As a broadcast professional and journalist, I never understood the appeal of Chris Russo. He appeared to be a very dim witted and not very funny individual who was handed a microphone and put in front of a television camera and became very successful at it. They may be more of an indictment of what the radio and TV industry has evolved into than a knock on Russo’s ability. But Russo now has a problem and it will be very interesting to see how one of his employers, Major League Baseball handles it or how SiriusXM radio deals with the fact that SiriusXM channel manager On Friday, May 2, Chris Russo said he could not find a black host worthy of doing the job of hosting a sports talk show on his satellite radio channel.
Russo headed into a territory not well received in sports. Unlike Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was taped and that audio was somehow leaked to a TV show that specializes in sensational gossip, Russo, the channel boss, offered his opinion unfiltered.
“What would you like us to do? There are not a million candidates. Would you like us to put on a black host for the sake of putting a person . . . an African-American so we can say we have a black host on?” Or do you want to see if we can find a black host who is worthy of doing a national talk show?”
Russo doesn’t think blacks are qualified for his satellite radio channel although he backtracked afterwards in an interview with the New York Daily News TV-Radio “critic” Bob Raissman. The Daily News writer it should be noted at the beginning of Russo’s career was very much in Russo’s corner as a columnist pushing Russo’s career.
“The idea that I wouldn’t hire a black talk-show host, a Korean talk-show host, or a talk-show host from Mars is absurd,” Russo told Raissman. “If there is any person of any ethnicity who wants to get a job at ‘Mad Dog Radio’ and we feel he or she is capable of doing a national talk show at the highest level, I’d put them on in a second. Let’s just say we are not being overwhelmed by resumes.
“Send me the damn resumes.”
Raissman, who pushed Russo’s career gave him a mea culpa but is that enough
for Major League Baseball, the co-owners of the MLB Network along with a number of multiple systems cable TV operators to keep Russo employed by the network.
MLB has a record of punishment.
On April 6, 1987, the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Al Campanis, appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” to discuss the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. When asked whether there was “still that much prejudice in baseball today,” Campanis responded, “I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that [blacks] may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or perhaps a general manager.” Campanis was out of a job by April 8.
Will Russo join Campanis, football commentator Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, golf analyst Ben Wright, MLB pitcher John Rocker, and basketball’s Tim Hardaway and Micheal Ray Richardson on the unemployment line? Some have been luckier. Sportscaster Billy Packer was largely spared the wrath of the sports industry although he spent some time apologizing for making disparaging remarks in 1996 about Allan Iverson and women’s basketball. In June 2006, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, was fined by MLB for calling sportswriter Jay Mariotti a “fag,” among other things. Guillen was ordered to undergo sensitivity training, and eventually apologized for using the word. Guillen remained the White Sox’ skipper.
In 2012, as Miami Marlins manager, Guillen incurred the wrath of Major League Baseball again and suspended for five games by the Marlins following the publishing of a Time magazine interview in which Guillen said, “I love Fidel Castro … I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last  years, but that mofo is still here.”
Guillen is still around baseball as an ESPN Deportes analyst.
One of Russo’s radio teammates in the WFAN days, Don Imus, was exiled after saying something rather stupid. Almost 20 years ago to the day that that Campanis uttered his remarks on Nightline, Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, referred to the Rutgers Women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos”.
Imus was different. He wasn’t a player in the sports industry but his talk radio show did venture into the sports arena on occasion. In the end, it was easier for the CBS and NBC/MSNBC networks to cut ties to a cash cow like Imus than defend him. But neither CBS nor MSNBC had a problem with Imus’s constant put-downs, which have been documented for decades, until he entered the sports realm by insulting the Scarlet Knights. CBS also had to contend with its partner, the National Collegiate Athletics Association, of which Rutgers is a member. The Tiffany network would eventually have had to renegotiate its multibillion dollar deal with the NCAA and the collegiate organization might have been none too pleased with the continued presence of Imus had CBS decided to keep on.
What Imus and others failed to understand is that you can’t enter the sports arena and run your mouth without repercussions. Both college and professional sports has come to serve as the country’s moral compass when it comes to hateful and hurtful speech. Of course, it’s somewhat surprising that sports leagues should be moral guides given how many National Football League players have been arrested since 2006.
