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ESPN appeared to cut Dan Le Batard’s mic when he made a joke about Rob Gronkowski and ’69’ 04.04.17 at 9:52 am ET
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When ESPN’s Dan Le Batard made a joke on his radio show Monday about Rob Gronkowski’s obsession with the number “69,” listeners were met with dead air.

According to Le Batard’s staff, producers monitoring the Miami-based program in Bristol made the decision to dump the quip. This propelled Le Batard to rant against ESPN management.

“Really? Gronk’s making those kind of jokes all the time! I got dumped in Bristol for that?,” Le Batard asked. “Wait a minute! Does Gronk have more journalistic freedom than I do? It’s okay for Gronk to reference the number between 68 and 70, but not me?”

Le Batard’s brief diatribe was a rare “breaking down the fourth wall” moment on ESPN programming. Even though ESPN is a Disney-owned company, it’s surprising that mild innuendo apparently isn’t allowed on the network’s airwaves.

But in defense of management, few jokes are lamer than quips about Gronkowski and “69.” Maybe Le Batard’s bosses were doing him a favor when they scrubbed his line from the record.

(Video is from The Big Lead)

Read More: ESPN, New England Patriots, rob gronkowski,
CSN’s Kayce Smith wants to show opinionated women belong in sports TV –– and that outsiders can succeed in Boston 04.03.17 at 4:35 pm ET
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Comcast SportsNet's Kayce Smith used to work for ESPN and the SEC Network before coming to Boston. (Photo provided by CSN)

Comcast SportsNet’s Kayce Smith used to work for ESPN and the SEC Network before coming to Boston. (Photo provided by CSN)

When Max Kellerman starts blathering on about Tom Brady’s non-existent decline on ESPN’s “First Take,” host Molly Qerim sits beside him silently. A similar scene unfolds on FS1’s “Undisputed” whenever Skip Bayless starts calling three-time NBA champion LeBron James a “choke artist.” Moderator Joy Taylor, seated to Bayless’ left, keeps her mouth shut while he bloviates.

While there’s no shortage of women in sports television, many of them serve as neutral arbitrators. They’re trusted to host shows and serve up topics for their male counterparts to spar over, but then must get out of the way. Comcast SportsNet New England’s Kayce Smith wants to change that.

Smith is a host on CSN’s “Boston Sports Tonight,” a nightly debate program that debuts Monday. The show, which will air from 9:00-12:00 a.m., is also shepherded by CSN’s Tom E. Curran, Tom Giles and WEEI’s Michael Holley.

At first glance, Smith’s resume doesn’t reflect somebody who’s been preparing for a career in sports punditry. After graduating from Texas A&M in 2012, she worked as a sideline reporter for the Hawks before moving to ESPN and the SEC Network. There, she manned the sidelines for the network’s college football and basketball coverage.

But Smith, who hosted her own talk show on SB Nation Radio last year, says she’s always been drawn to the opinion side of the business. She just wasn’t always encouraged to pursue it.

“Not only did [my professors] think I shouldn’t do sports, they thought I should focus more on print,” she says. “I had to fight that a lot. By no means were they putting down my dream of wanting to be on television, but they said, ‘You know, it’s really difficult for somebody who wants to have an opinion and commentary and do the editorial stuff on television when you’re a female and you’re really young, so maybe you should focus more on this and see what happens.'”

Once Smith started her radio show, her agent began sending out tapes to stations across the country. In preparation of shifting the focus of its programming more towards debate, CSN contacted her in August, and hired her at the end of the year. Smith says she thinks her role with the network fills a void in the sports media landscape.

“If you name the commentary and opinion guys who are really hard-hitting, you could name 10 or 15 men before you can get to women,” she says. “There are some like Michelle Beadle and Katie Nolan who are doing more of the entertainment side of things, but there is a need for women in the really hard-hitting opinion debate. There’s a lot of women out there who have them, they just need a platform.”

