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SPORTS MEDIA: FIVE WHO GET IT, FIVE WHO DON’T
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 burner accounts of media people
THEY GET IT
Kenny Mayne, ESPN — In a deliciously off-the-wall final show, the man who wouldn’t take a 61-percent paycut at age 61 refused to let Aaron Rodgers make their interview about Mayne’s departure. Obeying his very function for hosting ‘‘SportsCenter’’ through the years — delivering the news — Mayne adroitly peppered the aggrieved quarterback with questions about his issues with Green Bay Packers management. Finally, Rodgers relented, saying his beef is less about the drafting of Jordan Love and more about the general chill he feels from the likes of general manager Brian Gutekunst. Said Rodgers, who clearly wants out, even as the Packers waffle: ‘‘Anything’s on the table at this point. … It's just kind of about a philosophy and maybe forgetting it’s about the people that make the thing go. It's about character, it's about culture, it's about doing things the right way. A lot of this was put in motion last year, and the wrench was just kind of thrown into it when I won MVP and played the way I played last year. This is just kind of, I think, a spill-out of all that.’’ Yes, Mayne departed Bristol by breaking the biggest sports story in America, then telling his good friend in vintage smart-ass mode, ‘‘You told me to go heavy in the cryptocurrency game. I did, and we’re down 40 percent — then I lost my job. Gretchen just wants a new comforter. F— you, Aaron Rodgers.’’ A smart boss will hire him soon — tomorrow — and Mayne should look to an established brand such as Fox, not to a speculative future at startup Meadowlark Media.
Greg Olsen, Fox Sports — The brave but daunting battle of the analyst’s 8-year-old son, TJ, warrants our prayers. The former NFL tight end, launching a new career as a promising football analyst, is using Twitter to update TJ’s condition this week as a congenital heart defect takes its toll. Wrote Olsen, whose son is on a pacemaker after three open heart surgeries: ‘‘`Unfortunately, it seems his heart is reaching its end. We are currently working through the process to determine our next steps, which ultimately could lead to a heart transplant.’’ Olsen and his wife, Kara, have donated millions to a foundation that helps young heart patients in Charlotte, N.C. That’s where the family is spending days and nights. ‘‘`We don’t know how long we will be within these hospital walls," Olsen wrote. ``We do know that we are in full control of our attitudes and our outlook. TJ has been a fighter since birth.’’ We talk about courage in a 2021 world. No one is more courageous than TJ Olsen.
Jim Nantz, CBS — The social media mobs — and I’m not sure why they’re routinely cited as authorities — praised Nantz for his not-exactly-original call after Old Phil Mickelson’s age-defiant victory: ‘‘Phil defeats Father Time!’’ I was more impressed when Nantz, known to overlook newsworthy matters in fear of disrupting sports fairy tales, sensed trouble as the chaotic crowds swallowed Mickelson and Brooks Koepka on the 18th fairway. ‘‘They’ve lost control of the scene,’’ he said of an unprepared security presence at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, wondering what might happen on the green when Mickelson secured a place in history. For the first time, I actually felt Nantz was prepared to cover a major news story, like Bob Costas or going way back to Jim McKay, father of CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. When Mickelson called the crush scene ‘‘unnerving’’ after pushing away a fan and an angry Koepka suggested fans were intentionally trying to ‘‘ding’’ his recently repaired knee — ‘‘no one really gave a shit,’’ he said — it confirmed that Nantz had read the danger properly.
Phil Mickelson, Man Of The People — One of his secrets for remaining young, at 50, is an eagerness to converse with the masses and embrace social media. Anyone who follows Mickelson’s feeds isn’t surprised he spent his long jet ride home, from South Carolina to southern California, conducting a Twitter chat with fans. When one asked if he was on a plane, he replied, ‘‘`Yes. Sipping wine, half lit, tweeting. Life is good.’’ Another wondered if his hand was sore from so much thumbs-upping, his new way of acknowledging roars during tournaments. ‘‘Icing it now,’’ replied Mickelson, adding a thumbs-up emoji, natch. Always wildly popular among galleries, he is fully engaged to reach all demographics and extend his ‘‘cool’’ factor for who knows how long. Other athletes of a certain age should be taking notes, especially when Mickelson finally puts away his clubs — next year, five years, 10 years? — and becomes a national sensation as a network TV golf analyst. You don’t think broadcast executives are slobbering over the Sunday ratings, when Mickelson drew 13.1 million viewers in the 7 p.m. EDT hour?
