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SPORTS MEDIA: FIVE WHO GET IT (DAUGHERTY); FIVE WHO DON’T (MORRIS, BARSTOOL)
A weekly analysis of the best/worst in media from a multimedia content prince — thousands of columns, TV debates, radio shows, podcasts — who receives angry DMs from media burner accounts
THEY GET IT
Savvy legal observers — Those who took the lazy, simplistic way out in the Trevor Bauer case — urging the Los Angeles Dodgers to sever ties with him without waiting for details — never considered the potential explosives in court testimony. The woman accusing the star pitcher of sexual assault acknowledged in cross-examination that she had sexual relationships with other Major League Baseball players — including Fernando Tatis Jr., the FACE OF THE SPORT, which led to her dismissal from a San Diego Padres community-events squad. The accuser also admitted a history of alcoholism and had to hear defense attorney Shawn Holley, in a case heavy on rough sex and boundaries, reference her texts to Bauer after the first of two bed encounters: “She left out the part where she asked (Bauer) for rougher sex and said that she’d never been more turned on than when she was choked out.’’ Not that any of this absolves Bauer from serious allegations — that a mutual agreement of rough shenanigans escalated into monstrously violent acts, after which, said the accuser, “I felt like my soul left my body.’’ But it does underline why media professionals should withhold judgment and not try to influence public opinion in legal cases, especially when they have no idea what happened inside Bauer’s sex dens in California, Ohio and God knows where else. Bill Shaikin, baseball writer at the Los Angeles Times, is among those who went too far, accusing Bauer of Trump-like “bullying’’ after he disputed a Washington Post story about a second woman accusing him of non-consensual, punch-and-choke activity. Wrote Shaikin: “President Trump is undefeated in using the deny-deny-deny-attack-deny-deny-distract strategy in response to allegations of sexual assault.’’ What, Bauer isn’t allowed to defend himself against media stories he views as one-sided? Is this not America? Or in the rampant cancel culture, is he just supposed to take his medicine, give back the bulk of his $102 million contract and fade away quietly? I want to hear all sides of an unprecedented story in sports, creepy as it all is. The smartest and most level-headed media people will practice restraint.
Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati Enquirer — Oh, wouldn’t athletes and their agents LOVE to have robots asking sweet nothings in press conferences? That way, they’d remain in complete control of public messages and not have to answer uncomfortable questions. The veteran columnist wouldn’t have it in the case of Naomi Osaka, who made $55.2 million last year, most from endorsements via companies that sell products to millions who want to hear from her. In a measured, professional tone, Daugherty asked the tennis star about her aversion to such media gatherings while mentioning she has “outside interests that are served by having a media platform.’’ Meaning, her massive earnings are made possible by visibility and accessibility in media settings. After Osaka paused several times, then broke down in tears, Daugherty was lambasted by her IMG agent, who called him a “bully’’ whose “sole purpose was to intimidate.’’ He also heard crap from tennis media suckups such as the New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg, who seemed to be currying Osaka’s favor by criticizing Daugherty on Twitter: “This was deeply frustrating. The tennis media people who know Naomi (and whom Naomi knows) had it going smoothly, and then a local reporter completely derailed it. Don't blame this on ‘tennis media’ again, folks.’’ As I wrote in a Substack column, we’re all trying to understand young athletes and their anxiety issues and why a traditional badge of sports honor — persevering through challenges, mental and physical — has been supplanted in 2021 by an abrupt willingness to surrender, as Osaka and Simone Biles have done in defining competitions. But before you condemn Daugherty as a bully/hater, replay the video. The man was doing his job.
Ernie Johnson, Turner Sports — In an industry of runaway narcissism, Johnson is the antithesis. He’s the host of the most acclaimed studio show on sports television, “Inside The NBA,’’ yet he has the ego of an insurance salesman and only wants to use his massive platform to spread inspiration. Wisely, Nick Saban invited Johnson to address Alabama football players who might be big-headed as they defend another national championship and sign whopping endorsement deals under new NIL rules, including $1 million-plus for quarterback Bryce Young, who has thrown all of 22 passes. Johnson not only relished the opportunity — “When Nick Saban asks if you would come and speak to his football team, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are not the answers. ‘What time’ is the answer,’’ he said — he delivered a life message. “Step away from your agenda and notice that there are moments that can make somebody’s life better,” Johnson told the team in Tuscaloosa. “That’s all I try to teach my kids. When you wake up in the morning, how are you going to make somebody’s life better?” And if selfishness ever creeps into the Crimson Tide agenda, Johnson reminded the players of his show function: “Nobody cares what I think about a basketball game. I’m just trying to get us from Point A to Point B to Point C, and I’m trying to make these guys shine. It’s about knowing your role.” He should do a campus tour. Kids relate to him.
