We all know that the Internet over the years has become a place where many people have said things that have gotten them in trouble. From pro athletes that post comments that land them in hot water (aka Larry Johnson now of the Bengals) to players that put up comments that rile up opposing teams before a big game.
The Internet is also a place where you are supposed to have freedom of speech and be able to express your thoughts – good or bad – agreed or disagreed. Over the past 39 months, as editor and co-owner of the Sports Gab Network, I have tried to be a voice to fans out there – expressing both the good and the bad in the world of the NFL, while at the same time giving valued opinions and commentary.
If you have ever taken the time to read my bio (and trust me, I don’t blame you if you haven’t), you will find that I have been in the sports media since 1994, reporting for numerous radio networks across the country, mostly giving reports on the good and bad taking place in the Cleveland market.
I have covered the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999, the Cleveland Indians since 1994 and the Cleveland Cavaliers since 1996. I have always tried to carry myself in a professional manner, and feel after 15 years I have a good relationship with those that matter inside those clubs.
With that said, my editorial comments caused a strange twist a few weeks ago that I felt should be shared with our readers. It began over a story out Dallas that involved a Cowboys cheerleader – Whitney Isleib, who became the source of controversy over dressing up like Lil’ Wayne for a Halloween party. Seems that many felt that Ms. Isleib’s costume was racist, as she is white, and of course Wayne is African-American.
The story that was posted on NFLGridironGab.com on November 3rd basically was your standard story that used quotes from the original story which was posted on Channel 11’s website in Dallas, and also I took it upon myself to state the following about the piece: “Now why the Cowboys are upset about this is unreal to me. I mean, it was a Halloween party, the outfit wasn’t racist, and she was on her own time. Sure, she probably needs to make sure that cameras are not following her 24 hours a day, but at the same time, what the heck did she do wrong?”
The post was quickly flooded with comments. From both sides, it became apparent that the story was a firecracker, which is where the issues with yours truly came into play. About a week after the post, which by then had over 30 comments, I received a phone call from a producer at Sporting News Radio, a network I had represented for over 12 years as a reporter for the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers. Over those years, I had put such guests as Jamal Lewis, Chad Johnson (Ochocinco), Marvin Lewis, Derek Anderson and more following NFL games here in the Cleveland market. I also did on-air updates for the network as well.
I was told by the producer that my story had been seen by the higher-ups at Sporting News, and they did not want to be associated with it for the comments that I made. I was asked to put up a retraction, stating that my comments were not necessarily those of Sporting News Radio. At first, I told them while I didn’t agree with that request, I said I would do it. I also asked that I wouldn’t have a problem speaking to the higher up that asked me to put the disclaimer up on my site to explain my position. While I was told he would pass that message along to him, my phone never rang after that.
After much thought and discussion with my partner at the Sports Gab Network, I decided it was a rather ridiculous request to put up a disclaimer about a story that was so insignificant on the scale of the sports world. What’s next – A disclaimer on every post they didn’t agree with? This decision would come back to haunt me.
No contact was made between Sporting News and I, as the Browns were on the road and on the bye for the past few weeks. Then the afternoon of Monday, November 16, the day of the Browns-Ravens Monday night football game, I got a phone call from the same producer. He told me that the story had “more legs than even he thought,” and that they were “going to go in another direction,” with using another talent here in Cleveland.
Mind you again, Sporting News Radio never allowed me to defend my comments, which I felt were tame about the cheerleader incident. They also told me that they would revisit the decision to use me after the season. I told them that I likely would not want to return after this decision.
Sporting News Radio had already dropped our talent fees more than 50% over the past two years, and now they are censoring what freelance reporters, which is simply what I was to them, can say on THEIR OWN personal websites. What’s next, telling those that work for them what they can and can’t Twitter? What they can’t say on their Facebook? The Sports Gab Network has never outright used profanity, nudity, or racial or lewd comments about those in the NFL or any other sport for that matter.
In the end, I was let go by a company that overreacted to a rash of comments and then after that was never allowed to even have a discussion to defend myself. Call it what you may, but it’s a sign that clearly Sporting News Radio does not give loyal freelancers even the benefit of the doubt when it comes to freedom of speech. Shame on them!