Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

Seen & Heard – Weekend Edition

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Good morning sports media fans. We had a busy sports week in Toronto, and it’s a busy regular life week as well. If you’re interacting with frontline workers in healthcare, transportation, or food service, please try to be extra nice. With COVID cases rising and testing lines wrapped around the block, back to school/work season is brutal this year.

 

Also, a reminder that this is an opinion column that involves basic reporting. My goal here is to get the facts right and then comment on those facts. I don’t have any special expertise or insight. I’m a reader, a listener, and a viewer. That’s the perspective from which the column is written. I am always happy to be corrected when wrong on the facts, and equally happy to hear differing opinions. The reason this site exists is to enable conversations about sports media. As always, if there are things you think we missed please add links in the comments or email/DM me.

 

Questioning Questions

 

(awesome image credit: CARLOS OSORIO / TORONTO STAR)

 

The biggest story this week related to media questions during virtual press conferences. Before turning to that, here’s hoping that traditional post-game scrums permanently become a thing of the past. There’s something dehumanizing for all parties when, mere minutes after winning or losing a big game, partially dressed individuals are surrounded by a dozen reporters shoving mics shoved in their faces. It’s not a normal way to have a conversation. Scrums look and feel more like police interrogations or paparazzi events than a professional workplace interaction.

 

While I enjoy the occasional blow-ups that happen under these tight conditions, the results are worse than they need to be. The pandemic has created more civilized norms around question period, including a desk, proper microphones, and social distance. This, I believe, leads to better answers from the subjects. It does not necessarily lead to better questions. There were two cases this week that brought the issue to the fore.

 

First, following the Raptors’ Game 7 loss to the Celtics Pascal Siakam took to the podium to talk about his disappointing playoff performance. Toronto based Yahoo Sports reporter Seerat Sohi, formerly of SB Nation and The Athletic, asked the following question: “How does it feel to feel responsible for this outcome?” The question and his answer, including “losing sucks”, can be seen below.

You can watch Siakam’s entire post game interview here. He says many times that he takes a lot of the blame for the loss, and Sohi’s question is a follow-up to these statements, as she clarified later.

 

 

Other reporters also asked follow ups to his taking of responsibility, including a good question asking whether he felt more pressure this year. While some on twitter and elsewhere were critical of the question, others in the media defended it.

 

 

 

 

I disagree with Bruce that this is a really good question. Asking people to reflect on their feelings after a tough loss is a reasonable, albeit somewhat pedestrian, question. But asking people to reflect on their feelings about their feelings is something usually reserved for therapy. Beyond being needlessly intrusive, it’s not going to elicit anything more interesting from the subject than the original statement of feeling responsible. Bruce’s own question asked Pascal to reflect on what he is most proud of and most disappointed about from the season. This was, in my opinion, a better way to try to get the subject to go deeper.

 

I’ll defer to journalism professors on whether “how does it feel to feel X” is an interview technique taught in schools. To my ears this falls into the “talk about Y” or “how easy/hard/fun/ was it to Z” form of question that feels disrespectful to both the audience and the athlete. Siakam deserves a lot of credit for how he handled the scrum overall, giving straightforward answers in both French and English.

 

The second, and much more incendiary, incident took place during Masai Ujiri’s end of season press conference. Doug Smith (The Star) asked a question about how Ujiri’s social justice work would continue during the off-season. Here is what Masai said on that topic:

 

 

By way of follow-up Simmons (Postmedia and TSN) asked what Ujiri planned to do about local crime:

 

“You’re in the unique position of being the only Canadian team in the NBA, and being in charge of the only Canadian team in the NBA, and sometimes you see issues out there that really don’t pertain to this country at all. I’m wondering: in the city that you live in and operate in, shootings are up 180% since you came in and joined the Raptors. Death by gunfire is up by over 180%. Is it time for you and the Raptors to get involved in more local issues to try to work with a city that is seeing crime at a rate that it has never seen before?”

 

Ujiri answered affirmatively, saying that he thought gun issues were a problem but also took the opportunity to affirm that racism is a problem in Toronto and in Canada. TSN’s Kayla Grey then followed up:

 

“Going back to Steve Simmons’ question which essentially is what about black on black crime wrapped in should also the Raptors focus on gun violence. As a black man, when you are spending time talking about racial injustice and how we fix systemic racism, how frustrating is it for you when you hear buts, but what about this?”