Read the rest of this entry »

ESPN’s Mike Greenberg says he regrets how possible ‘Mike & Mike’ breakup has been handled 04.03.17 at 1:23 pm ET
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Mike Greenberg is now one of the highest-paid personalities at ESPN. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Mike Greenberg is now one of the highest-paid personalities at ESPN. (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

It’s no secret big changes are coming to ESPN’s weekday lineup. One of the casualties will likely be the breakup of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, who have hosted “Mike & Mike,” the flagship program on ESPN Radio for the last 18 years.

Greenberg, who reportedly signed a new contract that pays him more than $6.5 million annually, is expected to host his own morning variety show on ESPN. In an appearance last week on Sports Illustrated’s media podcast with Richard Deitsch, James Andrew Miller, who authored “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” said he thinks Greenberg’s new program will air from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.

During a recent conversation with The Sporting News, Greenberg, 49, acknowledged his impending breakup with Golic. He said he wishes the news wasn’t public.

“My one regret in all this is if we do break up, and that’s certainly a very real possibility, I’m not denying that all, I would have really liked the first place our audience heard about that is to have been from us. On our show. Because it’s been a really special thing,” he said.

On Deitsch’s podcast, Miller speculated Golic could be paired with ESPN veteran Trey Wingo. He said he doesn’t think the two, unlike Greenberg and Golic, would receive a simulcast on ESPN2

Disney, ESPN’s parent company, has reportedly ordered the network to trim payroll by tens of millions of dollars. An estimated 40-50 employees, many of whom appear on the air, are expected to be laid off.

Read More: ESPN,
Nothing wrong with Rob Gronkowski’s WrestleMania cameo 04.02.17 at 8:25 pm ET
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Four months after undergoing back surgery, Rob Gronkowski ran roughly 20 feet and delivered a shoulder block. When phrased like that, his appearance at WWE’s WrestleMania Sunday doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Gronkowski, who was seated ringside for the event at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, interfered during a match on behalf of his real-life friend, WWE wrestler Mojo Rawley.

Given Gronkowski’s injury history –– nine surgeries and three back operations since 2009 –– it’s tempting to chastise him for stepping into the squared circle. His rehab from a forearm injury was stalled in 2013 after he body-slammed a friend on the stage of a Las Vegas nightclub. Gronkowski didn’t return until Week 7, and then missed the postseason with a torn ACL.

But these two situations are different. The night club incident took place in February, less than one month after he reinjured his forearm during a Divisional Round bout with the Texans. This time around, Gronkowski underwent back surgery in early December, meaning he’s had several months to recover.

Most importantly, though, Gronkowski didn’t appear to exert all that much energy Sunday. He ran across the ring, threw out his shoulder and then performed a couple of stomps. Running two miles would likely be more physically strenuous.

Of course, there’s a chance Gronkowski could’ve gotten hurt. But according to that logic, players shouldn’t be allowed to partake in any non-football related athletic activities over the offseason. The line between what’s acceptable and unacceptable appears to be arbitrary. For example, it’s unlikely anybody would be in a tizzy if Gronkowski was spotted playing pickup basketball, even though former Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone suffered a season-ending knee injury on the hardwood 14 years ago.

The video of Tom Brady wiping out on a ski jump earlier this year is far more alarming than Gronkowski’s WrestleMania cameo. If anything, it’s encouraging to see him move so well.

Read More: New England Patriots, rob gronkowski, WWE,
Marty Walsh wants to meet with SNL’s Michael Che about his experiences with racism in Boston 03.31.17 at 3:40 pm ET
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Mayor Marty Walsh says he wants to speak with SNL cast member Michael Che about his experiences in Boston. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Network)

Mayor Marty Walsh says he wants to speak with SNL cast member Michael Che about his experiences in Boston. (Robert Deutsch/USA Today Network)

Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” anchor Michael Che keeps saying Boston is the most racist city he’s ever been to. His remarks have apparently earned him a meeting with the mayor.

In an interview Friday on Boston Public Radio, Mayor Marty Walsh said he wants to sit down with the comedian to talk about his experiences in the city.

“Clearly it is something that is still inside of him and still bothers him or he wouldn’t have made that statement,” he said.

