Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

photo credit: AP/Nathan Denette

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by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media watchers. With the end of the Jays season lots more time is available for Leafs and Raptors and Argos and TFC talk. Best wishes to everyone on those beats as the spotlight turns to you. Note of warning: the first two sections involve a lot of talk about issues related to justice and equality. If that sort of thing bothers you, skip on down to the third section where you will find things more to your liking.

 

Suggested Soundtrack: Tribe Called Red – Burn Your Village to the Ground

 

Programming note: I'm working on another media roundtable on the topic of ethics in journalism. In case you missed the last one check it out here. We had the pleasure of hosting some of the biggest names in sports media and I'm working on another great line-up. If you're in the media, check your junk mail folder for messages from me. Or, follow me on Twitter so I can DM you. Hi Jeff! Miss you buddy.

 

Ed note: WordPress is having an issue that Gmail is marking its messages as spam. If you subscribe to comments via email then these may end up in your junk mail folder. We are working on it.

 

Chief Wahoo goes to the World Series

 

With Cleveland going to the World Series a lot of non-baseball fans will be getting their first look at the Indians' logo. And with lots of off-days and pages of copy to produce, you can bet we will be reading a lot of stories asking the basic question: how in 2016 can a professional sports league with major sponsors justify affiliating its brand with overt racism. 

 

Let's get one thing out of the way: the logo is racist. If you don't think so then the burden of proof is on you to explain what the difference is between Chief Wahoo's exaggerated features, skin colour, and feather and a logo featuring someone with black skin, big teeth and lips, and a spear. Call that team the Cleveland Coloreds and ask yourself if you would find it racist. 

 

But, you might reply, they are Indians! No. The term Indian has never been an accurate word for the Indigenous Peoples of North America. So insisting on using it just underlines that you're not interested in recognizing certain groups as social equals. If you want to hold on to the name Indians, scrap the racist logo and work with your local First Nations population and come up with one they can sign off on.

 

The term Indian when combined with the caricature of Chief Wahoo celebrates a deeply unjust period in North America. If you can get over all of that by appealing to tradition and "it's just baseball" then you are on the wrong side of history.  

 

 

Here are some good reads if you want to educate yourself about the history and meaning of the logo, and the debunked Washington Post survey:

 

  • Cleveland Scene – Loooooong-read but very much worth it. 
  • Canadian PressMark Shapiro was bothered by the logo and sought to relegate it to secondary status (featuring a lovely video of Steve Simmons. Thanks Ottawa Citizen for the value-added!). Also mentions Jerry Howarth's boycott. If you want, you can read the Sportsnet reprint of the CP story, where you'll be treated to top comments like this one:

 

 

  • Globe & Mail – Article talks about Jamie Campbell joining Jerry's boycott. Includes the following from Scott Moore: "This has been a big discussion point for many years, and we’ve discussed it with the commentators in the past and have left it to their discretion and their personal decision.” It's a little disappointing that Rogers didn't take the stronger stance of banning both the logo and the nickname from its airwaves and issuing a press release letting everyone know their reasoning and motivation. Here's what the top comment on G&M looks like

 

 

  • National Post – the author explores the bevy of social and political rebukes of the name and logo, adding "media organizations can send a signal by opting not to repeat the words." Or as an alternative "if news outlets do use the full team name, […] consider a disclaimer or explaining that it’s offensive to many people." Again, Rogers went for a half measure when a full measure was available. Here's how NP readers reacted:

 

 

Further Thoughts: Can one differentiate between the Braves and the Indians? If you hate Chief Wahoo can you be OK with the Blackhawks logo? Is there really something worse about Redskins than Eskimos?

 

Some of these are hard questions and some are easy. Let's start with the easy ones: the term "redskin" is a slur. The conjunction of the word Indian with a logo featuring a racial caricature is also a slur. So a simple "no slurs" policy deals with both Redskins and Chief Wahoo in one fell swoop.

