Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Eulogy for My Favorite Podcast

I had a great relationship with my wife's grandfather, Bernie. One of our running jokes was that whenever I would watch a football game with Bernie, he would ask where the ball should be spotted after an instance in which a receiver made a catch and was then pushed back. Bernie died in April 2008 and now, I think of him every time a receiver makes a catch and the ref spots the ball at the point that the catch was made. It's an odd feeling, a combination of humor because of the running joke and sadness that Bernie is no longer with us.

In a weird way, this soccer season is going to provoke the same emotions in me because World Soccer Daily won't be around. For those of you who were not listeners, the show was extremely successful, ranking as one of the top sports podcasts on iTunes for an extended period of time. It got huge numbers because the hosts - Steven Cohen and Kenny Hassan - were reasonably knowledgeable and had a very good rapport with their listeners. Between taking phone calls and reading and discussing e-mails, the show created a feeling of community among its listeners. It had also developed a tremendous roster of regular guests: Tim Vickery on South America, Andy Brassell on Europe, Graham Hunter on Spain, Kris Voakes on Italy, Derek Rae on the Champions League, Robbie Earle on the EPL, Graham Poll on refereeing, and several more whose names are escaping me right now. The podcast was invaluable for people like me to become educated fans on the world's game.

Between commuting, cooking, and working out, I probably listened to World Soccer Daily about five hours per week over a span of more than two years. I became a listener in May 2007 upon the recommendation of frequent commenter Klinsi. Over the course of months and years, I learned that a podcast can become a part of one's life because one can listen to it whenever one is doing something boring, i.e. a lot of the time. I don't mind doing dishes or cleaning the garage because of the podcast.

When I think back on my time listening to WSD, I have vivid memories of places and topics. I remember listening to the discussion about David Beckham's first game for the Galaxy when driving back from the beach. I remember listening to the story of Jose Mourinho falling out with Roman Abramovich as I ran past the Chevron on the corner of Clairmont and North Decatur. I remember hearing the glee expressed by Cohen when Liverpool drew Inter in the 2007-08 Champions League as I walked from my car to the Hartsfield-Jackson terminal. I remember Steven reading out a congratulatory e-mail on the birth of my second son from Klinsi as I worked out at the local Y. I remember Steven reading my Barca all-time XI and commenting that that side would be very hard to beat as I drove back to the office from lunch with a client.

It's very sad when something that has become a part of one's life is no longer there. I don't mean to make this sound like losing a loved one or a job. It's not that important and I don't pretend that it is. Still, I got a great deal of happiness from this daily show. That happiness turns to anger when I think about the show's demise, which was caused by a boycott from Liverpool fans after Cohen made several remarks about the culpability of Liverpool fans in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster. For the record, I think that Cohen was mistaken about the role of Liverpool fans in the episode. However, I can only say this because Cohen's comments became controversial and I decided to read up on the episode a little. This should have been the end result of the controversy: Liverpool fans raising their voices and neutrals like me learning more about the disaster as a result.

Instead, Liverpool fans boycotted the show's sponsors and tried to gather in as many other supporter's clubs as possible. Ultimately, the reaction by Liverpool supporters was successful. To me, this is short-sighted. Soccer is growing in this country because of outlets like WSD that allow people like me to go outside the mainstream media to get sports news and opinion. I'm no longer confined to what the AJC and the two local sports talk stations think are relevant topics. I love that freedom. That freedom is growing the game of soccer in this country. The game is poorer without WSD.

What's so irksome about the episode is that a podcast is essentially an extension of the talk radio format and talk radio is replete with instances of hosts saying outrageous, incorrect, oft-defamatory statements. (I'm not saying this to be politically partisan; there is plenty of blame on all sides.) Assuming that Cohen was incorrect in his statements about Hillsborough, he made a historical mistake. That happens on a daily basis. I really have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that this one statement was so thoroughly punished, while the dozens of more erroneous and vile statements that are made on a daily basis about subjects weightier than soccer are permitted to drift into the ether without any repercussions. People whose livelihood depends on providing original and interesting opinions need to have the freedom to make mistakes. In this instance, that did not happen.