Jenny Taft, Bayless-crusher — True story, though I wish it weren’t. I was on an elevator in a media hotel, at some major sporting event once upon a time, when the door opened. In walked Skip Bayless, wearing only a Speedo. As his column-writing rival in Chicago, I didn’t know how to react — nod? … laugh? … turn away? … puke? — and everyone tortured by his skimpy suit that day is still dealing with PTSD. I recalled this horror when Bayless, on FS1’s “Undisputed,’’ took a needless cheap shot at the physical appearance of Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, whose weight gain has been apparent during HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ series. Taft, a host who usually lets Bayless and partner Shannon Sharpe ramble without interjection, rightfully took offense. “I don’t know if McCarthy’s motivational speech was the most inspiring, but criticizing his appearance — I don’t know if that’s a fair shot for Mike McCarthy. I’m going to leave it at that,” she said. Bayless didn’t leave it at that, saying, “I wouldn’t want him to be my head coach,’’ and Taft fired back, “I don’t think it is a fair shot.’’ This is Bayless’ modus operandi, providing screeching sound bites for social media buzz, and let’s hope Taft continues playing judge instead of traffic cop.
Michael Jordan, misty-eyed film overlord — Already scorched by criticism from sidekick Scottie Pippen, who is publishing a book in retaliation, Jordan was visibly moved when speaking to an Australian film crew about another grievance concerning “The Last Dance’’ docuseries: Why was Luc Longley, the big man from Down Under, not interviewed? After painting a flattering self-portrait as the creative control freak behind the production, Jordan continues to bear backlash from those who felt short-shrifted, including Longley, who told the Australian Broadcasting Company, “Sitting there on the couch and watching episode after episode where I wasn’t in it — yeah, I was bummed about that.” To Jordan’s credit, he recently sat for a half-hour with a newsperson from Longley’s homeland, saying: “He matters to me. And his story needs to be told, and I’m pretty sure I can enlighten it from my perspective and give people his meaningfulness to me as a teammate as a competitor. … If you ask me to do it all over again, there’s no way I would leave Luc Longley off my team, no way possible. He had an impact on me, he helped me change as a person and made me a better player.” A cynic would say Jordan did this to sell more sneakers and tequila in Australia, and while I wouldn’t disagree, there is a heart deep inside a competitive inferno described aptly by Longley as “carnivorous.’’ By the way, I was happy not to be in “The Last Dance’’ despite my position as a central figure in the Jordan era. I would have dispensed some of the uglier truths, and Michael Jeffrey Scorsese would have chopped away, leaving me on the cutting-room floor.
Nate Burleson, CBS — Let’s not insult him with industry gossip, the noise that CBS is ripping off ABC’s wide-ranging success with ex-football star Michael Strahan. Burleson has the studio chops to reach even loftier plateaus, with the network reportedly grooming him to replace 70-year-old James Brown as host of “The NFL Today.’’ That would make him a leading face in big-time TV for decades to come. There’s nothing phony about him. He’s the rare talent who appeals to all demographics, offending no one and impressing everyone with his knowledge and style. And he’s only 39, which further qualifies him as a sixth who “gets it’’ this week.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Jack Morris, Detroit Tigers analyst — They never learn in baseball broadcast booths, do they? Last year, it was Thom Brennaman slurring gays. This year, it’s the 66-year-old Morris, sounding very much like a 20th-century caveman in using an offensive accent to describe how the Tigers should pitch to Shohei Ohtani. Asked by Bally Sports Detroit play-by-play announcer Matt Shepard, “Now what do you do with Shohei Ohtani?’’ Morris replied with his interpretation of a Japanese speech pattern: “Be very, very careful.’’ Ohtani was intentionally walked, and before his next at-bat, Morris offered a weak apology that suggested he was ordered to do so. “Well, folks, Shohei Ohtani is coming to the plate, and it's been brought to my attention — and I sincerely apologize if I offended anybody, especially anybody in the Asian community for what I said about pitching and being careful to, about Shohei Ohtani," Morris said. “I did not intend for any offensive thing and I apologize if I did (offend). I certainly respect and have the utmost respect for this guy. I don't blame a pitcher for walking him." Like that, the former standout pitcher goes from the Hall of Fame to the Hall of Shame.
