by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / email
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.
(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.
since it's becoming a bit of a thing: the question was a follow-up to siakam saying earlier in the press conference that he blamed himself. wanted to know how it felt to feel like that. FWIW i think he understood what i meant
— Seerat Sohi (@seeratsohi) September 12, 2020
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.
Why would you even ask how it felt? Lmao. Bad. It feels really bad. We didn’t need you to ask him that to know he felt awful about it.
— Melissa (@MeeBee23) September 12, 2020
Seerat doesn't need my help, but she asked a really good question: she asked, how does it feel to feel responsible? Because Pascal will take this on his shoulders. Anyway, Seerat's great. https://t.co/bt9rxxybG5
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) September 12, 2020
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:
Do you have a hearing problem or a comprehension problem. I asked Masai about crime in Toronto. The word “black” never came up.
Nor did it come up in doing the research for the question. https://t.co/TdCf5U1CAN
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) September 17, 2020
We both ********
— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) September 17, 2020
If you think many are getting it wrong when it comes to the racial connotations that naturally were associated with asking about gun violence in Toronto and the Raptors need to address it, be crystal clear the first time.
— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) September 17, 2020
A few, very few, people in local sports media weighed in on the public disagreement between the two TSN colleagues.
Like, a lot of us are still in the process of relearning and getting better. You’re going to get uncomfortable at times, and the active process of listening is a huge part of contributing to the convo and to change. This wasn’t that, and the aggressive response makes that clear.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) September 17, 2020
— Morgan Campbell (@MorganPCampbell) September 17, 2020
Kayla addressed the lack of public comments from her colleagues in a subsequent tweet:
Lovingly, here’s where I’m at with peers in the dms and pms with the private pats on the back:
If you aren’t willing to support BIPOC journalists publicly by checking your people, miss me with it.
— Kayla Grey (@Kayla_Grey) September 20, 2020
A few people outside sports or outside Toronto had some thoughts to share with the wider audience.
.@Kayla_Grey is truly doing the Lord's work North of the Border. Not work she should have to do. But she's doing it anyway.
— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) September 17, 2020
Shoutout to @Kayla_Grey for calling out a garbage question from another reporter. I’d like to see more of this in Canadian political journalism. Too many reporters perpetuate tropes and stereotypes with loaded questions they think are “critical,” especially about First Nations. https://t.co/0GmSK14Lbc
— Waubgeshig Rice (@waub) September 18, 2020
This *necessary* follow-up question would not have been asked without @Kayla_Grey in the room. This is what we talk about when we talk about diversifying newsrooms. THIS is how you do your job. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 https://t.co/dYlsFmOg68
— Kathleen Newman-Bremang (@KathleenNB) September 17, 2020
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?
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.
Give us a follow so we can attempt to surpass @TheAthleticUK. National pride is at stake 🇨🇦
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) September 15, 2020
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.
Reality for NHL: Dallas-Tampa Bay series is going to struggle significantly in the U.S. for viewership given the massive competition. College football/Heat-Celts this Sat night. At least one MNF game (Saints-Raiders) and possibly two, more NBA conference finals games, MLB. Tough.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) September 18, 2020
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.
I get the significance of post-season TV money, especially with low revenues in 2020.
But that baseball wants an expanded post-season format long-term is wrong. Reaching October should be for the elite teams. This is about to get so damn watered down with too much mediocrity.
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) September 18, 2020
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)