BAYHAM: Steve Gleason And The State Of Sports Talk Radio

Six years ago outside Soldier Field I took a picture of a Chicago Bears fan who had just finished assembling a large sandwich-board sign designed to offend visiting New Orleans Saints fans.  The message was this: “Bears Finishing What Katrina Started.”

It was a classless and ugly gesture and maybe even painful to those south Louisiana residents who lost everything, from family heirlooms to family members, in the storm. 

However what the cast of clowns at 790 The Zone, an Atlanta radio station, did on Monday morning was far worse, personally mocking the travails of retired Saints special teams member Steve Gleason.

Radio hosts Steak Shapiro, Chris Dimino and Nick Cellini aired a segment where someone impersonating Gleason via an electronic voice synthesizer asked to be “smothered” and speculated whether he would be alive in a few days.

Gleason has been battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, since 2011.

Yet despite experiencing what must be a living hell, Gleason has found ways through the very technology that was being parodied on Atlanta radio to overcome some of his handicaps, including using his eyes (!) to speak and compose emails.  His refusal to give up has been an inspiration to others combating terminal illness, not just ALS. 

And though severely limited by his affliction, Gleason has kept an active travel schedule, recently accompanying his former teammate Scott Fujita to the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu for the latter’s retirement announcement.

This wasn’t a slip of the tongue or an inadvertent on-air blurb but a planned sketch, and that was why it was something meriting dismissal- they, like the smug Bears fan in 2007 who carefully cut out each letter that was pasted on his “Katrina” sign, actually put thought, effort and time into the act.< And up until all hell broke loose, they seemed to have been enjoying their work as the three could barely contain their laughter while running through ALS-oriented “knock knock” jokes. These jock-shock-jocks were probably proud of themselves producing an “edgy” piece that would burn up fans of their Black and Gold rivals and establish themselves as big names in the Atlanta sports talk scene. If those were their objectives then the “Mayhem in the AM” trio can cling to that as solace while standing in the unemployment line, for they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. Firing 790’s “three stooges” wasn’t an affront to freedom speech but a proper and understandable reaction to something incredibly cruel and offensive.  Cellini, Shapiro and Dimino are, scratch that, were paid to talk for a living and when their language was bad for business, they were let go, an example of the free market being driven by people’s sense of decency.

People have a constitutional right to be publicly obnoxious though they do not have a right to be compensated for it.

Those who live by the microphone can also die by the microphone.

If there is a positive side in all of this, it is that Gleason’s fight against ALS received publicity and the sports world outside of the Saints fan base became familiar with the man who executed the most electrifying play in franchise history.

Though the reopening of the Superdome was three games into the 2006 season, Gleason’s superman play, immortalized in a beautiful statue on the southside of the stadium, provided the spark that ignited the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era in New Orleans.

Hopefully those individuals who pass themselves off as sports journalists will take a hard look at themselves and recognize how the Gleason bit was the inevitable manifestation of sports commentators trying to out “Jim Rome” Jim Rome with sputtering cadences, school yard trash talk, exasperated histrionics and overworked sarcasm.

Even when they are not picking on someone with Lou Gehrig’s disease, sports talking heads are painful to listen to, coming off like children who had too much sugar before church.

Sports talkers should make a point of listening to their own work while looking at a mirror. Do they see themselves or the creeps with “Mayhem and in the AM?”

Though it has been apparent for many years, the antics of the ATL lewd crew is the latest repugnant reminder that this is no longer the late great Howard Cosell’s business.

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