As the Los Angeles Rams came back to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in the 2022 NFC Championship Game, a conversation was being had behind closed doors in The City of Angels. The NFC Championship Game could very well have been the final time Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, an iconic duo spanning two decades in the booth together, would broadcast a game on Fox Sports. Aikman’s contract with Fox Sports expired at the conclusion of this past season, and after negotiations, he inked a five-year deal to call Monday Night Football on ESPN. Buck followed soon after. That opened up two jobs to a pool of candidates – the network’s lead football and baseball announcer.
Fox Sports announced the promotion of Kevin Burkhardt as its lead football play-by-play announcer in late March, making him the voice of the Super Bowl for two of the next three seasons. Now it was up to the network to tab its new lead play-by-play announcer for its coverage of Major League Baseball.
Taking the seat of a legend is nothing new for Joe Davis. As the television play-by-play voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Davis replaced Vin Scully at 28 years old and has been a distinctive part of the soundtrack of signature moments for baseball’s most consistent contender over the last five years.
Davis’ interest in broadcasting began at a young age, growing up as a sports fan in Potterville, Michigan. His father was a football coach and sports were a consistent part of everyday life, making it easy for Davis to envision himself working in sports in the future.
While majoring in communications and journalism at Beloit College, Davis honed his skills both on the field as a quarterback and in the booth as a broadcaster. As an undergraduate student, Davis was the voice of Beloit Buccaneers baseball and basketball during the winter and spring, and played quarterback for the school’s division-three football team in the fall. Having an understanding of the perspective of an athlete as a broadcaster is something that has served to benefit Davis throughout his career thus far, especially in realizing his place in certain settings.
“It gave me a sense for my place in the clubhouse or in the locker room having been on the other side [and] knowing what exactly goes into being a player and where I stood once I became a broadcaster,” said Davis. “Not being a nuisance [and] kind of being seen but not heard, especially at first.”
As a result of his work ethic and desire to improve his skills, his rise in the industry was expeditious, to say the least, upon his college graduation in 2010. In the span of seven years, Davis served as the play-by-play announcer for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits, called college sports for ESPN and Comcast Southeast and worked as a studio host for the Baylor Bears. In 2014, Davis was hired by Fox Sports to call both college football and basketball games, along with appearing on select Major League Baseball broadcasts.
Throughout his time in college and early days in the industry, Davis developed somewhat of an announcing style, or as he refers to it, discovering just who he was on the air and allowing for him to show his personality. Calling multiple sports and maintaining that identity, as daunting as it may sound, is something Davis has embraced, allowing him to move far into the industry at a rapid pace.
“From sport to sport, I love that I get to do multiple sports,” said Davis. “They’re all so different in the prep and then in the act of actually calling the games. I think that it’s nothing but a good thing.”
Davis has worked with the Dodgers since the 2016 season, albeit his beginning in a limited role as an alternate play-by-play announcer. During Vin Scully’s final season, he and Dodgers radio play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner filled in for Scully on games he was unable to call. Upon Scully’s final game of his legendary career, the Dodgers announced their new broadcast booth for the 2017 season, featuring 1988 World Series Champion and all-star pitcher Orel Hershiser as the color commentator with Davis as the primary play-by-play announcer on Spectrum SportsNet LA
Every day he enters the Dodgers’ television booth, Joe Davis recognizes the magnitude of the role and the weight Scully’s legacy garners, keeping him inspired and motivated to perform the role to the best of his ability.
“Knowing that when I sit in that Dodger chair everyday, I think about the fact that for 67 years, the best ever to do this job was in that chair, and the responsibility that comes with being the person to follow Vin is a big part of what makes the Dodger job special,” said Davis.
Throughout his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team has finished with a winning record; in fact, the team has not finished with a losing record since the 2010 season. Davis realizes that he has been and remains fortunate to call games for a franchise in a large media market with a steadfast commitment to winning and the resources to do it on a year-by-year basis.
“We talk all the time about how lucky we are to be doing Dodgers games. I say [that] half-jokingly – but really it is only half-jokingly; I’m somewhat serious,” said Davis. “I think part of the reason I’m still here [and] people haven’t run me out of town is because I’m delivering good news. People like to hear good news and people like to watch a winner, and thankfully this team since I’ve gotten here has been so, so good.”
In covering a talented team with bona fide superstars including Mookie Betts, Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman and Walker Buehler, along with a surplus of quality depth at both the major league and minor league levels, high-pressure situations yielding dramatic “Hollywood-esque” finishes are abundant. An aspect of Davis’ announcing style is his ability to thrive in these situations, something his predecessor Scully did exceptionally well. Part of the reason Davis has made iconic calls early in his career highlighted by exclamations including “Absolute madness” and “You are ridiculous” comes from advice Scully gave him, along with his own background as an athlete.
“You almost have to think like a player and take a deep breath and really relax and not put pressure on yourself,” said Davis. “I don’t think you script big moments, but I do think it’s important to anticipate the big moments coming and then think to yourself, ‘If this big moment that I’m anticipating coming happens, what is the bigger context around that?’”
By recognizing the context surrounding big moments – such as win streaks, changes in the standings, career milestones, etc. – Davis has been able to succeed behind the mic no matter the scenario. Whether it be a spring training game, the regular season or the postseason, he knows how to appropriately articulate a moment for his viewing audience; however, it requires being prudent and giving each moment of the game some forethought.
“I’m not smart enough to have that moment happen and do it justice – to put a proper caption on it,” said Davis. “I think that it requires doing a little thinking [in] anticipating the moment coming.”