 

Ujiri admitted it is frustrating before pivoting back to addressing the main issues he sees as most pressing:

 

 

The disagreement between Simmons and Grey continued on twitter:

 

 

 

 

A few, very few, people in local sports media weighed in on the public disagreement between the two TSN colleagues.

 

 

 

Kayla addressed the lack of public comments from her colleagues in a subsequent tweet:

 

 

A few people outside sports or outside Toronto had some thoughts to share with the wider audience.

 

 

Let’s separate the press conference questions from the tweets. Is the question problematic? I don’t have an issue with Simmons asking about local causes that the Raptors could support. Neither did Masai. The set-up of the question is, however, an issue to me.

 

While Toronto and Canada do not have the same history of anti-black policies as the U.S. it is patently false that these issues do not pertain to our community. If Simmons had just said ‘Toronto has a gun violence problem, will the Raptors do anything to address this in particular?’ this would have avoided the whataboutism complaint. One could still question the motivation for the question, as some have done, but the comparative element would no longer be the issue. Also, adding “since you’ve been here” to stats about gun deaths introduces an unusual causal connection that would be off-putting to any reasonable person being asked this question.

 

A more charitable version of this question could have avoided the firestorm of public rage that has since been directed at Simmons and Postmedia. This brings up a topic that I have been wondering about: if you’re not a racist or a bigot and work at The Sun/National Post how frustrating is it that you are presumed to be one because of the reputation of your employer? (If you do or have worked there and have thoughts about this, please reach out.) It’s worth noting that at least one person feels the same frustration, but about being presumed progressive while working at a paper that leans in that direction.

 

 

 

On to the tweets, it’s very uncomfortable to watch a senior white man talk down to a younger Black woman. If it truly wasn’t his intention then I understand having a defensive reaction to being called out, but this was still the wrong way to reply. If Simmons had simply said ‘that was not my intention and I apologize for not being clearer’ then this issue goes away much more quickly. We are still having a conversation about it but it’s a more productive one.

 

It is worth noting that this is not the first time Kayla Grey has publicly criticized a colleague. She also took issue with Sheri Forde’s use of the full n-word in an essay about raising biracial children. It’s also worth noting that no one has publicly criticized Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt for using the full n-word on FAN590 in the past when talking about racial issues.

 

To bring this back to the topic of scrums vs press conferences, I am glad that we are moving towards a system where both questions and answers can be seen by all so the audience can make up their own minds about subtle issues like context and body language. I also have no issue with reporters choosing to air their issues with the behaviour of their colleagues publicly. As we have seen, raising issues privately or with “HR” often goes nowhere (e.g. Dirk Hayhust complaining to Sportsnet about Gregg Zaun and being told he would be the one to be fired, or David Singh talking about racism in the Blue Jays press box and receiving zero public acknowledgement from the Jays or the baseball media).

 

I also hope people are having these conversations privately. Reasonable people can disagree about what is a good or a bad question and we should be open to listening to how others hear our words.

 

Over to you: is media on media crime something the establishment should be taking more seriously? Are you as done with scrums as I am?

 

edit: since I wrote this, Donnonvan Bennett of Sportsnet has written a column addressing the exchange.

 

“This job is a privilege, one that many people from minority communities dream of and then grind to achieve. There is real currency to the access we’re granted, and wasting it so callously is disappointing. The ability to do that is its own privilege.”

 

What About Bob?

 

 

The water-cooler topic that never goes out of season around here is whether FAN590 should bring Bob McCown back. As we learned in the most recent ratings book, sports radio listening has been down during the pandemic, primarily due to the lack of sports. This comes on the heels of Overdrive taking over as the #1 show in the marketplace, at least in some demographics. Bob’s old PTS slot is now split between the Writers Bloc radio show (2-5) and the Tim & Sid TV show that is simulcast on radio (5-7).

 

While the idea that Sportsnet would bring McCown back is easy to dismiss, here are some things to keep in mind. First, all of this has happened before. Bob himself was let go from the morning show and then promptly brought back to do drive time after Dan Shulman left. Greg Brady was fired from afternoons (after being bumped to make room for Dean Blundell) and then brought back to do mornings after Blundell was fired.

 

Second, Bob is weak talking about hockey and basketball but is stronger with the NFL and the Jays. The latter are what will be on offer for the next few months while the NHL and NBA shut down until next year. Additionally, the business of sports implications of the pandemic are well within in his wheelhouse.

