There have been plenty of takes about Chris Russo at this point. If I were to write a think piece about his “shut up and play” comments regarding Draymond Green at this point, I would be like the 78th guy to the party. Hell, at this site alone, I would be the second guy to the party.
If Mad Dog was going to learn anything from Thursday’s edition of First Take, it would have happened by now. I agree his stance is problematic, but I also am sick of hearing about it being problematic.
Instead, let’s talk about the other guy in that debate. Let’s move Chris Russo to the back of the line and instead shine a spotlight on JJ Redick. You know how good he is on TV, whether it is analysis or debate. The guy is bright, handsome, and opinionated – born to be a star.
I am not going to make this all about JJ Redick as the future of sports media. I am pretty sure I am late to that party as well.
This piece is going to focus on a single point JJ Redick made. It is a point that is more important for our industry to pay attention to than anything said about Green or about Russo.
When Chris Russo said that he had been watching the NBA for 60 years and rattled off a list of old players that he loved as a kid, Redick fired back with a perfect response.
“I don’t actually care about the fans that watched Bob Cousy play or watched Wilt play. I don’t care.”
I absolutely love this stance. Replace “Bob Cousy” and “Wilt” with “Magic” and “Bird” or “Joe Montana” and “Jerry Rice”, and the point is the same and just as valid. Why are some hosts or analysts dedicated to the idea that the best days of sports are behind us? How does that help our business?
Former athletes often fall into this trap. It’s ego-driven, and that is understandable. Men and women that have spent their entire careers in broadcasting make the same mistake. It is a bad habit that producers and programmers have to make sure is stopped.
Getting old sucks, I get it. But when you say that Kyrie Irvin couldn’t hold a candle to Bob Cousy or that Shohei Ohtani is no Babe Ruth, you are telling the audience you actively resent them. They are coming to you for information about what is happening right now, not to hear that nothing matters because it is all downhill from here because everything has sucked since football legalized the forward pass.
Being able to dismiss nostalgia is probably easier for JJ Redick than for some analysts. He just retired. He can appreciate the performances in the 2022 playoffs without being caught up in the bullshit way of thinking that it is some kind of indictment on his own career. Still, I applaud him for saying the quiet part out loud.
Every viewer is precious in this era of endless media options. Nothing on TV is performing the way it did 15-20 years ago. So many of us in the sports media hate “back in my day” conversations. Give JJ credit for saying it.
I am not going to tell you that all-time great performers and performances from bygone decades are not impressive. I am not making the point that LeBron is better than Jordan. What I am saying is, isn’t it great that it is a legitimate debate.
If you’re 40 or older, you are old enough to have seen and appreciated both of the two best players to ever pick up a basketball. When you think about the age of Earth itself and all of the people that have been born and died since basketball was invented, the fact that you got to be here for Jordan and LeBron is f***ing amazing!
Sports talk, no matter what platform is it done on, is built on the 3 Es: entertainment, enlightenment, and education. The secret is that the second 2 Es don’t really count. They’re nice, don’t get me wrong, but if you aren’t entertaining, no one is going to stick around to be educated or enlightened.
Let’s get the history lessons out of sports talk. Remember, there is a reason ESPN Classic never made it off the premium sports tier. No one is turning your show or network on to hear a lecture. This is supposed to be fun. Storytime with grandpa is only fun when it is your grandpa, and to be fair, there are plenty of times you wish your grandpa would just shut up.
Enough people have piled on Chris Russo for what he had to say about Draymond Green. I don’t need to do that. I want to lift JJ Redick up, because, while he may have been speaking to Russo, he said something every sports talker needs to hear occasionally: Yesteryear means nothing to people who are tuning in to hear you talk about yesterday.
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.