Our sports conversations are getting pretty heated these days. The tone doesn’t resemble an awesome spring break trip. It’s typically more like those serious videos explaining how drugs are bad for you. Serious. No nonsense. Expect a bill if you crack a smile.
If serious topics are what you desire, there is a smorgasbord to choose from. The racist gesture made by Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel during the World Series got our attention. The infamous “inmates running the prison” idiom used by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair caused quite the reaction. On the heels of anthem protests and Colin Kaepernick talk, it’s enough to make you climb under a desk as if you’re a kid in school practicing a tornado drill.
I’m not suggesting that these stories shouldn’t be discussed. They absolutely should. I’m suggesting that there needs to be a balance between serious and non-serious topics. Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said something that stood out after the school parted ways with head football coach Jim McElwain. Stricklin said that he wants to see Florida’s offense become “fun again.” The same concept applies to sports talk radio.
There are plenty of serious topics that are incredibly important and have social significance. They need to be discussed, but there can be a tendency to discuss them too much. If entire shows are devoted to nothing but serious topics, listeners often feel bogged down. If I meet up with friends, we’re not going to talk about serious stuff all night. Eventually, we’re going to joke that Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill is the Browns quarterback of the future after throwing an awful interception on Monday night.
I was able to grab lunch with ESPN Radio’s Vince Kates a few years ago. Vince is a longtime producer who has been promoted to a supervisor role. He shared a saying of his with me. Vince said that it’s important for hosts, especially during the lean summer months, to “find football.” The NFL is very popular and the ratings reflect it when football is discussed. I’d add to Vince’s thought with my own expression — “find the fun.”
It’s very rare that we turn away from fun. When’s the last time you were about to take a vacation and said, “Aww, we’re gonna have so much serious”? We don’t turn our backs on fun, we run toward it. If a show is discussing something light-hearted that the audience appreciates, listeners aren’t going to flip to another show while enjoying the amusing content.
Don’t get me wrong, I love thought-provoking topics that happen to be serious in nature. I just don’t want it to be the only item on the menu. Eating chicken is one of my favorite pastimes, but if that was the only meal I ever ate, I’d be like Chris Rock from I Think I Love My Wife saying, “I’m losin’ my finger-lickin’ mind over here!” The same holds true for sports talk — I want more than just serious topics.
It’s all about balance. If a football team can throw the ball effectively, but has no running game, that’s going to be an issue late in the season when it’s raining sideways or snowing. Balance is necessary in sports and in sports talk.
I understand that on certain days, the tone of a sports talk show will be more serious than others based on the top stories. That’s fine, but a host should display balance over the long haul. The Patriots might run the ball like crazy and ignore the pass because of a specific matchup, but they don’t do that all of the time. They’re balanced over the course of an entire season. They aren’t 90 percent run and 10 percent pass. It’s the same thing with a radio show — it needs to be more than just one thing.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell pulled off a funny touchdown celebration last Sunday night. After scoring against the Lions, Bell acted like he was bench pressing while offensive lineman spotted him. It was one of many humorous celebrations we’ve seen this year. Teams have played duck, duck, goose, home run derby, hide-and-seek, you name it.
It points to something important though — for as many serious topics the players have examined, they’ve still found time for fun. It hasn’t all been serious. It hasn’t only been about anthem protests, racial injustice, police brutality, and disagreeing with statements from team owners. It’s also about finding time to laugh and not overdosing on seriousness.
If I hear a sports talk show that’s nothing but a constant barrage of serious talk, I feel like I’ve spent way too much time in the sauna. My head feels like Gennady Golovkin just used it as a speed bag. I don’t expect hosts to act like it’s improv night at the local comedy club if that isn’t their strong suit, but I do expect them to be able to shift gears by blending serious talk with things that are light and funny.
We initially got into this business because of the things that we love about sports — because it’s fun. We can’t trade our eagerness and excitement by somehow morphing into a judge who’s banging a gavel while constantly looking constipated. We don’t watch games so that we can only be serious about them. We watch games because it’s fun. Why should a sports talk show be entirely different?