As much as play-by-play announcers claim they’re independent voices and not “house men” for the teams they cover, they know they’d better be shills or they may be gone with the next negotiation over broadcast rights.
If a station doesn’t accede to the team’s censorship, the team takes its game broadcasts elsewhere.
Mike Valenti of Detroit’s WXYT-FM, “The Ticket,” found this out last week. He’s not the play-by-play announcer but is host of a popular sports-talk show that airs on the same station that’s been the Lions’ flagship for 12 years.
That ship is sailing for another port, to nearby WJR-FM, which now has the burden of carrying what has been one of the worst teams in the National Football League, though one that’s now showing signs of resurgence with consecutive victories over Green Bay and Oakland.
The Lions reportedly told Valenti’s employer they would not continue having their games on that station if Valenti continued to be allowed to make on-air comments about the football team. The station, showing it has something besides footballs, refused to comply with their demand.
The radio station issued this statement: “It is sad to say goodbye, but in the end it came down to the integrity of CBS — the refusal to be censored in talking about the team and making honest assessments on the air about this team.”
Valenti’s agent, Mort Meisner, said: “Representatives of the Detroit Lions would constantly call the marketing manager for CBS, Deb Kenyon, and harangue her to silence Mike and tell him what to say and what not to say.”
CBS Detroit quoted Valenti, 35, saying that the reports that his job status was a point in the negotiations were “100 percent true. This is an organization that has consistently made our lives miserable at this station. This is a petty, juvenile, nasty organization.”
Of course, the Lions deny they ever demanded Valenti’s head on a platter. They say it was all about the money, that CBS offered less than WJR, which will be carrying the Lions games next season.
Elizabeth Parkinson, the Lions’ senior vice-president of marketing, told the Detroit News that “if we were trying to practice any sort of censorship, we certainly would have done it (changing stations) much sooner.”
But she did not deny that the Lions made complaints to WXYT about Valenti, who was born in Troy, New York, but graduated from Michigan State University. “Anytime our media is not factual or is misrepresenting the context that they’re sharing,” she said, “those calls are made. Our media team is working with all media to correct those inaccuracies.”
Yeah I guess there’s a lot of unfair things being said this year about the Lions, inaccuracies that must be addressed.
Actually, the team’s disenchantment with Valenti dates at least to 2009, when he made light of the unexplained absence of Lions defensive end Corey Smith. It turned out that Smith died in a boating accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Valenti subsequently issued an emotional apology.
But he was soon ridiculing the Lions again, as they gave him much to ridicule, being a consistent bottom-feeder in the NFC North.
On a personal aside, I wear it as a badge of honor that in more than ten years of beat coverage of professional teams in Atlanta (Flames, Hawks, Braves, Falcons) and Houston (Rockets, Astros), I was never invited as a guest to appear on broadcasts of the teams I covered.
I think the teams were afraid I’d say something critical about them, which was a real possibility. I’ve always believed, as apparently Valenti does, that the negative should be reported along with the positive. With a team like the Detroit Lions, there has to be considerable negative commentary if the commentary is honest.
I doubt many residents of Detroit are upset with the Lions because of anything Mike Valenti is saying. He would not be speaking on one of the highest-rated shows in America if the listeners thought he was unfair. All the pleasantries in the world cannot cast a rosy light on a team that’s 3-7 and in last place in its division.
But I recall the late baseball owner Bill Veeck saying that sports teams err in thinking that critical commentary is damaging to them. “I loved it whenever a sportswriter would make negative comments about my team. Controversy stirred up interest, and the end result of that is more ticket sales.”