What did your morning show talk about today?
Did they yuck it up about Kylie Jenner’s baby bump, discuss that new study about how sleep deprivation may be killing us, or did they take a listener poll on how the shape of your face determines your sex drive?
Or did they talk about President Trump’s tweeting? Or all those National Anthem moments that occurred in yesterday’s NFL Games?
…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
Did they execute yet another edition of “War of the Roses?” Or did they talk about Steph Curry, LeBron James, and championship sports teams not accepting those White House invitations?
Problem is, just about every story in and out of sports these days reeks of politics.
Last week, sports radio consultant and fellow blogger, Jason Barrett, wrote a compelling post that is actually more like a novelette. “This Fire Is Out of Control and ESPN Can’t Put It Out” is a great read and the jumping off point for this post.
It’s long, but I encourage you to read it. Starting with ESPN’s current Jemele Hill controversy and working his way through other suspensions and firing at the world’s most famous sports network, Jason provides a frank discussion of the politics of sports.
If you’re not aware of this tangled, mess, Hill (co-host of ESPN’s SC6) launched a tweet storm last week highly crucial of President Trump. I’m lifting these tweets directly from Jason’s post:
Jason acknowledges that politics are a part of sports, but also points to numerous sports media personalities – Jim Rome, specifically – who makes it a point to “stay in his lane” and remain apolitical on the radio.
In the end, Jason says the best option for the troubled sports network is to “take the position that no employee at ESPN is allowed to publicly discuss politics on their social media feeds.”
And his conclusion is a simple one – stick to sports and be true to your brand. In his own words:
“Sports isn’t supposed to be a right or left choice. But when on-air talent wander into areas that the audience doesn’t tune into them for, the relationship between host and viewer/listener can suffer. It’s critical to know what your brand is, what the audience expects, and then satisfy those expectations. It may sound silly but sometimes it pays to stick to sports!”
Yet, in many ways, the controversies brewing in the sports world around race have been occurring for years. And yes, they’ve often had political overtones. Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Jose Feliciano’s version of the “Star Spangled Banner” at the ’60 World Series, and the Black Power salute during the ’68 Olympics in Mexico City were all uncomfortable confluences of sports, race, and politics.
Before Muhammed Ali became a beloved American icon, he was the oft-reviled Cassius Clay, dodging the draft and the Vietnam War. In many ways, Colin Kaepernick is the Cassius Clay of his time.
It got even more complicated over the weekend when the Golden State Warriors were “disinvited” by President Trump to the White House – an event they were planning on skipping anyway. And the best player in the game, LeBron James weighed in with an angry tweet storm of his own.
Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017
We can hope that athletes just play the game, and sports reporters on radio and TV simply give us the scores. But that would deny the inconvenient truth that politics – as the saying goes – is life. And these days, it is an inescapable part of the American narrative. If anything, politics has intensified our lives, forcing us to take sides, take a stand, say something, or at least think about what it all means to us as Americans.
But politics transcends sports and works its way into the entertainment and music.
This past week, the focus of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologues have been the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. For Kimmel, it’s personal. He’s recently experienced serious heath issues with his infant son born with heart problems. While his family is totally covered by a generous Disney health plan, the issue of coverage for all Americans has become a focal point. And he’s used his shows as a pulpit to debate the issue with Senator Cassidy.
If that’s not why you watch late night TV, you can always grab the remote and flip to Stephen Colbert, Seth Myers, Conan O’Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. But that’s no guarantee you’ll escape the body politic. If you’re looking for comedy, entertainment, and escape, beware because late night TV has become a hotbed of political discussion and parody, too.
For the sports radio world, political overtones and ramifications are as inevitable as death and taxes. But even for music stations, politics is simply part of a conversation that must be had, even if the decision is to ignore it. More and more, even milquetoast morning shows are playing monologues from some of the aforementioned late night hosts as a way to stay current without taking sides.
The Emmy Awards a couple of Sunday nights ago was another case in point. Sean Spicer’s appearance sparked controversy – in the theater, in social media, and perhaps on your airwaves as people on both sides had a visceral reaction to seeing him on that Emmy stage.
On the eve of her new NBC News talk show, Megyn Kelly complained in an interview with TVNewser:
“Must everything be political? Everything? EVERYTHING? I’m sick of it. And I’m not the only one.”
Maybe she’s got a point, and her new persona will turn out differently than her image at Fox News. But the environment is white hot as we saw once again during a September weekend – a time when the world used to take a breath, kick back, and relax.
These raging political times demand management and talent should at the very least have a conversation about the station’s position, how personality shows fits in, and the overall social media policy – for starters.
Jason Barrett may be right. At the end of the day, the decision might be to tacitly position your station or your show as an escape from all the political animals. That’s a valid strategy.
But if you don’t have an understanding with your P.D., your talent, and the staff, anything can happen – as ESPN is finding out.
As consultants love to say, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. You’re going to have to hack your way through this mess on your own.
But whatever you do, have the conversation.
Meanwhile, could you believe the end of the Lions game?
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.