In the end, this whole episode does illustrate one of the dark sides of soccer. I often say that one of the reasons why I like the sport is the passion that comes across when I watch a game. European soccer is the closest relative to the SEC football on which I grew up and which I still love. However, the flip side of intense passion can be an excessive reaction to opinions that groups find disagreeable. In fact, I can't think of a college football parallel to the ultimately successful boycott of WSD. (The reaction in Alabama to the Saturday Evening Post story alleging that Bear Bryant and Wally Butts conspired to fix a game comes to mind, but the Post's demise was caused more by the libel verdict that Butts obtained as opposed to a boycott. It's not as if Tennessee fans dented ESPN and ABC after those networks so obviously conspired [along with the Florida defense, I guess] to deny Peyton Manning his Heisman.) In the end, my world is a little darker without WSD and I should accept that this episode is sadly a reflection of a game that I choose to love.


Caelus said...

ABC and ESPN conspired to deny Peyton Manning the Heisman? I thought that Charles Woodson had something to do with that.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened by this as well.


Michael said...

Caelus, I hope that that comment came across as TIC. :)

Mabee said...

Here is an article for ya, I tried to find a link but the one I had didn't work:

The sun has set on World Soccer Daily.

Who didn't see this coming. We will not editorialize as some of our views on Steve Cohen and World Soccer Daily are well known.

What we can tell you is that it should come as no surprise that a very effective boycott that was not just limited to Liverpool fans but also MLS fans who joined them in solidarity reached it's conclusion.

When Steve Cohen was let go by Fox Soccer Channel the writing was on the wall.

It should be noted that while Steve Cohen alleges his life was threatened by irate Liverpool fans a search through public records in Los Angeles, San Bernardino uncovered no police reports taken nor complaints filed by Cohen making part of his story suspect.

It is clear that the boycott over insensitive comments made by Cohen not only affected Cohen's advertisers but his own fans as the traffic to the site dropped off substantially.

While some will miss Cohen and World Soccer Daily, there are a lot of great podcasts on the sport in this country (just take a listen to some of the ones along the right side of the page) and our own MLS Rumors podcast will launch sometime this fall. It should be noted also that we are on a first name basis with Dotun Adebayo, Tim Vickery and Sean Wheelock from the BBC as well as Glenn Davis from ESPN, Daniel Feurstein from CSRN and Steve Clare from Prost Amerika so access to the world of footy will not be a problem.

From the podcasting world will come the replacement for World Soccer Daily. We can guarantee you that before World Cup 2010 there will be another nationally syndicated football show on satellite radio and the internet so fear not.

Free speech never meant free to say what one wants without accepting the responsibility and consequences of others reactions to it.


Michael said...

Mabee, with all due respect, that's complete bullshit. No one else has ever made the claim that MLS fans were a significant part of the boycott against WSD. It was Liverpool fans. The same fans who still sing about Munich. The same fans who attempted to crash the gates in Athens. The same fans whom UEFA dubbed the worst in Europe. Those fans with such clean hands are so very sensitive about any misstatements about Hillsborough.

I'm also not buying the notion that WSD's audience numbers were down. They were still a top-ranked soccer podcast on iTunes. The audience is plenty big.

Caelus said...

No TIC at all. Charles Woodson seemed to make the big play in a large portion of Michigan's games that year...the year they won the MNC. Peyton Manning was a great college QB but did not make the big plays when it counted on the same level as CW.

Mabee said...

I posted the article without comment, mostly because I quit following the whole saga. I never listened to WSD so the whole boycott never really meant anything to me after the initial statement of it all. Do I think Cohen was wrong? Yup. Do I think the boycott was stupid? Yup. But do I think LFC fans boycotting a show would shut it down? No way. Ya they have a large following but not large enough to bring a show to a close. Many other people must have agreed with the Liverpool fans.

Michael said...

Mabee, I think we probably agree that Cohen was incorrect in his comments about Hillsborough and that the boycott was dumb. My one disagreement is that I think it's quite plausible that there are enough Liverpool fans that they could convince advertisers to pull their spots if the campaign is intense enough. If you have 1,000 people constantly sending e-mails and making phone calls, a lot of businesses will throw up their hands. I seriously doubt that there is a significant number of intense MLS fans who could have a mjor impact.