It used to be possible for the codgers of sports media to say things about pro athletes without actually saying them.
You could reference the number of tattoos, the bagginess of the clothing or talk about the demonstrativeness on the court and leave it at that. Some people would object to the undertones or point out the implications, but in general, you were allowed to be a grumpy curmudgeon without having to spell out exactly why you wanted these younger athletes off your lawn.
However, the time in which these sort of declarations went unchecked ended well before this past Wednesday. This was unfortunate for Chris Russo because this past Wednesday is when he made his weekly appearance with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take and wound up getting dunked with two hands by JJ Redick, who was best known as a marksman during his playing career and did not miss after taking aim at Russo on Wednesday. If you haven’t seen a blow-by-blow, take a second to get caught up here.
All caught up? Good. Now let’s put a microscope over this 10 minutes of content, which I found to be absolutely incredible. Then again, I’m the type who finds it funny when someone gets metaphorically pantsed in public, which is what ultimately happened to to Russo.
There was a specific reason for that, and it has nothing to do with Russo’s initial reaction to the press-conference clip of Draymond Green explaining his middle-fingered salute to the Memphis crowd in the first half of Thursday’s game.
Here’s a transcription of what Russo said:
“Oh, he’s so hard to root for you. Oh God. Shut up and play will you please? America is tired of Draymond Green … Just be quiet and play. We all know he’s got a great skillset for that team, but who in the world is sitting there, he’s so polarizing, I can’t root for him. I understand how good he is. I can’t root for him.”
It’s a great opinion, and I say that even though I do not agree with that opinion nor do I think his characterization of Green’s popularity is accurate. But it’s a strong reaction to an equally strong statement from a prominent player involving a controversial moment. This is the meat-and-potatoes of sports debate, and when it was Redick’s turn to talk, he analyzed both what Russo was saying and what he was implying.
Tactically, Redick was precise, pointing out that contrary to Russo’s assertion that America was tired of Green, there’s significant evidence that there are a large number of people very interested in Green’s opinion. Then Redick pointed out that Green’s lack of a filter is not only why people are interested, but what makes him a good player. But the most compelling part of the response was Redick’s refusal to let Russo say he couldn’t root for Green without explaining why or exploring the implications.
And Russo either couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why he couldn’t root for Green. He shifted from his opinion, which was that he can’t root for Green because he talks so much, to emphasizing how many people shared this fatigue over Green. If at any point in an argument you find yourself pointing to the number of people who agree with you, it’s a pretty good sign that you’ve run out of actual points.
Russo: “God, he is so polarizing. For all the fans that you think listen to the podcasts and watch him, I can give you 50 million fans that would tell you the same thing, ‘Enough already.’
“So he is a polarizing athlete. Sure, there are certain younger fans especially that like to hear him play. I’ll give you a large segment of older fans who have followed the NBA for 60 years, this is not a political scenario or a race situation, who have followed Wilt and grew up as a Knick fan and loved Clyde and loved Reed who can’t stand,” and at this point Redick jumped in.
Redick: “The fans you’re talking, they talk about athletes that way like you just talked about an athlete.
“The people on FOX News talk about athletes that way. And that’s my issue. That’s my issue. I don’t actually care about the fans that watched Bob Cousy play or watched Wilt play. I don’t care. I appreciate that they’ve been NBA fans that long, but I don’t appreciate the undertone.”
Let’s pause there for a second. As an overall piece of content, it’s great. The passion, the energy and I loved the way Redick snuffed Russo’s argument.
From a programming standpoint, though, I think it exposed Russo as a liability. This is not because his opinion is unpopular. It’s not. I would guess about half the country would lean toward his side of this specific debate. The problem is that Russo is either unwilling or unable to explain the underlying rationale. He tried to say something without saying it, and the result was he wound up looking like a piñata.
That might be a viable approach. For years networks with a specific political orientation have brought on members of the opposition party to serve as strawmen in arguments, but I don’t think that’s what ESPN is seeking to do this segment. Just look at the way Stephen A. Smith hit pause after this specific exchange between Russo and Redick.
Smith: “Hold on, hold on, hold on. Let’s calm down. Let’s calm down. Because I’m glad you pointed out JJ it’s not a race thing. Because with Doggie it’s not.”
Smith realized that Russo was out in the deep water, unable to touch bottom and in danger of going under.
Smith: “You do have old-school fans that lament the fact that you’ve got a lot of folks that are just saying, ‘Enough already, enough already.’ Me and you, we think differently. Lemme tell you, I encounter it all the time, there’s a whole bunch of Mad Dog Russos running around. I’m here to tell you right now, it’s unbelievable. There’s no question about it.”
Russo laughed loudly when Smith mentioned the number of Mad Dogs running around, the tension defused. Smith clearly likes Russo, and he’s willing to gently tease Russo about the holes in his logic to create a good-natured back-and-forth without digging into the actual reasons why Russo may think that way.
If that’s the kind of dynamic ESPN is seeking with Russo, the network will need to keep Russo away from anything sharp. Not everyone will be as patient nor should they be. As someone who finds Russo’s entire act antiquated and annoying, I hope more people take a scalpel to what he’s saying much in the way Redick did, trying to expose both the reasons and the implications of Russo’s disdain for Green. Russo may very well be speaking for the attitudes and opinions of a significant part of the audience, but he’s either unable or unwilling to defend those points in an actual debate.
Not that I’m complaining about that. I enjoyed every second of watching Russo’s .22-caliber argument get obliterated by Redick’s .357 Magnum response.
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.