In a skit earlier this year, Che called the Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl matchup a battle between “the blackest city in America” and “the most racist city.” He doubled-down on those remarks during an appearance last week at Boston University.

Walsh said his administration has tried to get in touch with Che to further discuss his grievances.

“He’s clearly had some bad experiences in this city, in this state, because I think it’s more than Boston,” he said. “But, hopefully, I’d love to sit down and talk to him about it and express what we’ve done in the city and the things that we’ve done over the last three years with the race dialogues and diversity office. That won’t erase his experience but what it will do is help us understand better.”

Read More: Marty Walsh,
Red Sox seem to be copying Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’ approach to media relations 03.31.17 at 3:18 pm ET
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John Farrell denied this week the Red Sox's shoulder program was a factor in Tyler Thornburg's DL stint, even though he once said otherwise. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

John Farrell denied this week the Red Sox’s shoulder program was a factor in Tyler Thornburg’s DL stint, even though he once said otherwise. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

When Donald Trump wants to discredit the media, he’ll often reprimand outlets for reporting his words verbatim, claiming he never said what he did. The latest example of this phenomenon came last week, when he told Time Magazine his tweets about President Barack Obama wiretapping him weren’t meant to be taken literally.

As the 2017 season nears, it seems as if the Red Sox are developing a similar approach to media relations.

Earlier this month, reliever Tyler Thornburg told WEEI.com and the Boston Herald the team’s strenuous shoulder program played a role in his shoulder injury. After two Spring Training outings, he was shut down so he could acclimate himself to the regimen.

“Once we started working those muscles in the back that in depth and that much they really started to tire,” he said March 11. “I was doing a shoulder program on a certain day and all of a sudden I would pitch in the game and they would already be fatigued. It was one of those things where we decided to shut it down and let them relax as well as strengthen it at the same time. It was really hard to do it all at the same time. It’s a lot more than I was used to, for sure.”

When Thornburg was placed on the disabled list this week, he brought up the shoulder program again.

“If anything, it might have fatigued my arm a little bit before the first outing,” he said, via the Herald. “Or it possibly could’ve pointed out some weaknesses in my shoulder or something that wasn’t working properly. That’s all stuff we were figuring out in the last couple days.”

That sounds pretty cut-and-dried, apparently except to the Red Sox. They deny Thornburg ever mentioned the shoulder program. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday it was never part of the conversation.

“I’m not getting into that particular. It’s not the throwing program, OK? I wish you would just lay off of that, OK? We talked about that part of it,” he said, via the Herald.

Dombrowski lashed out when he was told Thornburg was the person who had originally mentioned it.

“No, it’s you pushing it,” he said.

Manager John Farrell, who also referenced the shoulder program March 10 when asked about Thornburg’s status, essentially called the reports fake news.

“There’s a lot been written targeting our shoulder program here,” he said. “I would discount that completely. He came into camp, he was throwing the ball extremely well, makes two appearances. They were two lengthy innings in which the inflammation flared up to the point of shutting him down. But in the early work in spring training, he was throwing the ball outstanding. So to suggest that his situation or his symptoms now are the result of our shoulder program, that’s false.”

As Trump has shown, if you repeat a lie often enough, your followers are likely going to believe it. A recent poll shows 74 percent of Republicans believe he was wiretapped, even though FBI Director James Comey says that wasn’t the case. A February poll from Politico found that 25 percent of voters believe Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud as well.

Despite lying 69 percent of the time, Trump was able to ascend to the presidency. His success in the political arena shows truthfulness may not be all that important when it comes to public perception. It wouldn’t be surprising to see sports teams, which are private businesses and have no obligation to be transparent with the press, copy some of those tactics.

Instead of acknowledging reality, the Trump administration habitually presents “alternative facts.” The Red Sox followed a similar blueprint with Thornburg this week, denying the words that came out of his mouth.

Presidents affect culture in addition to policy. This week, the phrase “fake news” carried down from the White House all the way to Fort Myers. Maybe it will make its way to Fenway Park this season as well.