 

Finally, there is no reason FAN590 would need to reinstate the old PTS. With the 5-7 slot now established, Bob could return only needing to do 10 hours a week. With Blair, Deitsch, and Brunt all still on the roster they could easily overlap the two shows in some creative way or let Blair keep his afternoon show with Brunt or Deitsch while moving the other to co-host PTS.

 

The obvious reason to doubt this is that the whole point of letting Bob go and moving T&S to radio was to save money. Adding another high priced salary during a pandemic seems like a hard sell. That said, there will one day be a vaccine and FAN590 still has some heritage status in the marketplace. Arguably, the name Bob McCown still matters, and I would guess he has not received any other compelling radio offers to this point.

 

While both parties have tried to go their own ways, this appears to be one of those cases where they need each other to succeed. Bob’s final days at Sportsnet were not good, and his departure was abrupt. The station has not thrived in his absence, while the competition has become stronger. Or FAN590 could hire some women. Either way.

 

 

 

 

Questions for you: Would you listen to PTS if it came back next week? What else should FAN590 be doing to beat Overdrive?

 

Quick Hits

 

I am very happy to see The Athletic has launched a Canada vertical. I like reading national stories. New subscribers can sign up for $1.25 a month for the first few months.

 

 

A Chicago area radio host was recently fired for degrading comments about a sideline reporter. His employer made the following statement: “For each one of us our words have power. For our brands and on-air personalities that is amplified and brings increased responsibility in how we chose to use our voices.”

 

Richard Deitsch wrote about the TV challenges for the Stanley Cup Final in the US, while SMW wrote the about low ratings for the playoffs thus far. The same point applies in Canada. Southern teams without mainstream superstars are not going draw very well.

 

 

As MLB moves into its post season many are talking about the future of the World Series playoffs. The addition of wild cards has been good for the sport but a 16 team playoff structure isn’t compatible with a 162 game season or the unique “small sample size” aspects of baseball in my opinion, and the opinion of others.

 

 

Akim Aliu’s foundation is supporting a BIPOC hockey team in the GTA. This is a real feel good story.

 


 

thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 23
  • comment-avatar
    Lee (Oakville) 2 months ago

    Lots to digest as usual. Some quick thoughts on what I consider to be the key aspects of the post:

     I think any question that asks how an athlete “feels” is amateurish and lazy. Bruce Arthur’s head pat to the journalist in question seems condescending and smacks of virtue signalling. And I agree that media scrums add no value and usually result in they type of cliche answers everyone detests. 
     I see no problem in Steve Simmons’ question about gun violence. Only those willfully ignorant cannot see the problem inherent in certain communities. I also do not take issue with Simmons’  response to Kayla Grey. She is a strong woman that has used her platform to full effect. To say you feel uncomfortable having Simmons answer back to Grey does not recognize her strengths and is also condescending. 
     I’m uncomfortable with MiB too easily using the racist label on any individual that doesn’t exactly follow his dogma on certain issues. This negates the high-quality discourse he purportedly wishes to have on this site. 
     Bob McCown was disinterested and detached for the greater part of the last decade on the radio. As he reaches his 70s there is no reason to believe that this has changed or that he can reverse the ratings decline that even he experienced late in his tenure. 

  • comment-avatar

    Yes, McCown was disinterested and detached for the last ten years of his radio career.
    BUT,plop him down on either of Toronto’s two all-sports stations anywhere from 8 AM to 8 PM for 3 hours
    weekdays and he would rule the ratings in that period.

    Is he still that good? or is sports radio in Toronto now that bad ?

  • comment-avatar

    Bob McCown was disinterested and detached for the greater part of the last decade on the radio.

    Agreed especially with his last few years when it was anything not involving the Blue Jays, Golf or anything his buddies are fully tied to.

    One thought I had with Bob that could serve all parties is instead of a 5 day a week schedule just bring him in for one day and let him do a Friday round table that day which covers an hour of so in between Writers Bloc and Tim&Sid. At the same time, you can have him around and still bring him by for the important news type dealings when needed because you’d have him under contract. It could also be a way to keep him without having to pay an insane contract to him as a full time employee.

  • comment-avatar

    I didn’t watch/hear Ujiri’s press conference in real time, so when I saw the spat online I thought he said a typical stupid Simmons comment. Then I listened to it, and really, was it even remotely bad? It’s not a question I would have asked personally at a year end presser, but I think on a macro level, it’s a fair question to ask. Then of course Kayla Grey (yes, I have grown a massive dislike for her), doubles down on the question and implies Simmons suggested black on black violence. NO WHERE did he even suggest that! Frig.

