I live in Atlanta and have two small children, so I am up early and often in the car, schlepping the kids from place to place, especially in the summer. As such, I am an avid consumer of sports-talk radio, harmful as it can be to my intelligence and blood pressure. I grew up religiously listening to Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on New York’s pioneering sports station, WFAN, and have kept the habit through the explosion of the format, and the huge number of syndicated networks operated by the likes of ESPN, CBS, and others.
I bring this up because on Monday morning, a local trio of sports blatherers that call themselves “Mayhem in the A.M.” did a bit on local AM talker 790 The Zone that mocked former New Orleans Saints player, and current ALS sufferer, Steve Gleason. Gleason can only communicate through software that translates his eye movement into words, yet using that limited means he has been on a public blitz of late to educate people about his disease, which famously killed baseball great Lou Gehrig. He took over Peter King’s widely read “Monday Morning Quarterback” column on SI.com, interviewed members of Pearl Jam, and is promoting his Team Gleason brand heavily on Twitter and other social media.
Somehow, the hosts of “Mayhem,” Nick Cellini, Chris Dimino, and Steven “Steak” Shapiro, thought Gleason a worthy target of a tasteless and—worse—unfunny sketch that had Cellini affect a robotic voice and ask a series of knock-knock jokes that included this slice of hilarity:
Smother me! Do me a favor!
If you have a high tolerance for groaning attempts at comedy, you can find the bit here, about halfway down.
Now, as a faithful devotee of Howard Stern, I don’t mind some tasteless humor. It’s all in the execution. For example, Cellini made similar waves after the singer Charlie Daniels suffered a stroke, performing “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in a mumbling, difficult-to-comprehend manner. But it was funny, or at least funnier than the Gleason bit, and thus not nearly so cruel.
So the hosts were fired late Monday by the station’s owner, Lincoln Financial Media. The hosts all apologized beforehand, but the groundswell of outrage from New Orleans and across the country as the story went viral made keeping them impossible. The fact that 790 is the flagship station for the Atlanta Falcons, rivals to the Saints but part of the NFL brotherhood, made the firings even more mandatory.
What is unfortunate is that despite this episode, “Mayhem” is actually rather smart and interesting as sports talk shows go. Dimino is a particularly intelligent and wide-ranging voice, and should have no problem finding another gig. But for about 90 seconds of a four-hour, five-days-a-week, 50 weeks a year live show, they collectively lost their minds. And it cost them the jobs they have been working at for roughly two decades apiece. I wrote a piece a few years ago for Slate about why sportscasters tend to make so many inappropriate comments. I explained that it was the sheer tonnage of live programming, and the risk that entails, that costs so many otherwise sane broadcasters their jobs.
And it has happened again. Now my mornings will be less interesting, at least until the next show comes along. Hopefully those guys will stick to knee-jerk reactions and asinine arguments over which quarterback is “elite.”
Speaking of knee-jerks and morons, ESPN’s First Take Tuesday morning actually held a debate over whether or not San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich should rest his aging stars for Game Six of the NBA Finals Tuesday night in Miami. The Spurs were leading 3-2, and could have clinched another title with a victory (they didn’t, as it turns out, losing in dramatic fashion in overtime). Regardless, this is a ridiculous question, even by the standards of First Take, which is saying something. Rumors have it that co-host Stephen A. Smith desperately wants to move from the show to ESPN’s NBA pregame show, in order to regain some lost credibility. It may be too late for that.