Recognizing his audience is indeed consuming the game both visually and aurally, Davis has been able to differentiate between calling a game on television despite getting his start in radio. Throughout his career, Vin Scully called Dodgers games on television while the team simulcast the first three innings of every matchup on the radio during his final season. A salient point Davis underscores though, especially when talking to younger broadcasters making a transition from one medium to the other, is not to overthink their multitude of differences, but rather to embrace their similarities.
“There are obvious differences [and] there are subtle differences, but… I don’t think it’s good to overthink the difference. I hear a lot of times when people are making that transition from radio to TV and [when] I listen to the TV tape, I can hear them thinking: ‘Okay, I need to talk less. I need to call it this way because it’s TV, not radio.’ I don’t think it’s healthy to overthink it.”
Another point of differentiation between the two mediums comes in the implementation of the analyst into the broadcast. The Dodgers television booth had not had an analyst in recent memory prior to Herscheiser, as Scully called the games solo over much of his career.
Davis’ most memorable moment as a broadcaster came while filling in for Joe Buck on Fox Sports’ broadcast of Game 7 of the 2020 National League Championship Series. Ironically enough, Davis’ local team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, faced the Atlanta Braves with a World Series-berth on the line. After Enrique Hernández hit a home run to tie the game 3-3 in the sixth inning, Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger crushed a towering home run to right field to put the team on top 4-3, sending the franchise to its first World Series since 1988 – one they would eventually win in six games.
“It was a special thing… because I was sitting in Joe’s chair and I got to send a team to the World Series,” recalled Davis. “The icing on the cake was that it was the team I cover on a daily basis.”
The exhilaration of that moment on a national broadcast was something Davis hoped to be able to experience again in his career. High-pressure situations are where Davis has historically thrived in the booth, and he recently stepped into another one with his ultimate career goal in the balance.
Once it had been reported that Fox had given Joe Buck permission to pursue other jobs after it had lost Troy Aikman to ESPN, Joe Davis knew he had a legitimate shot to take over lead play-by-play duties, but was unsure whether he would be granted the monumental opportunity. The anticipation of this moment, potentially being afforded the chance to call baseball’s marquee matchups including the World Series, was something Davis had been dreaming about since he was in his youth.
“I started to read all the same stuff that all of us were reading as far as ESPN being interested in Joe Buck,” said Davis. “It was one of those things that was like, ‘Okay, I’ll believe this when I see it.’ I imagined Joe Buck would be at Fox calling the World Series and the Super Bowl forever.”
Just as he does in high-intensity moments within the scope of a game, Davis tried not to get too ahead of himself as the process of finding Buck’s successor was underway. But with the possibility of a promotion he so genuinely desired looming in the background, Davis admitted that he struggled to remain calm throughout the process.
“[I] was checking my phone all the time; waiting for updates; waiting for calls; and hoping that something would break. It seemed like forever before anything happened.”
As his apprehension grew and a resolution neared, Davis remembered how as a child, he would watch the World Series and listen to Buck call the games, aspiring to one day follow in his footsteps.
“One of the coolest things for me has been to go from looking up to him [and] not knowing him – just admiring him and wanting to be a little like him – [to] getting to meet him as I came to Fox, and now being able to call him a friend and a mentor,” said Davis.
The time had finally come. While Davis was in Las Vegas calling the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament, Fox Sports President of Production/Operations and Executive Producer Brad Zager flew in from Los Angeles to deliver him a message – one that he had been waiting to receive since he was 10 years old.
“‘I’m here to offer you a chance to be the voice of baseball,’” Davis recalled Zager telling him in their meeting.
Earlier this month, Fox officially named Joe Davis as its lead play-by-play announcer, a role in which he will join National Baseball Hall of Fame member and 1995 World Series champion John Smoltz in the booth. In his new role, Davis will be the voice of the World Series each year, along with announcing other premier matchups and special events, including the 2022 MLB All-Star Game and MLB at Field of Dreams Game. Additionally, he will remain the voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Spectrum SportsNet LA.
“If you had asked me when I was 10 what do you want to do, I would have told you: ‘I want to call the World Series,’” said Davis. “A World Series Game 7 would be just incredible, but… looking at my regular season schedule, it’s awesome. It’s all the marquee teams and the marquee games…. I’m not going to stop pinching myself – that’s for sure.”
Davis will make his debut as Fox’s lead MLB play-by-play announcer on May 28 when the Philadelphia Phillies take on the New York Mets. The game will be played at Citi Field, which is modeled after Ebbets Field – the former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers – the place where Vin Scully got his start on the airwaves.
“I have fun covering these games,” said Davis. “Letting that love and joy for the game come through on the air; presenting the current game as one that is special; and these people and these players within the game – presenting their stories as special. I think the foundation to it all is genuinely loving the game as it is right now.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
In Defense Of Colin Cowherd
“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”
I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.
Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.
Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.
Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?
A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.
That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.
The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.
Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!
This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).
“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.
On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.
Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.
You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?
It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.
Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?
I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.
School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.
Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…
Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.
“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman. “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”
Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.
Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.
This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.
She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.
“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”
Waldman has also changed the industry.
She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.
Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.
“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”
Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.
For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.
“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”
There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.
Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.
It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.
“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”
Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.
And many of these people were co-workers.
“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman.
It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.
She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.
“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t. You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”
There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.
“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”
While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.
The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88. I just wish he were here.”
Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.
Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.
“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.
“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports. You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming. I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”
And made it she did.
And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.
“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman.
Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.
“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.
She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.
“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer. That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”
And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.
But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.
Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.
“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women. I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.”
During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.
But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?
“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”
To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words
“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “
For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.
If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.
So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.
Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.
Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.
Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.
As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.
Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.
When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.
On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.
You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.
Pot, meet kettle.
I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.
Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.
And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.