 

Next: Eskimo was a term used to refer to a group of people who are ethnically and culturally distinct. The reason for using the blanket term was that the majority of people could not be bothered to learn the differences between northern Indigenous Peoples. Imagine using Zulu to refer to all Africans. It's a way of erasing the significance of another culture by sweeping it under a generic term. So a simple policy saying "no ethnically generalized names" would deal with Eskimos.

 

The cases of the BlackHawks, Chiefs, and Braves might be more subtle, or they might be covered by policies 1 and 2. Everybody needs to draw their own line and explain why drawing it there avoids the charge of racism. I am interested in your opinion on whether policies 1 and 2 are adequate or too restrictive. 

 

But what about the Fighting Irish? Answer 1: sure, ban that too if Irish people complain. Answer 2: it is possible to have one set of rules for Indigenous Peoples/First Nations and a different rule for groups who were not subjected to the Indian Act.

 

Final thought: no one is accusing Cleveland Indians fans of being racists. Like all baseball fans, they just love their team and have fond associations with the name and logo. You can own all your memories without insisting that this continue: 

 

 

It's racist. Stop it. Develop a tradition that you can be proud of without reservation.

 

Over to you: 1) Do we need to ban all if we want to ban one? 2) Make the case that Wahoo is different from a golliwog doll. I'm open to being convinced.

 

Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee

 

The Colin Kaepernick traveling Mirror to Society show made a stop in Buffalo last week. According to this story from Dave Zirin, the locals were selling shirts with a scope trained on Kaep, implying that his political protest should be met with a 2nd Amendment solution.

 

 

The tailgate also featured a tackling dummy dressed up as Kaepernick: 

 

"Fans were caught on camera “spearing” effigies of Kaepernick, complete with giant fake Afros. On social media there was tape of one fan yelling, before one spear, “Tackle the Muslim!”

 

So while Kaepernick expressed a political opinion about the state of the American criminal justice system, others responded to his speech with intimidation, insults, and threats. In other words, they chose counter speech designed to silence his opinion rather than engage with it.

 

Not everyone is sympathetic to Kaep's exercise of what many Americans claim to believe to be their most fundamental right. Eric Macramalla of TSN, whose bio is "TSN Legal Analyst. Offside TSN radio show in Ottawa/Montreal/Vancouver/ Edmonton" wrote:

 

"What has Kaepernick sacrificed? His protest certainly attracted of a lot of negative attention from fans, NFL players and his own teammates. Financially, however, the quarterback is set."

 

This is irrelevant. As a highly paid athlete he has a platform. This is how he is using his platform, namely to draw attention to an issue of national importance. Also, to say he hasn't sacrificed anything is insulting and contrary to fact. He has not sacrificed as much as some, but no one (other than Eric) declared that sacrifice is a measuring contest.

 

He adds further:

 

"Kaepernick is of course free to protest. His chosen symbolic gesture, however, is at best vague and ineffective as it has deflected attention away from the substance of the issue for which he was trying to raise awareness. The discussion has become about the appropriateness of his protest rather than the issues it was awkwardly designed to highlight."

 

 

This is a matter of interpretation of course. But Eric's article cites no evidence that the protest has been either effective or ineffective. Given that we are 6 weeks into the regular season and this is still a story I would say it has been very effective despite efforts by people like Eric to tear Kaepernick down by saying he is no Ali. If anything "deflects attention away from the substance of the issue" then it is the angle Eric chose to pursue in his story.

 

Finally, Eric says this of the decision to kneel:

 

"It represents a modest form of social protest which comes across as self-indulgent and largely unsophisticated, while failing to grasp the enormity of the issues at hand."

 

Again here, Eric is telling us how he feels about the act but framing it as a universal perception. I don't see it as self-indulgent. I'm also not sure why sophistication is a relevant metric here. 

 

Since he accuses Kaepernick of "failing to grasp" the issues at hand I asked him on Twitter if he had spoken to the QB to test out this theory about the Kaepernick's mental states:

 

 

No reply. Smart: sometimes it is wiser to say less rather than keep digging.That said, we embrace discussion here so if Eric or any of his fans want to defend the piece, have a go in the comments section or by email.