Kwame Brown, critic crusher — Tired of ex-NBA players and media people treating his lame career like a punchline, Brown went ballistic. The former No. 1 overall pick — what was Michael Jordan drinking in Washington in 2001? — posted retaliatory videos after he was belittled on the ‘‘All The Smoke’’ podcast, referring to Stephen Jackson as a ‘‘fake Black Lives Matter activist’’ and Matt Barnes as ‘‘Becky with the good hair,’’ whatever that means. He was just getting started, challenging ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to a fight: ‘‘Stephen A. you bald forehead. Thinking you tough talking about ‘Oh, they can come see me.’ … Well meet me in Seattle where you can have mutual combat. It’ll look like you had a toupee on the front of your head.” Then he ripped Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless: ‘‘`I ain’t get no pass from your co-host when you was letting this punk motherf—-er talk about a teenager. … I had to endure you talking about my momma’s son like that, b—ch.” Rather than obey the golden rule of the criticism business — if you can dish it, you should take it — Barnes invited Brown to ‘‘All The Smoke’’ so he could ‘‘talk you shit face-to-face.’’ Brown rejected the offer, then responded with the winning blow: ‘‘I’ma let your show fizzle out, because I’m not gon’ help you get no rating.’’ Someone give Kwame his own podcast.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Doug Kezirian, ESPN — I will ask nicely, this one time, for Kezirian to take the $300,000 he won on a Las Vegas prop bet and donate it to charity. He has established a ghastly precedent at his company and in the media industry, whipping open the floodgates for on-air personalities to use inside information and expertise to win big money in legalized gambling. Kezirian, who hosts an ESPN show called ‘‘`Daily Wager,’’ should be front and center in maintaining his professional integrity and showing he’s NOT betting on sports. Instead, he took advantage of his acumen during the NFL Draft, noticing how a sportsbook had listed Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell as a safety — something he likely wouldn’t have known if not in sports media. The mistake by BetMGM enabled Kezirian, as he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to hoof it to Bellagio’s self-serve kiosks, partner with a pro bettor and make a series of wagers — totaling $3,500 — at odds up to 100-1. When Campbell went 33rd to Jacksonville as the first ‘‘safety’’ taken, Kezirian hit the jackpot, and BetMGM was forced to admit its error and pay up. ‘‘We all have different strengths as bettors, and mine are instincts,’’ said Dougie Dice, proudly. ‘‘I can tell when it’s a situation to just bet as much as you can.’’ If I’m ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro or another media executive committed to gambling coverage and imbedded with sportsbook partnerships, I’m frightened about the number of employees who might read Kezirian’s story and use their own inside knowledge to bet, which will lead to multiple scandals in media and sports. Does Bristol even have a betting policy? Don’t cry to me when Congress is contacting Pitaro, Kezirian, Scott Van Pelt and the gambling crowd to testify.
Shannon Sharpe, Fox Sports 1 — I’ve given up on expecting sound ethics from All Things Fox. Still, how does sports boss Eric Shanks allow Sharpe, the co-host of ‘‘`Undisputed,’’ to cold-call Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones — without identifying they were live and on the air — and ambush him with questions about his Atlanta Falcons future? Not until Jones made news and said, ‘‘Oh, I’m out of there, man,’’ did Sharpe quickly wrap up the interview by informing him, ‘‘We on the air, but I appreciate you calling me, dog.’’ It was Sharpe who called Jones, of course, but that’s the least of Fox’s problems. The studio show is based in California, where a wiretapping law makes it illegal to record a private phone call without the consent of all parties. That didn’t stop co-host Bayless, a long-ago journalist, from giddily remarking, ‘‘He’s out. He’s outta there. I told you.’’ If Jones wants to augment his $15.3 million base salary this season, wherever he is playing, he might have an easy financial settlement from a sports division that should know better.
Stephen A. Smith, ESPN — The easiest way to snag social media eyeballs is by uttering two words: White privilege. Once again, Smith is recklessly tapping a convenient well, and this time, he paints himself into a race-baiting corner. By arguing Tim Tebow has benefited from preferential treatment in landing a tryout with the Jacksonville Jaguars and his college coach, Urban Meyer, Smith reminds viewers that he made the same claim about NBA coach Steve Nash. ‘‘When you look at the totality of the situation, if I'm gonna bring up white privilege when I brought up Steve Nash getting the job in Brooklyn, is this not an example of white privilege?" Smith said. ‘‘What brother you know is getting this opportunity?" What he didn’t mention: Nash navigated a gnarly season of injuries and disarray to position the Nets as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to win the NBA title. Don’t drop lethal words, Stephen A., without at least crediting Nash’s success so far.
Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times — Not sure what’s going on with this elite sports columnist, but he is writing in homerish extremes. He apparently didn’t learn from his unrestrained, premature prediction about the Dodgers, claiming in March that they ‘‘will be the greatest team in baseball history’’ — already an impossibility amid injuries, the rival Padres and a flurry of early losses. Now he’s guilty of over-giddiness in writing, ‘‘As long as the Lakers have a healthy LeBron James, they are headed directly toward a second consecutive NBA championship.’’ He wrote those words after James made his lucky three-pointer to beat Golden State in a play-in game, and just days later, Plaschke was scolding Anthony Davis for inconsistency as the Lakers settled in for a daunting series against Phoenix. He’s the only one thinking repeat, whether James is healthy or not. What’s Sis Boom Bill going to write next, that the 2022 Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium will feature the Rams and Chargers?
Cassidy Hubbarth, ESPN — I don’t care that she referred to Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone as ‘‘`Mike,’’ which prompted him to fire back, ‘‘Michael. Michael Malone.’’ What bugs me is how the slip-up further cheapened the lost art of sideline interviewing, with Malone obviously upset that his team was trailing in a playoff game. What should remain an intimate component of a game broadcast — a between-quarters chat with a coach — is fading into a lot of nothing. Raise your hand if you’ve seen a recent in-game interview that enlightens you in the slightest. I see no hands. Just let these people do their jobs, which allows networks to, hey, sell another commercial.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes regular sports columns and a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and appears on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio 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.