Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


Good morning sports media fans. Busy couple of weeks in sports so I’m clearing out the queue before it gets too large. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.


Speaker For The Dead


I had intended to do a long compilation and analysis piece on the Kobe reactions, but by mid-week it seemed like there were really only two camps. You either thought it was too soon to talk about his sexual assault charges or you thought that this was an important part of his life and so it had to be part of the story of his death.


I am in the latter camp. I would feel differently if it were, e.g. Michael Jordan’s gambling allegations, or Alex Rodriguez’s fondness for Toronto’s exotic dancers. If one of those men died tragically in an accident involving their children and the children of others I would agree that the salacious details can wait for another day. But Kobe’s case involves the forcible confinement and rape of a 19 year old hotel worker by a massively powerful athlete. As Bruce Arthur put it this week, “[i]t’s a huge part of a huge life.”


If you want a glimpse into the other side of this debate, here is ex-Sportsnet radio star Dean Blundell: “Any parent with a heart would have focused on the heartbreak of a family forever changed in an unfathomably painful tragedy.” Dean also wrote this: “Bruce probably rubs his hands together when the unpure suffer horrific tragedies and rubs himself like Buffalo Bill in Silence of The Lambs in anticipation of his next big chance at achieving Twitter diety. [sic]” There are 4 comments on The Star’s site in response to Bruce’s story. Two of the four refer to his article as “classless”.


Insults aside, I have some sympathy for the “too soon” perspective: the bodies have not yet been buried, and it’s reasonable to want space and time to be able to grieve and come to grips with the loss. But the larger context swings it in the other direction, for me. Society has been trying to teach boys and men that “no means no” is no longer an acceptable standard for consent to sexual relations. Instead, you should not proceed unless there is affirmative, ongoing, and enthusiastic consent. According to the published facts of the case, Kobe flunked both of these tests and was still welcomed back into all areas of professional and social life. That’s part of his legacy, the NBA’s legacy, and society’s evolving standards as well. For those reasons, I think it’s fair to talk about Colorado alongside all the things that made Kobe great as a player and a father.


There are not a lot of interesting local angles to the Kobe tragedy; the 81-point game is his most well-known connection to the Raptors. Richard Deitsch compiled a list of notable pieces over at The Athletic. He also has an excellent podcast (outside The Athletic) discussing Kobe’s life and death. In addition he put in 15 hours on FAN590 this week. I’m not sure how someone manages to do two full-time jobs plus a podcast, but if you’re not following the Sports Media Mamba you’re missing out. If you want a deep dive on the ethics of writing about tragedy, here’s my discussion with Dan Robson who delivered the definitive account of the Ray Emery story.


Over to you: Are you in the “too soon” or “not soon enough” camp? Is there a better position somewhere in between?


Biggest Sports Media Story of 2019


I have been bouncing this question around for the last few weeks trying to come up with options to put in a poll. All my discussions came back to two and only two stories: 1) Bob McCown, and 2) Don Cherry. We covered both of these in depth here and here. Of note, the Bob McCown bombshell registered about 7 times more clicks than the Cherry firing.


Other big sports media stories in 2019 included the continued rise of The Athletic, who hope to earn a profit in 2020 on an expected worldwide readership of over a million subscribers. Their strategy, according to their co-founders, is to wait out the bleeding legacy outlets, poach their best writers, and then worry about delivering a “large” profit back on the $140 million investment of their partners. The 2019 annual sticker price of $60 (USD) continued to be a bargain, even before the 40% discount.


On the other side of this coin, The Star and the Globe both shrunk in 2019. The Star has cut road travel significantly, and began to fold their sports section inside other sections. Dave Shoalts and Robert MacLeod took buyouts from the Globe and have not been replaced (as far as I can tell). The Sun continues to travel and has not cut staff significantly.


Finally, 2019 was the year TSN1050 caught up to FAN590, both numerically and in terms of mindshare. One of the biggest questions for 2020 is whether Overdrive will establish itself as the radio show of record for the market now that PTS is done, and whether this tide will lift the other time slots at 1050 into prominence. The station continues to broadcast US syndicated programming in the mid-mornings.


