It was nearly 15 years ago that I accidentally made my sister feel bad. At this particular time, she was quite pregnant. That’s my way of saying she was very close to giving birth to her first child. Like any-day-now close. Not only was she quite pregnant, she was feeling as big as a house and needed a pick-me-up.
A girlfriend of hers recommended that they color my sister’s hair. Not a bad idea, right?
Well, my sister was fla broke at the time. That’s right. She couldn’t afford the “t” in flat. She was just fla broke. They got some cheap hair color and went to work. It turned her hair bright orange.
The first thing I said to Christie when I saw her ‘new do’ was, “Did you mean for it to look like that?” Looking back on it now, it’s funny to us. But at the time? Not so much. My sister was quite pregnant, felt unsightly, had bright orange hair, and faced a poorly-timed question from her brother about her bright orange hair.
I certainly didn’t mean to make my sister feel bad. Not at all. But that’s exactly what happened.
It’s a common theme in the sports world right now — unintended disrespect. Quarterback Baker Mayfield apologized on Monday for planting an Oklahoma flag on Ohio State’s field over the weekend. He said that he “didn’t mean it to be disrespectful at all.” Although described as unintended, some looked at Mayfield’s act as disrespectful and an example of poor sportsmanship.
Sticking with the theme of unintended disrespect, you might have heard a thing or two about national anthem protests during NFL games. Not one player has said that he intends to be disrespectful by sitting or kneeling. It’s the opposite. The players mention that they don’t intend any disrespect whatsoever toward the flag or military. Although disrespect isn’t intended, that doesn’t mean offense will never be taken.
It’s the same concept in sports talk radio. You might be the type of person/host that doesn’t get offended easily. That doesn’t mean every member of your audience is built the same exact way. It’s important to consider things from multiple vantage points, not just your own perspective. An issue that’s small potatoes to you can be a big deal to someone else.
There have been many radio bits gone wild. The skit in Atlanta about former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason fighting ALS would definitely qualify. More accidental disrespect happened when ESPN fired an editor for the famous “(crack) in the armor” headline about NBA guard Jeremy Lin. ESPN recently drew criticism from viewers and Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for conducting a fantasy football auction draft.
I personally believe disrespect wasn’t intended in every example. Again, it goes beyond just yourself. What isn’t meant to be disrespectful, can still be viewed as such.
I heard a co-worker this week talk about a radio bit he pulled years ago. He said they did the weather with a host acting as the voice of a hurricane. Can you imagine a deep voice known as Harvey or Irma describing how powerful and angry they are as they rip through the country? The co-worker mentioned his crew thought it was funny at the time while failing to see the big picture. They didn’t consider the thousands of people that lost everything. Not a good look.
Having foresight in this business is incredibly important. You should have a strong sense of how your audience will react based on the things you say. It’s even more important to anticipate reactions when planning a risky bit or making comments that have some edge. The goal is to always be interesting while actually keeping your job. Your boss should never look at you while saying, “Really, dude? I literally have no choice but to let you go.”
When I was a young kid, my dad took me to a Notre Dame football game. I’m from South Bend, IN and bleed Irish football. Side note, terms like strip sack, Mike McGlinchey, and Georgia Bulldogs are strictly forbidden from my Twitter feed this week.
Anyway, I doubt I had even reached my tenth birthday while watching ND stink up the joint that afternoon. Many fans started to boo throughout the stadium. I didn’t know what booing was or what it even meant, but it seemed like a good idea. I joined in subtly under my breath. If we were at the Vet watching the Eagles, my dad might’ve said, “Put your back into it, son! You call that booing?” Instead, my dad said something that made a lot more sense to me. He leaned down and said, “How would you like it if they were doing that to you?” That changed my entire perspective. I wouldn’t have liked it at all.
I’ve never forgotten that.
Would you like it if you were fighting ALS and radio hosts were making fun of you? Would you like it if a radio show jokingly matched a voice to the same hurricane that destroyed your home and everything else? Nope. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes instead of just walking through life in your own.
Look, some people take offense to everything. The sports talk industry often caters to the thin-skinned crowd too much. Just simply avoid being unreasonable. Find ways to push the envelope without pushing yourself out of a gig.
In a court of law, guilt has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In radio, guilt needs to be proven beyond a reasonable beef. If you can avoid reasonable complaints in bulk, you won’t have to worry about getting clipped by your employer.