Just days after Donald Sterling was exposed as a racist on secretly-recorded audio produced by TMZ , long-time NY talk radio legend and current Sirius XM host Chris “Mad Dog” Russo had what many are now calling his own “Donald Sterling/Al Campanis moment.”
Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis’ four decades of MLB service came to an abrupt end with a statement he made on April 6, 1987 on ABC’s “Nightline.” Author Roger Kahn asked why there were so few blacks running ballclubs, 40 years after Robinson's historic moment in 1947. Campanis responded with an answer that has become one of the most memorable, racially degrading and revealing moments in sports TV history: "I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager."
When Ted Koppel gave Campanis a chance to save his ass, Campanis asked, "Why are black men or black people not good swimmers? Because they don't have the buoyancy."
The Dodgers, acting to dampen a swelling storm of criticism, particularly from the black community, fired Campanis two days after he made those remarks. He’s not the first and we know knew he wouldn’t be the last.
Now, Russo’s time to answer the “bigot bell” is swiftly approaching.
In a YouTube post provided by The Warrior Report, Howard Kinsel calls into Mad Dog's show and poses a question to Russo about his failure to have African-American sports journalists as hosts. In a stunning admission, Russo proudly acknowledges that fact and blatantly says that there are no qualified blacks worthy or capable of coming on his show and enlightening his paid listeners. The caller and subsequent caller were both flabbergasted by Russo’s ignorance, pompousness and insistence on reiterating that blacks basically can’t cut the mustard in his business.
Take a listen to this clip and when you finish spitting up your 40oz and touching up on your Ebonics, get back with me.
This is beyond absurd, and once again these racist and outdated beliefs are coming from a white man who is an icon in his business and has been in the game for decades, with the power to hire people for positions and influence careers. He flat out told his listening audience that it’s too hard for a brother to sit in a chair and speak for four hours with no commercial breaks, and entertain people. Like black minds are not deep, creative, witty and eloquently expressive. With an attitude like that it’s no wonder the shows at the stations Russo has worked at in the past never had any black producers, program directors or co-hosts.
Sterling’s situation has definitely opened up people’s eyes to the reality of the deep-rooted racism that still exists in this country. Bigots aren’t as open with their beliefs as years ago, but Sterling’s mishap shows that there are still race issues in this country and it’s more systematically oppressive. It manifests itself in the form of blacks getting dissed for housing and denied job opportunities and an ability to provide for their families and make a decent living. These practices extend to high-profile gigs like hosting radio shows. The coveted and powerful ability to impress ideas and spread culture and influence young minds.
Russo exhibited a rotten radio culture, and the emphatic and agitated way that he dismissed the intelligence, talent and abilities of every black person in the world was sickening. He had the audacity to say that there aren’t a lot of black guys who know enough about sports to hold down a national radio show. Attitudes like Russo’s are why you can’t find many African-American males doing sports talk radio on a national scale. I personally know 10 guys off the top of the dome, including myself who could handle an opportunity like that quite effectively. According to Russo, pleasing the sponsors and fans because it “is” paid radio, and keeping the phone lines buzzing, is a task that is beyond the capacity of a black man. Actually, to be fair, he cleared that up by making himself look more obnoxious and rephrasing to include all ethnicities.
Kind of hypocritical as well on Russo’s part for several reasons. Before WFAN gave him his shot at the bright lights, he was a nobody, toiling on local radio in Florida. Somebody gave him a chance. He’s seemed to have forgotten that. Here’s a guy who looks as if he never played a sport in his life. A hard day of calisthenics for this guy would be lifting lattés. Yet he has made millions in his career by yelling into a microphone, mostly criticizing everyone from sports fans to players to management and saying some of the most insane things you have ever heard. In his years at WFAN, he was considered the antagonist and out of town hater in his historically successful two-decade career as co-host of the award-winning Mike and The Mad Dog sports radio show with Mike Francesa.
