The morning show “Mayhem in the AM” on Atlanta sports station 790 The Zone, the home of the Atlanta Falcons, made news across the country this morning for all the wrong reasons, as they lampooned former Saints safety Steve Gleason’s current battle with ALS.
After mentioning that Gleason was Peter King’s fill-in on Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback (a story that Gleason wrote using his eyes due to ALS’s horrible effects on his body), the 790 the Zone crew, comprised of Nick Cellini, Steak Shapiro, and Chris Domino, then announced that they had “Gleason” on the line. However, this was not the real Steve Gleason, but instead Cellini portraying a computerized voice that poked fun at Gleason’s battle with the disease, saying things like “I wish I could play”, “I may not be here on Thursday”, and “smother me, do me a favor”. (Audio is available here)
The “skit” (if you could call it that) blew up immediately, leading to an indefinite suspension of the crew and an apology from 790 The Zone that states “We deeply regret the comments made by Mayhem In The AM this morning on 790 The Zone regarding former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason. 790 The Zone, Lincoln Financial Media, our sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support the unfortunate and offensive commentary concerning Mr. Gleason this morning. The members of the show involved with this incident have been suspended indefinitely pending further management review of their actions.”
While fans of the Falcons and the Saints both love to hate each other and will try and find anything to rile up the other side, the fact of the matter is that this stunt by 790 was not in any way appropriate, justifiable, or frankly funny at all. This situation also puts the Atlanta Falcons organization in a very strange situation, as the team’s radio rights include broadcasting their games on this particular AM station. The Falcons obviously do not want to be linked in any way with a disgusting controversy such as this, which means that there has to be some kind of reaction to make the whole situation right. Fortunately for all sides involved, there seems like only one legitimate reaction possible: the station has to show these guys the door.
Sure, people make mistakes every day, but you have to understand something up front: 790’s deal with the Falcons is probably one of their biggest money makers, as there will be a considerable amount of listeners who tune in on Sundays in the fall to listen to Atlanta rise up once again. However, with such a large amount of terrible publicity coming from this situation (see below), allowing these guys to remain on board will just leave a scar on the Falcons’ deal with the Zone, and would lead some to conclude (although irrationally) that the team condoned this sort of talk (which it most certainly does not). The Falcons obviously would not push to opt out of their deal with the radio station for simplicity’s sake, which means that it looks very likely that The Zone will have some new voices coming over the air in the very near future.
UPDATE: While I was in the process of publishing this, 790 The Zone announced that all three of the station’s employees involved have been fired. The station released a statement saying “We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS.”