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SHARPE’S NEAR-RIOT, WORLD CUP BRIBES: FOX SPORTS IS A MEDIA SLIMEHOUSE
The Murdochs may or may not remember “Malice at the Palace,” but Shannon Sharpe almost started an arena riot on a day when testimony in a federal trial exposed FIFA-related corruption at the network
The only residual value of Fox Sports is found in rhyme. Fox is a pox that belongs in a box, preferably Rupert Murdoch’s coffin. I could extrapolate and include Fox News, which has its own legal issues regarding fake news, but the sports division has enough chaos to make us wonder what the hell is happening inside the compound I occasionally pass on the corner of Pico Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars.
Have Murdoch and his son, Lachlan, ever heard of “Malice at the Palace,” one of the ugliest melees in American sports history? Do they realize atop their filthy media empire that their morning sports commentator, Shannon Sharpe, came close to starting a similar riot with his courtside trash-talk challenge of the Memphis Grizzlies? It’s hard to believe, given the lingering 19-year fallout of a violent brawl involving players and fans and hurled cups of beer, that security didn’t intervene earlier at Crypto.com Arena as Sharpe rooted on his beloved LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
But then, who knew that Sharpe would morph into a lunatic in the first half Friday night? Who knew that he would stand by his seat, point his finger and threaten to fight Dillon Brooks after the second-quarter buzzer, prompting 6-11, 265-pound center Steven Adams and other Grizzlies players to confront Sharpe in defense of their teammate? That’s when the red jackets rushed in, as the former NFL star continued to chirp. Fortunately, the incident ended there, but Sharpe should have been ejected from the building. He was not. Somehow, he was allowed to take his seat after spending halftime in a back hallway. If NBA commissioner Adam Silver truly is concerned about arena safety, he will call the Murdochs and their hapless sports CEO, Eric Shanks, and demand that Sharpe either act like a media professional and sit on press row or stay away from league games. Everyone is lucky this did not escalate into a dangerous scene.
“They didn't want this smoke," Sharpe told an ESPN reporter, sounding like a UFC fighter. “They do all that talking and jockeying and I ain't about that jockeying. It started with Dillon Brooks. I said he was too small to guard LeBron. He said, ‘F— me.’ I said, ‘F— you’ back. He started to come at me, and I said, ‘You don't want these problems.’ ’’
Shannon Sharpe is 54 going on 14. He has gained weight since his Hall of Fame career as a Denver Broncos tight end. He was wearing some sort of blue sweater/shawl that would have been torn apart with one pull by Adams, the snarling, long-haired enforcer from New Zealand. You knew this was a serious matter when Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant joined the back-talking fray, as did his father, Tee. “And then Ja came out of nowhere talking. He definitely didn't want these problems,” Sharpe continued. “Then the dad came and he obviously didn't want no problems. But I wanted anything they had. Don't let these fools fool you now.”
The only fool is Sharpe, who makes his living verbally sparring on a little-watched FS1 show with a bigger fool, former sportswriter Skip Bayless. In their desperate attempts to draw viewers to “Undisputed,” they engage in forced arguments. Sharpe, for instance, thinks James is a basketball god and wears a goat mask on camera — as in G.O.A.T., or Greatest Of All Time. Bayless disagrees and likes to disparage James. It’s worse than bad television. It’s an insult to our collective intelligence, which is why few tune in. But at least they stay out of public view on weekends. Usually.
What a farce that James, who will assume the global spotlight next month when he breaks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, encourages Sharpe’s rants. “I mean, I ride with Shannon for 365 days, 366 on a leap year, 24/7," James said after an intense 122-121 victory. “So, that's my guy. So I'll always have his back, and he's got mine. He can talk with the best of them, for sure.” As a student of NBA history, James surely knows what happened in the Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. He, too, should have a talk with Sharpe. I doubt it will happen. James is desperate just to make the playoffs at 38, knowing the Grizzlies have joined the Denver Nuggets as newfangled favorites in a post-Lakers, post-Warriors Western Conference. The kids from Memphis seemed more annoyed than disturbed by Sharpe.
“I ain't talking about that. You can ask him,” Brooks said. “He's the blogger or whatever he is. I don't really care about all that. Next question.”
Was he bothered that Sharpe was sitting courtside? “A regular pedestrian like him? No," Brooks said. “He should have never come back in the game. But this is L.A.”
And this is Fox, a pox on American life. As it is, the sports division has been made to look silly by Tom Brady, who agreed to a $375 million deal to assume an NFL broadcast-booth seat that might stay vacant until 2024. And hours before Sharpe made an ass of himself, a government witness in federal court made the network look as corrupt as it is out of control.
It should surprise no one that Rupert Murdoch would dive head-first into bribery smut. Did Fox knowingly use a mole to bribe FIFA officials and help the network sneak to the forefront, nudging aside ESPN and NBC, and land U.S. broadcast rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? Such are the grimy revelations surfacing in testimony amid the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into global soccer corruption. The New York Times is covering the events in a Brooklyn courtroom and reports that Alejandro Burzaco, an Argentina-based sports marketing executive at the time, was given a Fox price tag by FIFA official Julio Grondona in 2011.
“He said, ‘If Fox puts up $400 million, then it will win,’ ’’ Burzaco testified.
Fox put up $425 million. That was $325 million more than ESPN paid to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
Later, during a meeting in Buenos Aires, Burzaco said Grondona told him, “Look, Alejandro, I did this favor to you and Fox. But this is the last time I do it for free.”
Among those thanking him, Burzaco said, was Rupert Murdoch, patriarch of the Fox machine. “It is our privilege to be entrusted with these rights in the United States,” said David Hill, Murdoch’s longtime sports henchman.
So all these years later, working in such an ethical pigsty, why wouldn’t Shannon Sharpe almost cause a riot in downtown L.A.? Trouble is, he’ll be on the air Monday morning, ready to capitalize on his pratfall with a few more eyeballs watching. My suggestion: Continue not to tune in. And don’t trust anything about this empire and the creeps who run it.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.