With all that in mind here is the specific question I am posing: which story from 2019 had the most impact on your viewing, listening, and reading habits?


You can pick up to 3. If the Cherry firing hasn’t affected you at all, don’t vote for it. If you stopped listening after McCown was let go, vote for that but don’t vote for Overdrive if you haven’t actually started listening to it more as a result. Same point for legacy media vs The Athletic. I am trying to get a sense of whether and how these items have an impact on you. Please explain your answers and add anything I left out in the comments.



Quick Hits


In sports media roster moves, Dave Zarum was let got by Sportsnet. He was their digital editor for basketball, as well as a writer going back to the magazine. No replacement has been announced. Nick Ashbourne was part of the recent Yahoo! layoffs, and has landed baseball writing gigs at both The Athletic and Sportsnet.


It’s February which means there’s a ton of Jays coverage coming. The Star’s Gregor Chisholm gets the year off rolling with this controversial take on the Stroman trade: “The final verdict won’t be known for another year or two, but the perception has started to shift in Toronto’s favour, and for a front office that used to be only bombarded with negative press that must count for something.”


Still with The Star, Dave Feschuk had a good article on what will happen if the Leafs’ season stays off the rails: “If the Leafs don’t right the ship and win a round, it’ll be seen as the GM’s fault that the franchise wasted 23 games with Babcock in charge when the firing was inevitable.”


The NFL’s New Orleans Saints are implicated in an attempt to cover up Catholic sexual abuse. We have seen leagues punish owners harshly for their private actions. This one will be interesting to follow.


The NHL’s All-Star weekend is over which means it’s a good time to discuss what they can do better next year. With the failure and cancelation of Gary’s Olympic alternative, the ASG seems like a good time to try out some more nationalistic competition models.


Low Hanging Fruit


  • Congratulations to everyone who had to go on air on Monday and speak semi-extemporaneously about Kobe. This is a difficult part of the job and it’s hard to avoid falling into platitudes. While I could nitpick specific phrases or arguments I heard, overall I think the work was good.


  • Of all the Let’s Talk tweets, this one affected me the most. Thank you to everyone who took time to share their stories.



  • This tweet garnered some attention. There’s a lot of Hollywood math when it comes to the raw data from Numeris – this graphic doesn’t even manage to show an apples to apples comparison – so we will need to wait until season’s end to get a complete picture of the HNIC ratings for Year 6 of this great experiment.



  • Remember Gregg Zaun? #baseballapp


  • Typos are the ultimate low-hanging fruit but when you work for a media company and have spent the last few seasons struggling to get your point across then it’s fair game. Respect to Mark for leaving it up.



  • When you systematically underhire women, this is what you end up with. TSN deserves all the ridicule they are receiving for this graphic.




thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

photo credit: The Star, uncredited

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February 1, 2020 11:48 am

Honestly, I tried to avoid most of the Kobe coverage because of the hagiography. I get it, especially in the wake of a tragic death, but it made me uneasy whenever people were talking his supports for women and women’s basketball. A couple of outlets linked to the reports of the allegation and the details are vile. So, yeah, it has to be mentioned when talking about his legacy. I’m glad Bruce Arthur did it here. TheRinger’s Brian Phillips had a good piece too, as did the Hang Up and Listen podcast on The last segment of it was especially strong.

Gary M
Gary M
February 1, 2020 4:30 pm

When it comes to serious breaking stories, I think Tim and Sid are more insightful than Bob McCown was. Bob gets more credit than he should because he spoke in a voice-of-god tone. But he didn’t really say that many interesting things. Whereas when T&S drop the antics and get down to business, they cover an issue extremely thoughtfully and succinctly. It’s almost as though they are still interested in sports.

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 1, 2020 4:42 pm

“Warts and All”, may come across an out of date trope in this modern media era; but in a time of “Alternate Facts” it serves as a reminder that full transparency is ultimately the right path to follow.