In August 1989, WFAN (which was owned at the time by Emmis Communications) was looking for hosts to replace the controversial Crazy Pete Franklin in the afternoon drive time period. The show debuted on September 5, and quickly became the toast of the New York sports scene.
The mild-mannered Francesa and the loud, offensively entertaining and pugnacious Russo were the perfect opposites. They played a flawless game of good cop, bad cop, all the way to the bank. Mike and the Mad Dog was No. 1 in the market among men between 25 and 54, which notched a 6.9 share in 2007. According to New York magazine, Francesa made $1.4 million and Russo made $1.3 million in 2005.
When Russo’s head got too big, by 2008 the relationship between the two stars disintegrated to a point of no return. On August 14, 2008, Russo reached a mutual agreement with WFAN to let him out of the remainder of his contract. Russo insisted it was solely a personal decision and said, "This has nothing to do with Mike and I hating each other...
On August 19, 2008, Russo signed a five-year contract worth about $3 million per year with Sirius XM to host an afternoon show called Mad Dog Unleashed and headline a new sports talk channel called Mad Dog Radio on both Sirius and XM satellite radio. Russo said there was nothing WFAN could have done to keep him. The opportunity to have his own show and channel was something he couldn’t pass up. Russo’s big mouth and cruel intentions may have ended the best gig he ever had and now it may have set the stage for his exit from the game. You can’t have guys with those views on black people clogging up hours of air space and presenting perspective for “all sports fans” from a very narrow-minded and bigoted view point.
Russo is part of what most would consider the most successful and prolific radio sports talk duo in history. If his opinions reflect the opinions of the upper-tier of the sports radio power structure, then it’s no wonder African-American males have a harder time breaking into big-time sports broadcasting entities as Don Cheadle would getting an invite to Donald Sterling’s 81st birthday party.
Let’s be fair. Russo isn’t just a racist; it’s safe to say he’s an all-around creep at times. On July 9, 2009, during a ten minute rant, Russo reacting to his station being ranked outside the Top 100 stations on satellite radio, flipped on his entire staff, which included bringing on nighttime host Andy Gresh for an in-person tongue-lashing. Russo concluded his rant by firing his program director, Steve Torre. Torre was later rehired and it's unknown if this rant was legitimate or a radio skit. Either way, it’s another example of the sick inner-workings of sports radio’s Rush Limbaugh.
There’s no place in journalism for twisted leaders and closet hood-rockers disguised as respected media personalities. That game Russo is kicking is washed up and played out.
The Jemele Hill’s, Michael Smith’s and Stephen A. Smith’s and Bomani Jones’ and O.G’s such as Jim Brown and David Aldridge and Gus Johnson and TSL’s own Rob Parker, have been putting in work for years in radio, television and print media, clawing. Even with obviously stellar production they’ve had to scratch their way through a maze of hypocrisy, subtle discrimination and blatant devaluing of black talent, just to get to the prominent position they are in.
People like 54-year-old “Mad Dog,” who automatically eliminate blacks as potential job candidates, not only come off as racists, but also curmudgeonous, jealous, fearful fading stars, trying to hold onto the old days. Well Internet and Digital Media companies such as The Shadow League and Heritage Sports Radio Network as well as the Warrior Report, will continue to push for what is right in journalism and pursue the goals of equal representation in ideas and perspectives especially in pro sports where the relationships between predominantly black athletes and a predominantly white ownership and media have created tensions, misunderstandings, gross misrepresentations and mistrust between the parties over the years.
If it’s a new day in The NBA, it should be a new day in radio and the voices that cover these pro leagues. All entities should be equally held to the same standards. First MLB Network should disassociate itself with Russo, who recently started hosting a daily show called “High Heat” where he discusses everything MLB. Sirius radio is privately funded and people personally subscribe to Russo’s show and he’s under contract, so I guess he has to be bought out. He hasn’t necessarily been killing the ratings but a media giant like Russo probably gets another racist rant or two before people really start reacting. Like Sterling, he’s been at it for so long that it’s just “Mad Dog being Mad Dog.”
Sounds more like a sad, sorry puppy to me. He needs to go.