Friday, October 20, 2006

Steve Lyons – he was warned and he paid the price

The life and times of Steve “Psycho” Lyons continued unabated Thursday. The good news, with the World Series starting Saturday night at Detroit’s Comerica Park, Lyons will be no where near the Fall Classic, and his “15 minutes of fame” are all but used up.

The media for the most part has defended Lyons, suggesting the Fox network had no right to fire him. Memo to those media hacks who believe in that falsehood – if you’ve never been fired for making stupid comments, consider yourself lucky. As for Psycho, he should count his blessing; the Dodgers have agreed to employ him for the 2007 season, a questionable move at best, given that Lyons was well aware what would happen if he stepped over that mythical line in the sand at Fox.

The Los Angeles Times sports media reporter Larry Stewart Thursday reported that following the inappropriate comments Lyons made regarding then Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green missing a Dodgers game during the 2004 season in observation of the Jewish High Holiday – Yom Kippur, Lyons signed a clause in his contract giving Fox the right to fire Lyons if the network believed any comments Lyons made hurt the image of the Fox Sports network.

"It said, 'If I mess up again, they can fire me,' " Lyons told The Los Angeles Times.”But it's what they deem a mess-up-able offense."

Clearly either Steve Lyons has a very low IQ, or he just doesn’t get it. Steve Lyons agreed to a clause in his contract that gave his employer (Fox Sports) the right to fire him. If Lyons didn’t want to sign that clause, he didn’t have to. Fox Sports as would have been their legal right, likely would not have renewed Lyons contract.

"I didn't know that I would be offending anybody by trying to bring levity to a serious, serious situation, an anguishing thing for Shawn Green," Lyons told The Los Angeles Times.

Clearly Steve Lyons just doesn’t ‘get it’. The comments he made two years ago about Shawn Green (where all this began) may not have seemed offensive to Green but its very likely the ill-advised comments had to bother former Dodger and Baseball Hall of Fame member Sandy Koufax and the lasting legacy of another Baseball Hall of Fame member Hank Greenberg.

Two years ago according to a New York Times report: Lyons was suspended without pay after insensitive remarks he made about then Los Dodgers' Shawn Green, who is Jewish and chose not to play against the Giants in San Francisco on Yom Kippur.

On that telecast, Lyons told a national audience that Green had "probably" taken the day off "for the heritage and not the religion. He's not a practicing Jew," Lyons said. "He didn't marry a Jewish girl." Lyons should have stopped there, but he continued, saying, "And from what I understand, he never had a bar mitzvah, which is unfortunate because he didn't get the money."

Lyons was suspended without pay for the Giants-Dodgers game on October 2. 2004 (Eric Karros sat in for him), but was allowed by Fox to return for the playoffs without making an on-air apology.

In a statement, Fox apologized to those viewers who were offended and conceded that Lyons had "exercised poor judgment." The network said he "had expressed extreme remorse." A Dodgers spokesman, John Olguin, said in an e-mail message that Green had not been offended by Lyons's comments.

In 1934, Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg decided not to play in a game during a tight pennant race because it fell on Yom Kippur; thirty-one years later, Koufax missed a contest for the same reason, this time Game 1 of the World Series.

"The team was fighting for first place, and I was probably the only batter in the lineup who was not in a slump. But in the Jewish religion, it is traditional that one observes the holiday solemnly, with prayer. One should not engage in work or play. And I wasn't sure what to do." - Hank Greenberg said in his autobiography.

"The only way I would even think that I might have been a hero in those days was the day I walked in Shaarey Zedek Temple and got a standing ovation because I showed up in temple on Yom Kippur," Greenberg said in 1984. "The poor rabbi standing on the podium 'davening,' praying, and suddenly I walk in and everybody in the congregation gets up and applauds. The poor rabbi looks around; he doesn't know what is happening. And I'm embarrassed as can be, because it was all totally unexpected."

The game that Green sat out mirrored Greenberg’s decision. Green sat out a key late season game against the San Francisco Giants on September 26 – a late season game with playoff implications.

