

Hubie Brown, ESPN — It’s time to mute all postseason static and recognize this man as a broadcasting masterpiece. Brown will turn NINETY in two years, yet he’s still twice as prepared and passionate as many analysts half his age. In an age of ranting and scolding and pontificating, he continues to educate and make measured points as a hoops sage. “The Memphis front line,’’ said Hubie, “is not contributing any points, and they’re not giving you the defense in the paint or the rebounds.’’ Stephen A. Smith would shriek that the Memphis front line sucks, but Brown isn’t in this game for attention. Despite sitting in a makeshift studio in Atlanta, with caricatures of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird behind him, he quickly dispensed information as the Utah Jazz made repeated defensive stops: “They’re averaging 24 deflections in the first two games.’’ Sports networks often ship old voices to the morgue when they reach 50 or 60, so credit Bristol for recognizing the vitality of wisdom and ignoring his birthdate (Sept. 25, 1933). What if Brown keeps running it back until he’s 100? For now, I’m loving it when his commentary leads into a rap verse before a commercial break. That’s it: Someone record The Hubie Hustle.

Russell Westbrook, filmmaker — Rising above the arena hatred, which has included racial taunts in Utah, Westbrook put his name and money behind the History Channel documentary, “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.’’ Any prominent athlete can capitalize on stardom by making a self-aggrandizing sports doc, but Westbrook wants to be defined by more than basketball and triple-double sprees. “The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books. It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event,’’ he said. “This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told.’’ The Michael Jordan doc has led to the Tom Brady doc, the Mike Tyson doc, the Derek Jeter doc, the Serena Williams doc and too much sports docu-mania. Westbrook remained above the creative fray.

Clay Travis, conservative talk host — Using his sports site to advance his political leanings might have had scattered success during a pandemic, when Southern followers embraced his rhetoric that COVID-19 was overblown. But Travis is much better off leaving sports and his Fox Sports Radio program to replace Rush Limbaugh, joining partner Buck Sexton on one of radio’s biggest platforms. “As I looked at the data during 2020, the story it told me was clear,’’ Travis wrote on Outkick. “As much as people might enjoy my sports opinions, they loved even more when I talked about issues that were, frankly, far more important than sports: my belief in American exceptionalism and the meritocracy, my rejection of cancel culture and identity politics, (and) my repudiation of everything woke in our culture.’’ Travis will be a right wing fixture for the long haul and eventually will inhabit a regular chair on the Fox News channel. As for Outkick, it has been purchased by Fox but I doubt it will remain a sports site as much as a conservative destination for its cultists. Sports can say bye-bye to Travis, who never belonged — which made him refreshing until he wasn’t.

Joey Votto, careerist — At 37, with his baseball career trending downward to a crawl, Votto is no fool about future work possibilities. Rehabbing a broken thumb at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park while the Reds were out of town, he heard a request from the broadcast booth: Would he like to join team announcers Tommy Thrall and Chris Welsh on their remote radio call of the Reds-Cubs game? One of baseball’s most fascinating personalties, Votto made his way upstairs and instantly flashed his personality when Thrall introduced him as a future Hall of Famer. “You didn’t introduce me. You said `future Hall of Famer,’ ‘’ Votto shot back. “Easy there, easy, easy, easy, easy, easy … current Reds IL member.’’ By all accounts, his performance was insightful and delightful, and in the vast wasteland of MLB analysts, he should be front and center on the Fox, ESPN and TNT radar. He also extended this column to extra innings in becoming the Sixth Who Gets It.

L. Jon Wertheim, cross-pollinating overlord — I’d just finished reading his work on Prince’s fondness for all things basketball — muttering to myself, “On my best day, I’ll never write half as well as this guy’’ — when I flipped on “60 Minutes’’ and saw his piece on German pianist Igor Levit, who has managed to find audiences digitally and stay relevant during a pandemic. Then, as the Osaka story broke, Wertheim put on his tennis cap for Sports Illustrated’s website and weighed in. As SI’s executive editor and a supreme writer, he’s the biggest in-house reason why a once-beleaguered magazine still features the best top-drawer content among sports digital sites. Sometimes, personal bio taglines are overwrought, but when SI describes him as “one of the most accomplished sports journalists in America,’’ it’s actually underselling his versatility — a topic worthy of a Seventh Who Gets It.

THEY DON’T GET IT

Aaron Rodgers, overexposed — It was powerful when he hijacked the NFL Draft to demand a trade. It was exquisite when he fulfilled a dream by guest-hosting “Jeopardy!’’ It was riotous when he explained his grievances with the Packers on friend Kenny Mayne’s final “SportsCenter’’ appearance. But when social media was flooded with photos of Rodgers and his Hawaii traveling party — purple-bikinied fiancee Shailene Woodley, bromance partner Miles Teller and his wife — this officially became the Offseason Of Aaron. And I’m officially tired of it. With every new Rodgers development, it smacks of a calculated media takeover, as if premeditated step by step, week by week, through the imagination of a very clever man. It would be nice not to hear a peep from him until he decides either to rejoin the Packers or boycott them until he’s traded. But — ding! — there goes my latest Rodgers phone alert: The Packers are holding firm on their stance that he won’t be dealt. Which means, Rodgers will be responding soon enough, perhaps from Croatia or Bora Bora.