    Then people were like, “Well, why don’t the Leafs an Jays GMs get asked that.” That’s a fair point. But the NBA was at the forefront of this whole movement, and Ujiri is really deep rooted politically, so I understand why he would be asked that question while the others wouldn’t be. And by no means do I think Simmons was drawing a lineage towards crime in Toronto going up since he came to Toronto. But with the platform Ujiri has and wants to use to enact change, I think Simmons was totally fine in suggesting the team get more involved in local issues than worrying about what’s going on in the States.

    Simmons can be a dink, and again, I wouldn’t have asked that question, nor do I think the timing of it was appropriate. But holy, talk about blowing it way out of proportion.

  • comment-avatar

    Okay, on to more sensible topics. You know, ones that actually pertain to sport and the basis of this site, sports media.

    The Fan is desperately missing Bobcat. I haven’t listened to the Fan since he left, and TSN sure as heck didn’t grab me as a listener because his previous opposing time slot (OverDrive) is horrible in its own right.

    Give us some Bobcat who can go into deep dives into things of those, both business wise and other deep rooted issues, than running out a lineup which just re-hashes what happened the night before that we all saw with our own eyes live or on the highlight reels.

  • comment-avatar

    Bob for two hours a day, a Friday Roundtable only or a weekly in-depth interview; would be an improvement over the current cost cutting schedule. Regardless of whatever new format might be tried, the FAN and it’s listeners would benefit from such an addition.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    Huge fan of your work, Mike. Thanks to you and Arash Madani for saying what needs to be said about expanded baseball playoffs.

    I do think Steve Simmons’ question was offside. But if it hadn’t been, I completely disagree he should apologize. There’s something a bit dangerous about the message “If someone publicly attacks you with an unfounded accusation that they well know can destroy you, it’s your job to apologize.” But again, in this case I think Steve is guilty as charged.

    Lee, I agree about Bruce Arthur and he goes so far out of his way to jam that virtue signaling into so many of his Tweets that it’s raising all kinds of red flags for me.

  • comment-avatar

    I’ve seen so many old school journalists defend Steve Simmons and i’ve also seen a TON of people defend him on this board over the years, including the guy right above me.

    The guy has been garbage since he first picked up a typewriter and he’s garbage to this day. People just like to think that any question at all from him = a tough question (see everyone losing their minds when Matthews addressed Simmons in that post-game press conference and everyone jumped to his defense about him being a “real” journalist).

    I came here knowing exactly how his actions would yet again be explained away.

    It was a racist question. Just admit it. Why is it so hard to do?

    Would Steve Simmons have asked that question of Kyle Dubas? Ross Atkins?

    No? Didn’t think so.

    Simmons should’ve been gone a long time ago. I hope that TSN cuts all ties with him.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jones 2 months ago

    Newsflash, the world has been evolving since the dawn of time. Sports is no different. I chuckle when I read the constant stream of “take politics out of sports”. Last time I looked sports were played by humans, people with thoughts, opinions and beliefs just like everyone else in society. I don’t recall there being a law or contractual obligation to prevent these folks from expressing their views. Personally I welcome the perspectives. I didn’t grow up poor in a bad part of town. I didn’t experience depression or racism growing up.I didn’t overcome these barriers and become a professional athlete. If you did you’ve earned a voice. More than most. Frankly my personal opinion is a lot of those who decry athletes speaking out do it not because they want politics out of sport but because they disagree with the perspective of the individual. How many times have I heard or read hypocritical statements about athletes expressing their views when on the flip side people laud their favourite entertainer for being a strong supporter of the current President. Clearly it’s time to accept this is the time we live in. If it means you don’t want to partake of sporting events so be it. It’s a free world, for most, last time I looked. 

  • comment-avatar
    Chance Vought 2 months ago

    Look at how “well” McCown podcast is doing. Why do people think he would dominate the ratings if he made a comeback? His day is done, folks. 590 should focus on finding new blood.

  • comment-avatar

    Agree with you Chance, but they have tried to find new blood and it’s Writers Bloc, Good Show, and Scotty & Ziggy. If these were stronger than a simulcast of T&S then they would be in the old PTS slot. Also, radio is about familiarity and McCown will feel familiar to most of the existing radio audience stuck in their cars on the QEW.