Read More: Boston Red Sox, Dave Dombrowski, Donald Trump, john farrell
NFL teams reportedly don’t want to sign Colin Kaepernick because of his vegan diet 03.31.17 at 1:01 pm ET
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Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers prior to the start of free agency. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

Colin Kaepernick donated $1 million to community organizations last year. (Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports)

NFL teams continue to come up with reasons to explain Colin Kaepernick’s prolonged unemployment. The latest excuse is the wackiest of all.

According to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco, clubs are leery of bringing Kaepernick aboard because of his vegan diet. The quarterback’s weight was down at the beginning of last season, but he’s reportedly back to his full weight now. Given that information, it appears as if this is a convenient cover for organizations that may be concerned about being accused of collusion. Last offseason, a number of teams, including the Broncos, were reportedly looking into acquiring Kaepernick. But now, after he kneeled during the national anthem, the interest doesn’t appear to be there. It’s easy to connect the dots, especially considering Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman’s story from earlier this month that says 70 percent of NFL teams “genuinely hate” Kaepernick because of his protest.

Kaepernick is flawed as a quarterback. He only completed 59.2 percent of his passes in 2016 and went 1-10 in his starts. But he also played well down the stretch, posting a quarterback rating north of 100 over the final month of the season. If Kaepernick wasn’t a divisive figure, he likely would have found a job already.

As Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann notes, it would be difficult for Kaepernick to actually prove collusion against him occurred. He would have to produce hard evidence, either in the form of written communication –– such as an email or memo –– or admittance from a league official.

While it’s unlikely there’s a coordinated effort between multiple teams to keep Kaepernick from playing in the NFL, it seems as if he’s been blackballed to an extent. He played better last season than he did in 2015, but yet, teams that once pursued him are now backing off.

The story about Kaepernick’s veganism is the latest curious report about him to emerge from NFL circles. Last week, ESPN’s Dan Graziano said the former 49ers QB seeking $9 or $10 million per season, which would price him out of nearly every potential backup job. But a source told Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio the story is bogus.

It’s apparent teams are refusing to sign Kaepernick, because they don’t think he’s worth the backlash. Blaming his diet or contractual demands seem to be nothing more than cheap excuses.

Read More: Colin Kaepernick,
Report: Few ESPN on-air personalities will be safe during upcoming layoffs 03.31.17 at 9:06 am ET
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ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

ESPN is reportedly going to undergo massive layoffs this year. And according to one of the most prominent media reporters in the business, few on-air personalities are safe.

In an appearance on Sports Illustrated’s media podcast with Richard Deitsch, James Andrew Miller, who authored “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” said the network will likely cut 40-50 employees in order to trim tens of millions of dollars from its payroll. He then mapped out what he thinks will be ESPN’s new weekday lineup, including a re-airing of Neil Everett and Stan Verrett’s west coast “SportsCenter” at 6:00 a.m. EST followed by a variety show with Mike Greenberg from 7-10 a.m. Miller said he expects Bomani Jones and Pablo Torres to get their own program as well.

Under this scenario, Miller says “First Take,” “SC6 with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith” and the station’s block of afternoon shows will stay in place. He also expects Scott Van Pelt’s solo “SportsCenter” to still air at midnight following live sports coverage.

“If you’re ESPN talent and you’re looking at a schedule that’s something like that, based on the commitments they’ve made, if you’re not on that, then you’re starting to feel a little shaky,” Miller said. “That’s not to say everyone else is gone, but I think those are the people that should take a deep breath, and those are the people that should feel immune.”

Deitsch, citing his own sources at ESPN, said “SportsCenter” anchors who haven’t been pegged as faces of the franchise –– such as Van Pelt, Everett and Verrett –– should start figuring out where they stand in the station’s hierarchy.

“If you are part of the SportsCenter unit right now but not one of the special talents where management has tapped on the shoulder and given the golden ticket, if I were one of those people I would be talking to my agent and my representation about how management thinks of me,” he said.

