What is happening to our society? It is clear we have become hypersensitive and have lost our light-hearted nature. While the proliferation of social media has made the world feel "smaller," it has also had some unintended consequences, such as impulsive responses without the full context, only 140 characters of context. But it all starts in public schools, where our zero tolerance policies run completely counter to the elements needed to foster creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation - elements which our nation was founded upon.
What triggered this reaction today? Yesterday, three radio disc jockeys were terminated after a stunt mocking ALS patient (and former New Orleans Saints player) Steve Gleason went awry. After first making a public statement that the three radio hosts would be "suspended indefinitely," they were summarily fired less than a few hours later. Now don't get me wrong. I do not condone what they did - it was an ill advised stunt that was meant as a parody, and no one should degrade anyone who suffers from such a terrible, debilitating disease such as ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Listeners took to the blogosphere and immediately went looking for blood, including some of his former teammates. I'm sure some sponsors also threatened to pull their advertising if something wasn't done to reprimand these radio hosts. Gleason said nothing until AFTER they were terminated (we'll get to what he said later). Why the rapid-fire trigger finger on the part of the radio station's parent company, Lincoln Financial Media? Social media allows anyone to have an opinion and make it known, but it astounds me how quickly people react without knowing the facts. Let me provide some background, since I have met two of these radio hosts and have some interesting background information to share:
- One of them, Steak Shapiro, was one of the founders of the radio station and has been on the air in Atlanta for nearly two decades. His performance has been impeccable and I know him to be of impeccable character.
- The men immediately issued heartfelt apologies and promised to make it up to the Gleason family. One of them actually spoke to Steve's wife and apologized. Shapiro is a graduate of Tulane University and while the Saints are clear arch rivals of the Falcons, he has always held the city of New Orleans in high regard. No doubt it will take him a long time to mend fences there.
- A former colleague of mine, Rodney Ho, a journalist with an Atlanta newspaper, wrote a very interesting background story. Shapiro sold the station to Lincoln Financial Media a few years ago, and there is evidence suggesting that the station was looking to let their contracts expire in a few months, with no intention to renew. With additional competition for sports talk in the Atlanta marketplace, it has adversely impacted the station's finances and market position and they were clearly looking to reduce their cost base. This incident, while ill-advised and inappropriate, was a convenient way for the station to get out what would have been an already complex negotiation.
My feeling is this. Why the rush for blood? Why not look to use this as a "teachable moment" and positively reinforce a behavior change? Gleason didn't comment until AFTER the decision to terminate was made. While not reacting to the station's decision, he posted on his Facebook page that "he accepted their apologies." Some options the station could have considered include:
- Have the hosts go on the air the following day and use a segment to make an on-air apology and put some focus on awareness of ALS
- Consider having the hosts contribute meaningfully to ALS or Gleason's charity, as well as participate in some fundraising or other events related to ALS
- Consider a suspension as a reprimand for their actions but recognizing they are ALL first offenders who have a long track record of professionalism in the radio industry.
But that didn't happen here. Just like our public education system, we are quick to punish those who break the rules and refuse to identify ways to turn an unfortunate incident into a positive, teachable moment. All we did in this case was throw these gentleman under the bus and likely prevent them from continuing to work in the radio business, at least for the foreseeable future. As Shapiro said in two tweets:
What is so ironic is that I went to Tulane, love New Orleans and love the @steve_gleason story, what a moronic 2 mins, I am truly sorry....
ALS not a joke, bit or game. 20 yrs on the air, 2 bad mins on a show, look at the whole picture I hope. Zone was a great ride!! #thebest
i expressed my views in an even-toned letter to the GM of the station, and surprisingly, received the following response:
Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate the time you took to write it and I respect your point of view. I thought it was important, however, to share some additional perspective. Deciding to terminate Nick, Chris and Steak as a result of what transpired on Monday morning was neither an impulsive decision nor an easy one. As you outlined in your e-mail, they each have long careers in radio and are fixtures in our community. Notwithstanding this fact, I have a responsibility to our listeners, to our advertisers and to our overall community to protect the standards and core values of our organization. The content of Monday mornings programming cannot be reconciled with those standards and core values. While this was a difficult decision, I am confident that it was the right one.
No one is defending their actions, but this blogger feels that the station found a convenient way to get out of a difficult business decision, and these guys deserve a second chance. There were other options "to protect the standards and core values of the organization." Just like in public education, we need to learn from failures and allow people a chance to redeem themselves. If we punish those who break the rules, then you can throw America's innovative spirit out the window.