''It's something I feel is an important thing to do,'' said Green at the time. He added that his decision was based ''partly as a representative of the Jewish community, and as far as my being a role model in sports for Jewish kids, to basically say that baseball, or anything, isn't bigger than your religion and your roots.'' Green, 28, told The New York Times his upbringing in Tustin, Calif., was not particularly religious, described his appreciation of his Jewish heritage as a ''slow awakening.''

Green told when he sat out the game he did so in large part thanks to the lasting Dodgers legacy Sandy Koufax left. During Game one of the 1965 World Series (all World Series games in the 1965 series where played in the afternoon) Koufax attended synagogue in Minneapolis. The Dodgers lost game one of the ’65 World Series 8-2 (Don Drysdale started), but won the World Series in seven games with Koufax pitching games two, five and seven of the series for the Dodgers.

Lyons should have been fired when he made what could have been considered racially insensitive comments about Shawn Green.

His comments where: insulting to anyone who has been or is a part of an interracial marriage. His assumption that every Jewish youngster receives a great deal of money when they have a bar mitzvah is insulting to what a bar mitzvah represents to Jews – a celebration of a young man being welcomed as a man by his faith. And to question how any member of any religious group chooses to observe the most religious day their faith observers in a given year, demonstrates a complete insensitivity on that person’s (Lyons) part.

If Lyons believes he didn’t offend Green that is his opinion. Thankfully Sandy Koufax didn’t address Lyons inane comments, and Greenberg passed away on September 4, 1986.

Lyons for his part is in full damage control, doing whatever he can to restore whatever is left of his image and reputation. Lyons sent out a release late Wednesday doing his best to spin his firing. Lyons’ title for the release -- Mis-Fired For 'Insensitive Comments' - FOX Sports Broadcaster Speaks Out. And what did Mr. Lyons have to say?

“I feel that it is unfortunate that after 11 years with FOX that my career would come to such an abrupt end and also at the expense of my personal reputation. It seems as though my comments actually had to be critically scrutinized to really make a connection. However, I truly apologize to anybody that was offended by my conversation with Thom Brennanman and Lou Piniella. The origin and intent of the joke was about my missing wallet, not race. I did not intend to single out any particular race and in fact have many close Hispanic friends and a bi-racial grandson. It never crossed my mind, it is a ridiculous and far reaching conclusion."

Lyons asserts that he is not a media risk and is confident about his future in broadcasting. "I love the game and I love sharing my passion for the game with fellow sports enthusiasts. I will be back!" states Lyons. Adding, "I loved my opportunities at FOX for 11 years, I hope they could look at this again and re-instate my ability to work and most importantly, my long hard-earned reputation."

Given that Psycho paid PR Newswire to distribute his release he had every right to make whatever claims and comments he believed makes him look how he wants to be portrayed.
No where in his press release did Lyons have the courage or the conviction to admit what he told The Los Angeles Times – he knew full well the Fox Sports network would be well within their rights to fire him. Steve Lyons may not believe he isn’t a media risk but Fox Sports believes hiring Steve Lyons isn’t a risk they’re prepared to take anymore.

Longtime Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver knows all too well where that mythical line in the sand is, unlike Lyons.

"You have to understand that it's a more sensitive world now," McCarver told the media in a World Series conference call. "What was said 20 years ago can't be said today. Just from a dignified standpoint, just being sensitive to the issues of the day, it's a little tougher being a broadcaster nowadays. I don't think there's any question about it."

The Dodgers, they of the legacy of Sandy Koufax, decided to continue employing Psycho for at least the 2007 season. In a release the Dodgers announced that Lyons would be asked to attend diversity training. And the Dodgers have followed the example set by Fox Sports – the Dodgers now have the right to fire Lyons if they believe he utters any comments they believe are inappropriate.

According to a Los Angeles Times report, Lyons combined income from his job(s) with Fox Sports and the Dodgers was around $500,000, 75 percent from Fox. Lyons has suffered a tremendous blow to both his wallet and his credibility.

Steve Lyons was a popular network broadcaster because people believed he was colorful. If Steve Lyons is the South Pole, the generic Tim McCarver is the North Pole. The two men are polar opposites in a baseball broadcast booth. The difference between the two men, one will be working at the World Series, the other will be watching the World Series.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Los Angeles Times, Baseball Almanac and The New York Times

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