The last week or so much of the sports media world has been focused on the incendiary comments of KNBR sports talk host Damon Bruce, whose awful rant about women not being welcome in sports went viral. The controversy has now died down and most people have already moved on in this 24/7 news cycle. Bruce was suspended for two days but he has his normal timeslot back and is talking about sports again.
There was plenty of serious soul searching done by a number of people in sports about the barriers that exist for women and the male-dominated sports culture. Bruce's comments hit a nerve that touched off a firestorm across the sports media.
Examining Bruce's comments in detail also opens up the wider backdrop of sports talk radio. I was shocked yesterday to see this quote from ESPN Radio SVP Traug Keller transcribed by ESPN's Kristi Dosh at a conference presented by SBJ.
"If you're not getting in trouble once in awhile you're not pushing things enough." – Traug Keller, ESPN SVP on sports radio #SBJSMT
— Kristi Dosh (@SportsBizMiss) November 13, 2013
If you're not getting in trouble, you're not doing your job. No wonder Colin Cowherd sees so much support about ESPN in spite of his many controversial statements over the years. This is a man who has received promotion after promotion in spite of saying people in Ohio and Indiana were bringing unemployment on themselves, said that Mark Mangino had "low self worth" because of his weight, shut down a website, and also said some pretty awful things about the death of Sean Taylor.
There's something inherent in sports talk radio that leads to more unfolding controversies and subversive commentary than other forms of sports media and it's a disturbing trend throughout the entire medium. In sports talk radio, a definite culture emerges where controversies, offensive rants, mindless tweets, scandal, and suspensions rules the day.
There are many great sports talk radio hosts throughout the country that don't need to rely on shock jock antics to draw an audience. They should be applauded for not taking the easy way out and diving into the gutter. Nevertheless, there is a pervasive attitude that exists in the industry that produces the likes of Damon Bruce. He is far from alone. Here is a list of the notable controversies, suspensions, and firings to emerge from sports talk radio in the last 13 months…
October 2012 – Scott Torgerson fired for Desmond Howard tweet
It all started last October when Columbus radio host Scott Torgerson was suspended and then fired from ESPN Radio 97.1 for tweeting, "I wish Desmond Howard would get fired or die so I can watch Gameday again." The backlash was immediate, with Kirk Herbstreit even getting involved both locally and nationally. Torgerson is back on the radio at Columbus rock station 96.3 hosting a morning zoo program.
November 2012 – Canadian host wants rival team to die in a plane crash
Don't think insipid sports talk radio is limited to the United States. Last November Dean Molberg at Sportsnet 960 in Calgary went on the air and wished for many players on the Saskatchewan RoughRiders to die in a plane crash. The context of the comments made them all the more chilling. Molberg was suspended by the station.
December 2012 – DC hosts show zero tolerance for transgender athlete
Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin of ESPN 980 were suspended for their comments about transgender athlete Gabrielle Ludwig calling her "it" among other nasty things. Ludwig's response is still worth reading to show the gravity of those words.
April 2013 – Houston radio hosts insult Lamar softball coach
It didn't receive the national notoriety of Damon Bruce's rant, but this performance from Dave Tepper and Jerome Solomon on 97.5 in Houston was just as bad. The hosts asked Lamar softball coach Holly Bruder about her players wearing less clothes on the field, their attractiveness, and recruiting Kate Upton. Yuck. And as far as I can tell, neither host was disciplined.
June 2013 – Atlanta radio hosts mock Steve Gleason
In what was one of the ugliest pieces of audio in the history of the talk radio medium, Steven "Steak" Shapiro, Chris Dimino, and Nick Cellini of 790 The Zone in Atlanta mocked former Saints player Steve Gleason, who suffers from ALS. Their "gag" was knock-knock jokes with someone pretending to be Gleason that included him talking about suicide. The three hosts were all fired the same day.
August 2013 – Baltimore & Denver hosts get into awful, childish argument
Denver's Vic Lombardi of CBS 4 and Baltimore's Glenn Clark of WSNT spent 8 minutes doing everything they could to produce the most embarrassing 8 minutes of radio possible for both men. As if a petty argument about their football teams wasn't enough, they tried to throw around insults revolving around crime rates and the Aurora theater disaster. Again, there was no publicized punishment.
August 2013 – Jack Clark accuses Albert Pujols of steroid use
Former Cardinal Jack Clark hosted a show on 920 AM in St. Louis. I use the past tense because he and co-host Kevin Slaten were fired for accusing Albert Pujols of steroid use in their first week on the air.
September 2013 – Philly radio host has some not so nice words for Michelle Beadle
The ignorance in the medium isn't limited to radio, it's on Twitter too. Mike Missanelli of 97.5 The Fanatic tweeted an insensitive, uncouth remark about NBC's Michelle Beadle's physical appearance. He apologized and was not suspended.
November 2013 – Damon Bruce gets famous
By now you likely know the story of Damon Bruce. The rant, the non-apology attacking "feminized" men in sports, and the comeback after a 2 day suspension. Considering the greater context of sports talk radio, Bruce is far from alone. Perhaps he was just unlucky that his comments were the ones to get such widespread attention nationally versus the other offenders on this list.
The former Miami Hurricane deserves his own section for his many suspensions and firings over the last 21 months…
March 2012 – Fired from WDAE in Tampa for calling African American NFL players "monkeys."
March 2013 – Fired by WQAM.
November 2013 – Fired by WMEN for tweeting a bounty placed on a Florida State player.
To have that many notable controversies in roughly one year is staggering. It's symbolic of a media culture where pushing the envelope and drawing a reaction are the golden gooses of the industry. What is it about sports talk radio that produces so many examples of this behavior? How can someone like Dan Sileo get hired again after highly offensive racial and sexist comments and being fired twice!
A more troubling question is whether these men are merely doing the jobs that are asked of them by their bosses in creating controversy.
Hosts that feel like they have to cross boundaries to be relevant combined with controversial and many times archaic, misogynistic viewpoints are a volatile mix. If recent history is any indication, it's only a matter of time before the next Damon Bruce makes a name for himself for the wrong reasons.
Hopefully sports talk radio received a massive wake up call in the last week that shock jock radio and going over the lines of decency to draw any kind of reaction, positive and most especially negative, isn't the answer. Unfortunately, given the attitude that exists at the very top of sports radio, that appears unlikely.