 

Further Thoughts: there is something very curious about the American mindset when it comes to “offensive” speech. One the one hand, hate-speech is protected speech and you can say and publish racist garbage without fear of legal consequence. Most Americans say this is the cost of true freedom. On the other, people also believe that political protest needs to be done according to certain standards of decorum and only in designated spaces. I don’t see how these two views are compatible. If your principle is that all offensive speech deserves strong protection then at least be consistent about it.

 

Lastly, I wrote about how "stick to sports" is often used to silence athletes who are using their social prominence to speak about issues that touch them personally. The point seems appropriate here. Look who is telling Kaepernick to stop talking:

 

 

Over to you: 1) How would you feel about Demar taking a knee during the American national anthem? 2) How would you feel about PK Subban doing the same? 3) Should more athletes be finding ways to show solidarity with Kaepernick's message, even if it doesn't mean kneeling?

 

The Gang Lands on their Feet

 

A news subscription based sports website launched in the last week. It's The Athletic. The site features familiar names David Alter, Eric Koreen, and John Lott all of whom were let go from the National Post during one of its rounds of layoffs (p.s. even more layoffs at Postmedia). Notably absent is Kaitlyn McGrath who is currently the Assistant editor at YahooCASports. 

 

If you liked reading these gents in the past then you'll like the work they are doing for their new boss. Here's a great piece by John Lott on the end of the Jays season. As I have said many times about Lott's work at the Post, I wish he were given a bit more room to editorialize rather than just report. Looking forward to him working in a more unconstrained writing environment. Judging by his Twitter feed, he sometimes has some strong takes:

 

 

In case you are wondering what the business model is, it's 100% subscription-based:

 

 

For me, under $5 a month sounds about right for 100% original content. If it is not ad-based then they should be able to make good on their promise not to post click-bait. 

 

Some potential red flags. 1) They don't have may writers right now. That's a problem. I would recommend they adopt Vice's model and allow a lot of freelancers to build up content. Then, do what Vice doesn't do much of, convert the best writers into full-timers. 2) Also, not clear if they are allowing commenting on stories. I would think a subscription based service would want to build up its sense of community. 3) Lastly, there is no editorial staff listing that I can find so it is unclear who will be guiding the ship. If it's going to be local then they will need someone who understands the local market to drive the direction of the content. 

 

I'll be checking the site out in detail this week. This is an exciting development for an industry whose currency has been bad news for a while. If this model holds then good people can take their buyouts from the papers and have a soft place to land where they can hit the ground running. 

 

The other major subscription based model in the market is the Globe. They lock up certain content for their members. The best sports content they have is all business related, so subscribing as a general sports fan would be a waste of money. All of Cathal Kelly's columns can be read for free.

 

The Globe however, is trying to suck and blow at the same time. If you're going to have premium content then the rest needs to be ad-supported and free. Instead, the Globe has a 10 article limit before you get this message:

 

 

The article that was the cause of this message for me was a Canadian Press story about the Argos Grey Cup ticket pricing. That is an article I can read anywhere (see below) yet under the Globe's model this counts as one the 10 I can read before the curtains slam shut. This is incoherent. Lock up the premium content, sure, but don't train me to go elsewhere for my sports reading. I won't come back and you are losing both the chance to sell me a subscription and to get me to click on your ads. Who makes these business decisions and how much do they get paid? All this does is annoy people who visit you regularly. 

 

Quick Hits

 

Speaking of the Grey Cup, news broke that mid-tier ticket price are being slashed due to poor sales. This is a major local story given the state of the team and the new stadium. Despite the plethora of local angles, The Star, TSN, Sportsnet, and the Globe all decided to run CP copy instead of writing their own. The National Post which doesn't have even have a sports department managed to produce their own story the day the news broke, and Cam Cole followed up two days later

 

Back to the Globe's excellent business reporting, they have published several pieces this week on the departure of CEO Guy (Not Your Buddy) Laurence. This one includes the following details: Nadir Mohamed was paid $27 million dollars in salary and compensation when he left. Guy was paid a $10 million dollar signing bonus when he arrived to replace Nadir. And now, three years later, after earning $33 million dollars in salary he will be paid a termination bonus of $16 million. For a publicly traded company, that is a lot of money spent on corporate churn. That said, Guy will probably have to pay a hefty early termination penalty on his cell phone.