    I’m not saying I think any of this is a good idea but the people who run 590 answer to bosses, and bosses want to see results in terms of ratings and ad sales.

  • comment-avatar
    Steve in Waterloo 2 months ago

    Well said Lee. I was having a hard time articulating my thoughts on the Simmons/Grey issue, and you did it well. If she wants to call people out, then people have the same opportunity to argue, disagree or otherwise dispute what she says. That is fair, regardless of colour or status.

    I’ve grown tired of the “herd” mentality among most of the sports media. As a group is seems to be very “woke” and if one of the “herd” wanders, the rest of them are there to call out the outlier. Arthur seems to be one of the loudest. While I don’t often agree with things Bruce Dowbiggin, I read his stuff just to get some variety in my sports media.

  • comment-avatar

    I’ve posted about this a bunch of times so I don’t want to repeat myself too much. But big yes, I think The Fan totally torpedoed itself by firing Bob. I completely get if you don’t enjoy Bob, or think Bob checked out, or prefer Overdrive. But I don’t think anyone could argue that a show with Bob wouldn’t be better listening than anything on 590 right now. Or on 1050 outside of Overdrive. The lineups for the two sports stations are by far the worst they’ve ever been, so it makes no sense to have him on the sidelines if he still wants to work. It would have been one thing if Rogers fired Bob, but had a big new fresh show ready to take his place. But they replaced Bob with a TV show that really struggles to work on radio. Rogers wasn’t trying to make good radio, they just wanted to save money, even if it killed ratings and ruined The Fan brand. Just brutal. I would definitely listen if Bob came back. Even his podcast, which is kind of half assed, is a good listen and better than most local sports radio. I think 4-7 everyday might be too much for Bob at this stage. But I love the idea of him doing 5-7 (or even 6-7). Bringing him in to just do the Friday Roundtable would be fine too. I’m sure this won’t happen, but how about a 5-7 drive home show with Bob and Dan Shulman? Then you let Bob gradually phase out over a few years in a way that is more respectful to listeners and gives them time to put together an actual radio show to replace him?

  • comment-avatar

    @Chance – According to this, Bob’s podcast is getting more downloads than any 590 or 1050 show with the exception of Overdrive: https://chartable.com/charts/itunes/ca-sports-podcasts

  • comment-avatar
    Bingo Bango Bongo 2 months ago

    The Overdrive vs McCown issue is really about differing philosophies. Overdrive is about sports and entertainment . It would have fit on 640 when it was Mojo because it’s aimed at guys but doesn’t restrict itself strictly to sports and laughs at itself a lot. McCown was more sports information but he had no sense of humour at all. Yes he talked about sports like boxing ( Burt Sugar) and track and things that interested Bob, but when he wasn’t interested, it was flat. Bob was very good when he was engaged, he just wasn’t engaged enough. If you listened to him at all, you knew he never watched the games. He wasn’t interested in them. He was interested in the issues around the games though. Overdrive is about the games, the local teams ( as opposed to say, Bob Ryan) and the way fans are . Two very different philosophies, both with fans, both with detractors. 

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jones 2 months ago

    What happened to my comment? It was there and now it’s not. I noticed at the top of the article there were 14 comments but only 8 survive. Was there some sort of purge for some reason?

  • comment-avatar
    Steve Jones 2 months ago

    Sorry now it’s back. Must be a glitch

  • comment-avatar

    There’s an annoying glitch in our version of WordPress that introduces a delay between comments being posted and comment counts being updated.

    Bingo Bango Bongo – totally agree on your analysis of McCown. The fact that he didn’t watch the games was only an issue when he had to talk about the games. With a reduced number of hours he might be able to fill the time with topics he can handle more easily.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    CKCU has seen a lot of people with a different viewpoint from his own. Heavy, man.

  • comment-avatar
    Drumanchor 2 months ago

    Can anyone make a comment about McCown WITHOUT using the word “engaged”? Talk about herd mentality. 

    He was just fine. It was his shtick and, like all human beings, some days were better than others. He does the same thing on his podcast and it appears to be doing well. 

  • comment-avatar
    Bingo Bango Bongo 2 months ago

    @Drumanchor Herd mentality? Or a near unanimous opinion? 

  • comment-avatar
    Boston 1 month ago

    I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this website.

  • comment-avatar
    Julene 1 month ago

    The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won’t disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, nonetheless I genuinely thought you would have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something you could possibly fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.