History has revealed that all of our “heroes” are at the end of the day Human and as such have flaws. To criticize journalists for not ignoring past unacceptable behaviour is going down the wrong path.

February 2, 2020 7:51 pm

Hey, Paul G.

You think criticizing journalists for doing their job is bad?

To quote the words of a Carpenters song, ” We’ve only just begun…”, and attribute them to our current federal gov’t , we can see what corruption of the soul looks like in the light of day. It does not take a genius to figure out where P.M. Sicko is going with his decree below.

All news websites will soon have to get a gov’t licence.

A valid question is: Just exactly who is egging him on with these misanthropic, anti-democratic actions ( which the other weaklings and barrel-bottom scum bags parading as politicians will go along with because they too have no morals) to hurt the citizens of this country and render us the new East Germany? Who is pulling the strings on this empty shell of a person? Who is intent on ruining what has been built here in Canada? Who hates democracy so much that our doom is their pleasure?

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 2, 2020 11:53 pm

@harrumph Why are you directing this at me?

While sadly and with anger I am aware of the issue; I did not write nor (as should be obvious from my post addressing the published topic) support any such proposed legislation!

February 3, 2020 12:46 am

Paul G.

The thought that you would support such proposed legislation never entered my mind. Quite the opposite. I was happy to see a post on this site (there have been a few) from someone who appeared well-informed on real current affairs.

I was attempting (not so well, I see) to build upon you thought with news of this day for all to read, which directly relates to the issue. Please accept my apology.

Journalism is on life support, I believe, so after reading your post and because the issue is such a serious one, rarely mentioned, I took the opportunity to speak up. That is something we all might consider.

Liberty Village Bob
Liberty Village Bob
February 3, 2020 6:51 am

Your poll should include the firings of Kypreos, Shannon, and the rest. Getting rid of the loudmouths has been great. Now bring back Al Strachan!

February 3, 2020 9:41 am

Bruce Arthur is a moral authority moron. There’s no one I loathe more in the Toronto sports industry than him.

Dean Blundell is right — Arthur loves moments like this. Same thing happened with the Don Cherry incident. He just loves playing the higher road know-it-all.

Steve Jones
Steve Jones
February 3, 2020 9:55 am

Frankly I’m appalled at the Kobe outpouring. Yes it’s a tragedy. But the way he has been deified is totally offensive. It’s very simple. Ask any of the legion of sports personalities how they would feel about the man if the woman he raped was his daughter. Yes forgiveness exists. But the man was hardly the person he’s being portrayed as. 

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 3, 2020 1:15 pm

@ harrumph Thank you for your kind words and no apology is necessary. I can see where I have misinterpreted your words.

I totally agree with your take on the latest “free” speech initiatives. That such a concept would even be considered in this day and age; speaks sadly to our current state of affairs. Governments’ confidence in the apathy of their populaces; lead them to such unacceptable and arrogant behaviours.

Paul G.
Paul G.
February 3, 2020 1:26 pm

@ Steve Jones…Agree 100% with your points.

I do not believe in deifying athletes and celebrities at any time, however even in this current era of “historical revisionism”, enough is enough! You would think the man was a beloved assassinated political or spiritual leader; the way the media has canonized him.

February 3, 2020 4:27 pm

Does TSN under hire women? It seems like they’re well represented from what I watch.

February 3, 2020 4:45 pm

Paul G. Thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate it. Without face to face conversation it is easy to misunderstand what someone is trying to convey. I have done it with texting so often I prefer not to text at all.

To expand on your thought: You are so correct in pointing out an apathetic populace, in a democracy, becomes its own worst enemy when unscrupulous and unprincipled politicians decide to seize upon and exploit it, purely for their own benefits. Who knew we had to fight for freedom? But we do. And we better. Today and every day, in whichever way we feel we can. I am doing this here. It might be feeble but it’s a start!