 

Congratulations internet detectives and media sleuths. The suspect in the beer-tossing incident is no longer employed by Postmedia. Lots to discuss about this case. More on that in another column.

 

Low Hanging Fruit

 

  • This column by Gary Lawless (TSN) caused quite a stir for its neutral tone towards domestic violence. I'm not a journalist so I have no idea how they are trained to write about charges that were never proven in court. However, given the other details that have been proven (see here) Lawless' cagey language is questionable. The most damning sentence for Lawless is this one: "Is he a flawed man? Certainly. Show us one that isn’t." The "no one is perfect!" line of argument is horribly disingenuous and a favourite of people who do truly awful things. There's a distinction between being a flawed man and being a domestic abuser. I can show you plenty of the former who are not the latter. Winnipeg readers: what's the history between Lawless and Hull?

 

  • Jeff Blair & Stephen Brunt had a great hour with Jerry Howarth on their radio show. The three discussed, among other things, the Indians name and logo. I have disagreed with some of Jerry’s criticisms of players (Reyes, Bautista) as based on very thin reasoning, but in this case Jerry offered a very compelling and clear rationale.

 

  • I have been putting in the hours with Overdrive since hockey started. It is night and day in terms of their comfort level. When they actually know what they are talking about the goofy jock talk works, most of the time.

 

  • The O Dog really likes strip clubs.

 

  • Still with OD, I encourage execs at TSN to really think about whether this needs to be a 3 hour radio show 52 weeks a year. They have already admitted otherwise by giving all three bros tons of vacation time in the summer. Why not give them 5-7 during the hockey season and televise it to compete with Tim&Sid? Make Leafs lunch 2 hours from 12-2. This would solidify yourself as a hockey voice during the season. This would also leave the 2-5 window for a new non-hockey show that would eat in to PTS’ timeslot — e.g. Musical Chairs with your host Greg Brady

 

  • Scariest interview of the week: ex-MLB ump & supervisor Jim McKean telling Brunt&Blair that before PitchFx umps could "teach guys a lesson." Remember, these are the types of people who hold senior authority positions within baseball. 

 

  • Michael Landsberg nicely voiced how silly the conspiracy theories around umpiring and the Jays sound. Paraphrasing: why would an ump intentionally make bad calls in the hope that MLB rewards him for getting Cleveland to the WS? How would that even work?

 

  • Steve Phillips has quietly turned into a real  asset for TSN and TSN1050. Very little self-aggrandizement and bluster. Very solid and well-informed baseball opinions.

 

  • Andi Petrillo gets a new co-host. I have no idea what Patrick O'Sullivan's media background is other than his Players Tribune piece and book. If this means less Craig Button, I'm all for it. It's worth noting that this is another ex-player with no professional connection to the market and little broadcast experience joining TSN. Curious strategy.

 

  • Damien Cox asked a great question during the Deitsch segment last week. Paraphrasing: "why should anyone care if networks get their dream matchup?" He's right. It’s not as if they are going to send their SD cameras instead if a low value market is playing. We should all stop taking the bait on this talking point. This is like when UFC fans get excited about how many PPV buys an event gets. It doesn’t benefit you in any way and only makes rich people richer. Why do you care?

 

  • Some neutral observers really don’t like the Brian Burke HNIC ad. It is pretty over the top, as is the Ron MacLean one. Overcompensation was to be expected though.

 

 

  • Want to be the next highlights guy/gal at Sportsnet? Rogers is hiring someone to work in the Highlight Zone. Perhaps when they are done with this search they can begin to look for someone in HR who can proofread.

 

 

  • When you're among the highest paid columnists in the country but only have 2900 followers and no verification on your account then something is not quite right. You tell me: fake account or someone who is burning bridges on her way out of the industry?

 

 

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thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

 
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