Barstool Sports — Last time I was in Pennsylvania, a highway billboard greeted me with a sizable photo of Dave Portnoy, hyping a Barstool-themed sportsbook at a nearby horse-racing track. This company couldn’t be more clueless, could it? If Barstool wants legitimate business relationships with Major League Baseball and the sports industry’s biggest cornerstones, it can’t keep using Portnoy as the face of its operation. As ESPN did in 2017, MLB briefly considered the possible benefits of linking with Barstool’s bro-dude-heavy audience — until realizing such a collaboration would further tarnish baseball’s already-scandalized image, given Portnoy’s sick history of racist, misogynistic and bullying comments. No matter how many pizza slices he reviews or small businesses he helps, the founder never will shake his verbal abuse of ESPN’s Samantha Ponder or how he got started in sports media: by publishing a naked photo of Tom Brady’s then-toddler son. Even if the purging costs are astronomical, Barstool and part-owner Penn National must sever ties with Portnoy and launch a new image. Otherwise, even the desperate likes of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred will keep saying no. After all, how much disposable income does a Barstool listener generally have?
Alex Rodriguez, NBA franchise owner — At some point, hopefully today, ESPN and Fox Sports will realize A-Rod can’t continue as a baseball booth and studio analyst. How is that possible when he and Marc Lore just bought the Minnesota Timberwolves? As it is, Rodriguez doesn’t do the intense, live-the-job-24/7 homework required to be a top voice and enhance broadcasts. He’s just there because he’s A-Rod, but now that he’ll be much busier, the networks must take the lead of Jennifer Lopez and dump his ass. Former major-league pitcher Brandon McCarthy, never shy, tweeted this about him after ESPN’s latest “Sunday Night Baseball’’ effort: “Just can’t listen to these games anymore. Baseball has to do better than this. A-Rod doesn’t speak like a person who’s ever had a normal conversation. Tonally, inflection, the points he’s making, and how he makes them … all of it pushes you away as opposed to drawing you in.’’ I’d ask for A-Rod’s defenders to speak up, but crickets don’t have opinions.
Chicago Sun-Times — After the newspaper failed to report the DUI arrest of sports columnist Rick Telander, all five charges were dropped almost a month later by a Cook County Circuit Court judge. Still, why the lack of original reporting when the rival Tribune and Daily Herald published stories on the charges? The paper owed its readers that much, especially after the 72-year-old veteran Twitter-scolded the White Sox for hiring manager Tony La Russa after two DUI busts, but unlike La Russa, Telander was cleared Wednesday when the judge couldn’t find “reasonable grounds to believe defendant was intoxicated.’’ As I wrote in a previous column, Telander, like every American, deserved the presumption of innocence before guilt was established. It wasn’t.
Chad Millman, The Action Network — This is the gambling company boss who wants to meld traditional sports reporting with wagering tout work. It’s an ethical sh—storm waiting for a scandal — every day, perhaps — but here comes college football insider Brett McMurphy anyway, a hired gun ready to supply inside information so gamblers can make money. Nothing possibly could go wrong here, right? “First and foremost, we’re a news operation. We know the value in that. We know the value in moving fast. We know the value in getting that to our users as quickly as possible,’’ said Millman, the former ESPN The Magazine chief. “The list of people who break news in college football and are as well sourced as Brett is pretty small. It’s more than that. Brett understands betting.’’ I repeat: Where is Congress?
Peacock — The “Field of Dreams’’ game was a ratings revelation, with Fox Sports averaging almost six million viewers — most for a MLB regular-season game since 2005. The Iowa cornstalks barely had a chance to breathe before the NBC streaming platform, just off extorting Olympics-watchers to pay for prime live events, announced a deal with sports nerd/Hollywood guy Michael Schur for a “Field of Dreams’’ scripted series. Look, baseball romance and nostalgia thrived live for one night and might work next year in Dyersville, where the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will play. I can’t imagine that “reimagining the mixture of family, baseball, Iowa and magic that makes the movie so enduring and beloved’’ will keep America’s attention. Why do broadcast executives copycat so much? How about locking down in a think tank and seeking originality? This becomes, yep, our sixth “They Don’t Get It’’ entry. Can’t help myself.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.