In the two weeks since Jon Gruden resigned as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, there have been hours of radio and television plus pages and pages of internet print on the subject. The best thing I saw this week was not on either.
Former ESPN host Bob Ley and former Sports Illustrated/Baseball America editor BJ Schecter organized and moderated a virtual panel of sports dignitaries entitled, “The Gruden Effect: Examining the Larger Issues.”
The event was held Monday night as part of a Sports Media Speaker Series at Seton Hall University.
“All of these things require a path to redemption, right?” asked ESPN and HBO’s Bomani Jones, one of four panelists in addition to Schecter and Ley. “Like if you don’t have a path to redemption, then people have no reason to change or anything. There’s nothing to look forward to.”
Jones was joined on the virtual dais by the assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFL Players Association George Attalah, former executive director of the NBA Players Association Charles Grantham, and NFL Network reporter Judy Battista.
Ley was masterful in his moderation and made you feel like you were watching an extended version of Outside the Lines.
“I need to say one sentence about this because I’ve been trying to suppress some of the anger and all of a sudden the feelings have just come back,” Attalah said. “The reason it was okay for no action to be taken between the Friday email and the Sunday game was that DeMaurice Smith, who was a black labor lawyer who wasn’t ‘one of them.’ Period. That just needed to be said, as bluntly as possible.”
During his time at the NBAPA, Grantham presided over three collective bargaining agreements. He was far from surprised that emails like the ones Gruden sent existed.
“Really nothing new. I mean, I go back to (former Cincinnati Reds owner) Marge Schott,” Grantham said. “I go back to (former Los Angeles Clippers owner) Donald Sterling., This is 2021, nothing new is really happening here.”
Students were allowed to ask questions at the end, but it was clear no one held back.
“What I see on the horizon, however, is that time and time again, they proved that the organizational institution of football or basketball or baseball or hockey it’s time for some adjustments and some changes,” Grantham said. “This is not a regular, normal business. These are cartels. They run it the way they choose to run it. At a time when we’re looking for diversity, it means the structural change has to start.”
Battista discussed the media perspective on the leaked emails. She said it is impossible that the emails reported by both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times are the only derogatory inappropriate ones.
“Obviously every reporter wants to see all 650,000 emails,” she said. “Since the Washington Football Team investigation wrapped up over the summer, right? Jon Gruden deserves everything he is getting. So does Bruce Allen for that matter, but who has also been a part of this? We don’t know what happened in Washington and what that workplace environment was like beyond, that it was a very toxic workplace. I think highly unprofessional is how they described it. So yes, I would like to see all the emails.”
Still, she does not see complete transparency surrounding the Washington Football Team.
“There is no real ground-level pressure on these owners, whether on a national level or a local level,” Bomani Jones said. “When this thing happened on Friday, we kind of played it macro level. The larger NFL Press Corps, for whatever reason, is not really a questioning bunch. Like this goes differently from sport to sport. It’s not a broad indictment of anybody.”
Ley has been active with his alma mater Seton Hall since retiring from ESPN in June 2019. He has been very active in creating a greater sports media program within the School of Communications and the Arts and serves on the board of regents. He told me on my Sports with Friends podcast that he looks back fondly on his time at ESPN but relishes new challenges.
Grantham is currently the Director of the Center for Sport Management at Seton Hall as well. He noted that unless the players take a larger role in determining the future of the NFL through their union things like the Gruden emails will keep happening.
“I don’t see that happening unless they are compelled to do it by the government or some other outside force, such as the union, the players finally figure and decide that it’s going to be a priority,” Grantham added. “Is that a hostile environment? It’s a labor-management issue.”
Like podcasts, long-form entertainment can take an issue to levels that short segments simply cannot. When it came to Jon Gruden, there was a lot to unpack.
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.