One notable ESPN personality who could be on his way out is anchor John Buccigross, whose contract expires later this year. The 20-year network veteran told Sporting News recently he wants to stay at the WorldWide Leader, but is realistic about the current business climate. Disney, ESPN’s parent company, reported lower-than-anticipated first quarter earnings last month –– partially due to the network’s decreased revenue base. ESPN has lost roughly 12 million subscribers since 2011.

With ESPN now paying $3.3 billion annually to broadcast the NFL and NBA alone, it looks like the network is going to have to prioritize retaining big-ticketed sports rights over keeping some of its most prominent personalities. The days of being able to do both appear to be over.

Read More: ESPN,
Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee took his surname after Odin Lloyd killing 03.30.17 at 2:10 pm ET
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Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez (right) testified against Aaron Hernandez Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez (right) testified against Aaron Hernandez Thursday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Aaron Hernandez’s fiancee took the stand Thursday in his double murder trial. Perhaps the most surprising revelation from her testimony wasn’t anything she said, but rather what she now calls herself.

Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez says she took on her childhood sweetheart’s surname in 2015, one year after he was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his friend and former semi-professional football player, Odin Lloyd. It was the first time she used Hernandez’s last name in a criminal court.

The prosecution peppered Jenkins Hernandez with questions about a call she received from Hernandez at 2:37 a.m. on July 16, 2012, minutes after the former Patriots tight end allegedly killed Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado in a drive-by shooting. Much to Suffolk First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan’s apparent frustration, Jenkins Hernandez claimed she doesn’t remember what she discussed with Hernandez after the 2012 slayings or after he shot his confidante, Alexander Bradley, in the eye in 2013.

Bradley, who testified against Hernandez last week, said the ex-football standout fired a gun at the two victims after Abreu spilled a drink on him at a nightclub. In February 2013, Hernandez shot Bradley in Florida in an apparent effort to silence him.

Jenkins Hernandez said she learned about the Bradley shooting “from another source,” while claiming ignorance about the evening of the double murder. She said Hernandez and Bradley would frequently go out to bars while she stayed home.

This is the second time she’s testified against Hernandez, as she also took the stand in the Lloyd trial. Hernandez is currently serving a life sentence for his conviction in that case.

Indoor Football League team refuses to sign Greg Hardy after fans vote against adding him to roster 03.30.17 at 12:34 pm ET
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Greg Hardy is still unemployed. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Greg Hardy is still unemployed. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Greg Hardy is experiencing some well-deserved comeuppance.

For the second consecutive year, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of interest in Hardy on the NFL free agent market. With his career seemingly in jeopardy, he’s decided to turn to the Indoor Football League. But the defensive end has been rebuffed there as well.

The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles expressed an interest in bringing Hardy aboard, but only if their fans approved. They held a vote on their team app about the matter this week, which ended in a virtual tie. In an announcement Thursday, the team revealed 50.1 percent of voters were opposed to offering Hardy a contract. Thus, he will remain unemployed.

“We understood this fan vote to sign Greg Hardy would be controversial, but we believe in empowering fans to make the final decision, the right decision,” the club said in a statement, via ESPN. “We stand behind what was agreed upon and what is best for the team’s future success.”

Hardy, 28, played one game for the Panthers in 2014 before being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list following a domestic violence incident the previous May. According to law enforcement, Hardy threw his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, onto a couch littered with assault rifles and threatened to kill her. A judge found him guilty of assault, but the charges were eventually dismissed because Holder failed to appear in court to testify.

The Cowboys signed Hardy to an incentive-laden one-year contract in 2015, but he expressed little remorse for his actions. Prior to his first game back from suspension against the Patriots, he called out Tom Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

“I love seeing Tom Brady, he’s cool as crap,” Hardy said, via Fox Sports. “Have you seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game, all her friends come to the game.”

The misogynistic comments were downright creepy coming from Hardy, considering his violent history with women. He flamed out at the end of the season in Dallas, only recording two sacks from Week 9 onwards.

Though the domestic violence incident has been expunged from Hardy’s record, his legal problems continue to persist. He was indicted on a felony count of cocaine possession last November.

Read More: Greg Hardy,