Pat McAfee, bullshit artist — Just because he’s having big success in the sports audio space — and I can’t exactly explain why — doesn’t mean McAfee should run with stories before at least trying to corroborate them. (Dear Pat: The dictionary definition of “corroborate’’ is to confirm or give support to a finding.) McAfee made the mistake of crossing his frequent show guest — you guessed it, Rodgers — by botching details surrounding an alleged assault victim — you guessed it, Teller — in the bathroom of a Maui restaurant. In his role as a “Smackdown’’ wrestling commentator, McAfee thought Teller knew his attackers and compared the incident to a tag-team beatdown. Teller responded with a tweet to McAfee: “I got jumped by two guys in a bathroom. Never met them before in my life but ya cool wrestling segue bud.’’ To which McAfee responded: “Miles.. I apologize for not knowing the whole story. I will fix my position and make it right… with that being said, it was a pretty good segue.” The segue, of course, always is more important than getting the story right to begin with.

Retro cancelers — When so many areas of law are subjected to statutes of limitations, it’s interesting that media companies reach back decades and fire employees for alleged sins. It’s just as interesting that some do not. Because I don’t know what happened and won’t pretend to, I will not pass judgment, for instance, on whether ESPN’s Woody Paige yelled at a 24-year-old editorial assistant and called her a “cunt’’ when he was executive sports editor of the Denver Post in 1992. According to the American Journalism Review, Carrie Ludicke received $25,000 in a confidential settlement following her sexual harassment complaint while Paige, though denying ever using the word, lost his position but kept his salary and column. Should ESPN retroactively fire Paige today? Cancel culture would say yes; Paige defenders would say the episode happened almost 30 years ago in a workplace that didn’t involve ESPN. What can’t be disputed: There is too much selective justice in retro cases, depending on current politics and cronyism and who’s on the right or wrong side of those walls. I see a new story on this topic every week, and I cringe at the lack of corporate consistency. It’s time to find an equilibrium.

Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN — I’m troubled that Herbstreit, college football’s leading analyst, still can’t taste or smell after testing positive for COVID-19 in December. He took to Twitter, writing, “Been 5 months since I tested positive for Covid. Still can’t taste or smell. Anyone else experience this?? Did it ever come back?? Haven’t tasted a meal since late December. After 5 months…is this my new normal or will taste and smell come back???” Rather than asking important medical questions on social media, shouldn’t he, um, see a doctor? The good news: If Herbstreit has to eat crow on a prediction, he won’t taste it. The bad news: ESPN might not want him around partner Chris Fowler and production employees if the condition persists in August.

New York Times — In my sphere of media consumption, the Times excelled through a pandemic to remain the gold standard of go-to news operations. So why would a prestigious site, having successfully transformed to digital while poised for a continued long run of profitability, ponder acquiring a struggling operation such as The Athletic? As pointed out by Sportico, “It is less clear why the NYT would be interested in making a big bet on a growth business that has seemingly stalled, is losing money and competing in an extremely competitive digital media environment.’’ Beyond the financials, why jump into bed with the sports industry — as a whole, The Athletic remains too cozy with leagues, franchises and broadcast networks — when the Times is among the few shops committed to robust, independent journalism? If the Times comes to its senses and says no, it would be the latest bitter pill for Athletic founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, who also were rejected recently by Axios. I’d consider buying The Athletic, but as I once told Mather and Hansmann over breakfast in San Francisco, there’s no need to have hundreds of payrolled staffers when a strong stable of 50 well-known columnists would serve a smarter, more impactful purpose. Maybe the Times, which has deprioritized sports coverage, will reach my conclusion, which would mean mass layoffs if this deal actually happened.

Jim Jackson, TNT — Sure, I could mention how I love hanging out in Santa Monica at R&D Kitchen and Esters Wine Bar, or with Kendall Jenner and Devin Booker at Nobu in Malibu. But that would be a cheesy form of payola, of which the NBA game analyst hasn’t been apprised by his network bosses. As he vies for a promotion after the dismissal of top analyst Chris Webber, Jackson is impressing only himself by name-dropping “The Capital Grille’’ in downtown Miami — “where I smoke my cigars’’ — and “Myles’’ Chefetz, known to league nightlife vets as the restaurateur behind South Beach’s Prime 112. Jackson didn’t know it, but play-by-play man Brian Anderson was chiding him by saying he’d never pay for a meal again at either place. I’m assuming that former NBA players on TNT aren’t prepped about the basics of broadcast professionalism, because the list of screwups is growing by the day. Me? I’m endorsing Reggie Miller for the lead analyst position. Because I did added work on a Sixth Who Doesn’t Get It, I’m going to treat myself to lunch at the Sunset Tower Bar in West Hollywood, where I know Gabe, the maitre d’.

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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