[Weekly Rundown] Muhammad Ali tributes; Uncle Verne and Joe Buck; a Christian rocker comes out; what is tronc?

Today, we’re sports-heavy – honoring The Greatest, more Baylor fallout (now featuring Mississippi State), and sports broadcasters accused of bias. That, plus a Christian rocker comes out, social media faces censorship, and something called tronc.

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Muhammad Ali died Saturday night. If you only knew him as a boxer, I hope you’ll take all the tributes as an opportunity to learn more.

The news broke as I was finalizing this week’s rundown, but people more attuned to great sports writing have been curating your must-reads. I recommend this list from Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman’s Sunday Long Read newsletter.

From a sports media perspective, ESPN did something I can’t recall seeing before. They went live in the wee hours Saturday with their top journalistic talent. Bob Ley and Jeremy Schaap anchored a SportsCenter that was relaxed in pace, letting both men and their guests share longform stories about Ali. Deadspin, who loves to hate on the Worldwide Leader, offered praise, and captured a 12-minute segment for you to watch. SI’s Richard Deitsch has the behind-the-scenes look at how the late-night broadcast came together.

This probably isn’t your first time to see the photo at the top of today’s post. It was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated in 1965, and remains one of history’s most iconic sports photographs. Many stories have been written about it since. Here’s a longread by Dave Mondy published about a year ago that explores the photographer and the fighters he captured. Continue reading “[Weekly Rundown] Muhammad Ali tributes; Uncle Verne and Joe Buck; a Christian rocker comes out; what is tronc?”

Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy

There will never be a n*gger at SAE
There will never be a n*gger at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
But he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a n*gger at SAE

Some ignorant frat guys from the University of Oklahoma sang this on a bus. It was filmed and shared online. Within 24 hours, the university severed ties with the fraternity and shut down their campus house. Within 36 hours, two students appearing to lead the song had been expelled.

They deserve it. The existence of this line of thinking, much less the existence of a welcoming audience for such a message, makes me angry.

They deserve it. But they cannot be expelled, because it runs counter to the purpose of institutions of higher education and foundational American beliefs about expression.

Continue reading “Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy”

AFA pours cold water on Ice Bucket Challenge

^^ Nifty headline, right? I thought so anyway. And maybe it would have served the American Family Association well to use it on a recent release urging people to think twice before donating to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association as part of the popular Ice Bucket Challenge.

Instead, they went with this…



I guess it has its own charm.

AFA is firmly on the religious right, boycotting companies that promote products to the LGBT community and choose the term “Happy Holidays” over “Merry Christmas.” But this particular message seemed to bother even supporters of the group – not because of its position, but because of the manner in which it was communicated.

I’ve been meaning to blog about the shift in headline writing to SEO and viral social sharing. For now, let me just direct you to a feature in the Columbia Journalism Review, though you probably don’t need to click to know exactly what I’m talking about.

“ALS challenge kills babies” is about as tabloid-esque as it gets… the good old-fashioned form of clickbait. The actual argument of the AFA and similar groups is that the ALSA’s use of embryonic stem cells for research violates the sanctity of life.

This is not a blog post to debate the merits of that argument.

Instead, it’s one to think about why even those who agree with that argument cringed at the way it was presented.

Continue reading “AFA pours cold water on Ice Bucket Challenge”

An awful game can’t stop the Super Bowl – Notes on ratings, ads, Bruno Mars and the dominance of the NFL

The Seattle Seahawks took 12 seconds to score against the Denver Broncos Sunday night. Perhaps more accurately, it took the Broncos 12 seconds to score on themselves. Both of those trends would maintain throughout the night as Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s 48 for the Roman-numerically challenged) turned into a showcase for the best defense in the league and a nightmare for one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who now has lost more games in the postseason than anyone else.

The third-largest blowout in Super Bowl history may have been responsible for some of the early exits from the party I attended. And surely it was trouble for FOX and its legion of advertisers, who paid $4 million for the most expensive 30 seconds on television.

Only it wasn’t, because the NFL is the biggest draw in entertainment today, and its dominance has never been more evident.

Continue reading “An awful game can’t stop the Super Bowl – Notes on ratings, ads, Bruno Mars and the dominance of the NFL”

Chick-fil-A, the First Amendment, and the drawing out of a public relations firestorm

Since Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments on same-sex marriage one week ago, folks on both sides of the debate have been speaking out. Opinion leaders have publicly shown their support for the fast-food chain, like former Arkansas governor and current talk show host Mike Huckabee, who is orchestrating a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Opinion leaders have publicly denounced the fast-food chain, like the Henson Company, which announced its Muppets characters would no longer be tied to Chick-fil-A promotions. As I wrote last Thursday, choosing a side on a hot-button issue is not going to come without repercussions. From a purely business perspective, the hard-line stance could only harm Chick-fil-A’s bottom line by offending some and turning a trip to the drive-thru into a moral dilemma.

