Defeat can be as compelling as victory in athletic competition. That seems especially true in Olympic sports, many of which are individual events, narrowing the focus on the competitor and sometimes creating intense pressure to succeed.
In many cases, these athletes are also young and began training at such an early age that they sacrifice learning basic life skills so that they can hone their skills and become Olympians. Yes, if they win, fame and glory often follow. But if they don’t, failing to meet expectations can lead to humiliation, pain, and depression.
One of the biggest storylines during the 2022 Winter Olympics has been skier Mikaela Shiffrin and her failure (that word seems problematic here) during the giant slalom and women’s slalom competitions in which she was expected to win gold medals. In both events, Shiffrin wasn’t able to maintain her balance, skidded out, and was disqualified (or DNF, “Did Not Finish”).
But more than empathizing with Shiffrin as she dealt with her deep disappointment, many viewers were concerned about the skier being closely scrutinized by NBC cameras and reporters when she was at her most crestfallen and vulnerable. Directors lingered on Shiffrin sitting alone in sorrow, attempting to process what happened. Reporter Todd Lewis interviewed her shortly afterward, as she fought back tears to answer questions. (Shiffrin went on to face 45 more minutes of questions from media afterward.)
To be fair, NBC directors and producers, and Lewis as a reporter, were all doing their jobs. (Many also criticized cameras lingering on Shiffrin as the event continued and focusing too much on the U.S. competitor in the event. Yet NBC has faced those objections for years throughout their coverage of many Olympic games.) If Shiffrin was the centerpiece of women’s slalom coverage, staying with her was the objective.
But maybe it’s the job that needs to change. Maybe such close coverage can back off a bit. A key part of Olympics coverage is highlighting the athletes to follow, the hopefuls with the best chance of bringing a gold medal home to the United States. Perhaps it’s time to point viewers in a certain direction without locking their gaze and forcing them to ask, “Well? We’re waiting” like Judge Smails in Caddyshack.
In defending NBC’s coverage of Shiffrin, executive producer Molly Solomon told the Associated Press that they have an obligation to document “real people with real emotions in real time.” She said they would do the same thing if Joe Burrow or Matthew Stafford sat on the sidelines after losing the Super Bowl, dwelling on their defeat. And no one would likely object to that, so why should the standard be different for female athletes?
“Here we are in 2022 and we have a double standard in coverage of women’s sports,” said Solomon. “Women’s sports should be analyzed through the same lens as the men. The most famous skier in the world did not finish her two best events. So we are going to show her sitting on the hill and analyze what went wrong. You bet we are.”
Solomon goes on to point out that Shiffrin is a 26-year-old professional athlete. Hey, Simone Biles was 24 when she withdrew from several gymnastics events due to struggles with mental health and anxiety during last year’s Summer Olympics. Are they supposed to just put on sunglasses and deal with it because they’re older?
The fallacy in that comparison is that Shiffrin and fellow Olympic athletes (like Simone Biles, 24, who struggled with mental health and anxiety during last year’s Summer Olympics) don’t have the support system, the resources to deal with defeat and address mental health that an NFL player would.
Athletes have been increasingly outspoken about the toll that training and competition without proper emotional and therapeutic support has taken on their mental health. The culture in general is more aware of mental wellness and finding balance in life.
When Desus & Mero ask Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss what they do for their mental health during an interview to promote The Matrix Resurrections, this is a topic that has broken through into mainstream discussion and pop culture.
HBO devoted an entire documentary, 2020’s The Weight of Gold, to how poorly Olympic athletes are supported mentally and emotionally. As Gracie Gold says in the film, doctors can treat a knee problem. But what if an athlete is having dark thoughts and needs to talk to someone besides a fellow competitor who isn’t equipped for those conversations?
The message from nearly a dozen Olympians — including well-known names like Michael Phelps, Bode Miller, Sasha Cohen, Apolo Ohno, Lolo Jones, Shaun White, and Jeremy Bloom — is that training at such a young age meant that they didn’t get to do the things so many of us associate with childhood, like playing with friends, learning to ride bicycles, or watching cartoons. Those are what make us who we are, what help us learn to live in the world.
Keeping a camera on them at their worst moment reinforces the idea that these people are only defined by their success or failure, by whether or not they won honor and glory for their country.
Yes, NBC Sports producers, directors, reporters, and crew are documentarians. They’re also storytellers, which means following athletes on their journeys to victory or defeat, and sometimes the painful aftermath.
But the story has changed. If NBC and other TV networks want to tell that complete narrative, they need to exercise some responsibility and chronicle the consequences as well. If you leave that to the athletes, they’ll stop talking to the media, as Shiffrin has. How can stories be told under those circumstances?
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.