But time after time, it’s been proved: when it comes to sports, you better watch your mouth. In 1983, announcer Howard Cosell called Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett a “little monkey” during a Monday Night Football game. Cosell said he really meant nothing harmful by the remark, but soon disappeared from Monday Night Football broadcasts. Although he wasn’t fired — he quit — Cosell, who had been the key to the success of ABC’s Monday Night Football in the 1970s, his remark sparked major criticism and effectively ended his days with the Monday Night franchise.
Campanis never worked again in baseball despite the Seattle Mariners’ front office wanting to bring him in as an advisor in 1988. The Mariners decided against hiring him after the Seattle chapter of the NAACP threatened to boycott the club’s games.
Jimmy “the Greek” met his professional end at a Washington steakhouse when a TV reporter asked him why blacks seemed to be better athletes than whites. The CBS football analyst said that “[blacks were] bred to be the better athlete because, this goes all the way to the Civil War when … the slave owner would breed his big woman so that he would have a big black kid.” Snyder was dismissed from CBS’s NFL pre-game show on January 16, 1988.
Schott got into all sorts of trouble with MLB in December 1992, when in an interview with the New York Times, she not only insisted that her use of the “N-word was a joke” but also described “the rise of Adolf Hitler as being initially good for Germany.” Schott ran into more trouble in the next four years. During a May 1996 interview with ESPN, Schott again referred to Hitler and said, “everything you read, when he came in, he was good.” Shortly after the interview, the acting commissioner of MLB, Bud Selig, and his owners ordered Schott to give up day-today operation of the Cincinnati Reds to avoid a long suspension. She sold the Reds in 1998, but her legacy remains tainted by her public comments.
Ben Wright lost his golf analyst job with CBS on January 9, 1996, months after he gave an interview that included the following insights: “Let’s face facts. Lesbians in the sport hurt women’s golf. [Lesbianism] is not reticent. It’s paraded. There’s a defiance in them in the last decade. They’re going to a butch game, and that furthers the bad image of the game.” Wright initially denied he’d made the disparaging remarks, but came clean to Sports Illustrated. He has lived in sports exile ever since.
In 1999, Rocker, then a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, opened up to Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman about his experiences in New York. His candid remarks included his thoughts about Asian women, and his teammate Randall Simon, whom he described as a “fat monkey.” In 2000, Rocker was suspended by MLB, and by 2001 he was traded with his pitching in serious decline. Rocker is still giving opinions and is not worried about Major League baseball’s thoughts.
In 2007, Hardaway lost his job promoting the NBA and its All-Star game after telling a radio interviewer that he hates gays. Hardaway apologized but as far as NBA commissioner David Stern was concerned, the services of the former NBA star were no longer needed.
In April, 2013, Hardaway called Jason Collins to support him after Collins came out as the first active openly gay male player in the NBA. In July 2013, .Hardaway was the first signer of a petition to put a proposed amendment to the Florida State Constitution overturning Florida Amendment 2 and allowing same-sex marriage on the ballot in 2014. Hardaway returned to the NBA as a scout with the Miami Heat but has been passed over numerous times by voters by the sport’s Hall of Fame selectors.
Richardson also lost his coaching job with the Continental Basketball Association’s Albany Patroons after he allegedly told a local newspaper reporter, “I’ve got big-time lawyers. I’ve got big-time Jew lawyers,” who would handle his suspension. During a Patroons playoff game, Richardson had screamed profanities and a gay slur at hecklers. Richardson did get other coaching jobs but not in the NBA. He ended up in charge of the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada.
There is overwhelming evidence that making derogatory or insensitive remarks in the sports world can cost you a career. In sports you can play in the Super Bowl after being arrested, but you better choose your words carefully. In sports, at least, there is no truth to the old adage that sticks and stones can break bones but words don’t do any harm.
Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected]. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489 ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11 ), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11 ) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/business-politics-sports-selection/id771331977?mt=11 ) are available from e-book distributors globally. 2014 e-book, sports business 2010-14(https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/393652 ). The e-books are available from e-book distributors globally