[RELATED: Chick-fil-A on public relations tightrope after latest Cathy same-sex marriage comments]

But in recent days, Chick-fil-A has received some unexpected help in its public relations quagmire from an opposition that has lost its mind and its constitutional principles.

Continue reading “Chick-fil-A, the First Amendment, and the drawing out of a public relations firestorm”

NCAA hammers Penn State with ‘near-death penalty’ after Sandusky coverup

The Penn State football program won’t be relevant again until the third decade of the 21st century after it got hit with the most severe long-term punishment in the history of the NCAA.

NCAA President Mark Emmert bypassed the normal bureaucratic snares. No formal investigations, no review process, no appeals. After Penn State’s own internal (yet independent) Freeh Report unveiled widespread knowledge and concealment within the athletic department of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of children, Emmert had heard all he needed to hear. Action needed to be taken.

Monday, Emmert announced that the Penn State football program would face:

  • A four-year postseason bowl ban (including the Big Ten Championship Game and the playoffs beginning in 2014)
  • A loss of 10 football scholarships a year for four years (Division I schools are normally allowed 85 scholarship players at a time, and may recruit up to 25 scholarship players per year.)
  • The waiving of the Division I transfer restriction for all current players (including the incoming class of 2012), meaning that players can change universities without sitting out one year
  • A $60 million fine, which must be paid from football revenues, to establish an endowment to help victims of child sexual abuse
  • The vacating of every Penn State football victory since 1998 – the year of Sandusky’s first reported molestation on the campus – a total of 111 wins removed from the record books

It’s arguably the most devastating punishment issued by the NCAA since 1987, when it shut down the football program at Southern Methodist University for a season and a half in response to the university using booster money to pay players. SMU football has never been the same, and the sanctions are now known as the “death penalty.”

The only reason I use the qualifier “arguably,” is because some argue the actions against Penn State are even more damaging because of their duration. It’s not important, but I disagree. SMU’s postseason ban was briefer, but the program lost more scholarships, had all kinds of recruiting restrictions, and didn’t even play football for an entire year. No revenues; no player development; no nothing. It’s not the same punishment, but it will set Penn State back at least eight years (the first time the team will be able to field a full team of post-sanction players is 2020) and that’s a heavy blow.

Today, the conversation is not over the merits of the sanctions – the judicial process has found Sandusky guilty and the Freeh Report has found Penn State administrators, including head coach Joe Paterno, complicit. Rather, it is the fairness of the punishment that inspires debate.

Continue reading “NCAA hammers Penn State with ‘near-death penalty’ after Sandusky coverup”

Chick-fil-A on public relations tightrope after latest Cathy same-sex marriage comments

I cut sheets of black paper into indiscernible blobs, taping them on the canvas of an old white t-shirt. It could have passed for a Rorschach Test until I went in search of a bovine mask and a bell to bind around my neck.

I dressed up as a cow last week for a chicken sandwich combo meal. What would you do for free food?

Courtesy Chick-fil-A.

Cow Appreciation Day is just part of Chick-fil-A’s charm. The fast food restaurant feels like anything but. The dining rooms are clean, the service is done with “pleasure,” and chances are, you’re going to get a free taste of something if you stick around long enough.

Of course, if you don’t have a stack of readily available coupons, Chick-fil-A ain’t exactly the value menu. It’s pricey fast food, but its customers gladly pay the premium in exchange for the culture.

The Chick-fil-A culture is closely intertwined with the Christian faith. Its founder, S. Truett Cathy, is a publicly professing Christian and through the success of his restaurant chain began a number of Christian missions under the umbrella of the WinShape Foundation. It’s not uncommon to hear Christian music playing in the restaurants and, perhaps most famously, you can’t go to Chick-fil-A after church – they are closed on Sundays.

It’s something Evangelicals can appreciate – no wonder the chain does so well in the Bible Belt – but the friendly service and philanthropic endeavors are enough to appeal to people of most any ethic. Everybody appreciates an upstanding company with strong ties to community. Christians and non-Christians alike can get behind eating more “chikin.”

But lately, the restaurant chain’s leadership has been vocal about a divisive religious issue with political connotations. Namely, Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy has publicly decried same-sex marriage, most recently in a radio interview on the Ken Coleman Show:

I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

Continue reading “Chick-fil-A on public relations tightrope after latest Cathy same-sex marriage comments”