The steps toward darkness have been slow and steady, slow and steady, aided and abetted by a seemingly endless raft of (anti-)social media losers. They of the lost generation who were schooled badly, coddled and pampered and now when the real world slams them between the eyes they have no tools/skills to survive. So they lash out in unintelligible babble. Not a complete thought of their own can they offer. A culmination of their ( politician and abettor), gotta call it what it is, demonic efforts are bearing fruit for them. Example : When Saddam Hussein, er, Don Cherry was toppled from his perch for making a few people unhappy, well, it was full speed ahead! Do not bother them with facts. It is very unsettling and most importantly, it screws with their narrative.

Example : The media completely ignored comments from arguably the greatest hockey player ever, Bobby Orr, because he defended Cherry ( in American media), so they could keep this twisted agenda on track. And then, days later, sad human Ron Maclean appears on t.v. and willfully twisted Orr’s words to his own benefit. Ron Maclean is so low he could wear stilts and walk under a dachshund. And so are virtually the rest of the media trash. SN and TSN , for the purposes of this sports site, at the top of the list.

Example : Mike Babock humiliated, degraded, embarrassed, what else?, the most coveted and exciting player EVER to play for the Leafs, Mitchell Marner, with the now infamous list of laggards. If that isn’t screwing with and possibly ruining a rookies career then nothing is. I recall someone else said a coach could have contributed to that players unsuccessful career through words spoken and hoped that exposure of it would lead to another opportunity. How’d that work out , buddy. Oh yes, having talent might help in that regard. Yes, when the Marner story broke some goof from the Athletic said he heard rumors about this shameful episode but sat on the story until it hit the fan.

How many other reporters knew? Let me guess. ALL! For over two years this dragged on within the organization. Why were Shanahan and Dubas not fired for covering this up? Tell us MLSE. Wait! Don’t bother because we know. Idiots in this town will continue to buy tickets no matter what. Right? Rogers. Right? Bell. The Leafs are just an extension of the total disregard you hold for your customers, we get it. Pass me one of those outrageously priced food products you sell, would you?

Toronto media: Tough as pablum. Goo Goo Ga Ga: I will decipher for those outside the inner circle.- FREE HOTPLATE FOR MEDIA AT LEAF GAME TONIGHT-. GOOOOOO!

February 3, 2020 4:46 pm

The Kobe reaction was interesting, and my perspective on his sexual assault allegations changed as the week went on.

I think it’s indisputably part of his story, and not mentioning it would have been akin to whitewashing. At the same time, there’s a time and place for everything, and those rushing to highlight it in the moments and hours after his death were mostly bad faith actors. There’s a difference between telling Kobe’s story – his whole story – in the days after his death while eulogizing him, and eagerly rushing to paint him in a negative light right after the tragedy happened.

I found the tweets and articles about Kobe’s Colorado incident in the immediate aftermath of his death to be very distasteful. However, there was a lot of thoughtful commentary over the following days that carefully considered that part of history, including many who fairly criticized him but also commended him for the work he did in the years following. To me, that was the right way to go about this story. Screaming about his sexual assault from the rooftops right after he died to score political points was not.

Gary M
Gary M
February 3, 2020 10:42 pm

Pete, I find people like Bruce Arthur effortlessly become the thing they’re criticizing.

February 4, 2020 12:20 am

CORRECTION: Lou Lamoriello, not Kyle Dubas, was Leafs GM when Marner- Babcock incident occurred. My error.

Gary M
Gary M
February 4, 2020 1:16 pm

Great post, Justin. “bad faith actors” is such a great way of putting it.

Paul, not only was he not assassinated, but he perished in a fairly arrogant-superstar way. Defying safety warnings that applied to everyone else, because Kobe needs to go where Kobe needs to go. I certainly don’t expect what I just said to be part of the coverage, but it could at least merit toning down the Gandhi treatment.

Mike S
Mike S
February 7, 2020 10:47 pm

Tonight’s Raptors game was broadcast on 590…………the defending champs won their franchise record 13th game in a row to improve their record to 38 wins and 14 losses, which is the 3rd best record in the NBA…..………….so the people at 590 decided to have a two minute post game show, followed by 5 minutes of commercials, followed by a one hour post game show of a hockey game that was broadcast on 1050…………….you can’t make this stuff up

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