Tuesday, November 21, 2006
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ESPN Radio 1250 talk-show host Mark Madden is a large man with a large audience and claims to have a large IQ. But the largest aspect of Madden is his ego. His ego is so large that whenever he loses a job, it's never his fault. His ego is so large that he actually believes one of the most important men in Pittsburgh cares what he says.
Madden was fired last week from his once-a-week job as a panelist on a WTAE-TV show, "Action Sports Sunday."
Rather than reflecting on what he might have done wrong, Madden immediately lashed out, not so much at WTAE, the employer that fired him, but at the Steelers in general and owner Dan Rooney in particular.
Madden claimed the Steelers orchestrated his firing because he was too critical of the team. Even before he began a long diatribe against the team, he took on Rooney, the widely respected and revered Steelers chairman and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Madden suggested Rooney should do something that is too vulgar to be reprinted in this newspaper.
It should have been something too vulgar to be heard on the public airwaves, but Madden has made a career of such comments while his bosses at ESPN Radio 1250 look the other way.
What followed his comment about Rooney was a typical Madden rant, illogical, full of half-truths and worse. .
"I was told [the firing] was because I used the word 'jackass' during a broadcast," Madden said Thursday afternoon in the second segment of his 3-7 p.m. show. "That seemed a bit harsh. So I thought there's got to be more to it than that and, of course, there is. The Steelers complained to Channel 4 [WTAE] and said they wouldn't provide any interviews to Channel 4 -- no players, no nothing -- if I remained on the show."
WTAE news director Bob Longo, who terminated Madden, said, "That's laughable. No one or no organization dictates content to this station. Not the Steelers and certainly not a radio talk-show host."
What really happened was that WTAE was tiring of Madden's high-wire act. The station was never sure what he was going to say and that was a concern, particularly when the show aired live. He made his reputation on talk-radio with outrageous statements with little regard for the truth. That might work on ESPN Radio 1250 but it doesn't on local television. On the Nov. 5 show, Madden called cornerback Deshea Townsend "a jackass."
Madden was right on one point. The Steelers were angry. But not Rooney. He had no idea what Madden said, and Madden was flattering himself in the extreme if he thought as much. Madden's often savage attacks on the team were too much for some players. One player, possibly two, quietly let Jon Burton, WTAE's sports director, know they would be less-than-cooperative with the station that employed Madden.
That is their personal right. But to suggest WTAE would be barred from asking questions is not. According to NFL rules, which apply to the Steelers, accredited media, and that is WTAE, cannot be barred from media sessions. In other words, even if WTAE continued to employ Madden, its representatives could not be kept away from media sessions.
The Steelers said they never issued any type of threat to WTAE or so much as suggested access would be restricted.
Madden didn't stop with WTAE. He also went after the KDKA show, "Sports Showdown," which airs Sunday night.
"I talked to someone involved with Channel 2's [KDKA] show and they said, swear to God, 'Well, you know, we're only allowed to criticize the Steelers up to a certain point.' "
Madden didn't name his source. We talked to four people who regularly appear on that show: Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette, Joe Starkey of the Tribune-Review, Jon Steigerwald of KDKA-TV and Paul Alexander of FSN Pittsburgh.
All four said no one has ever tried to muzzle them on the show. To the contrary, they felt the show had been extremely tough on the Steelers.
Madden went on to say, "The Steelers are like the Mafia. The Steelers are like Pittsburgh's own version of the Kremlin. Don't even tell me it's run by good people. Don't even tell me the Steelers are run by good guys. Never tell me Mr. Rooney is anything more than another typically greedy control freak again. That's all he is."
In the 37 years I have covered sports for two Pittsburgh newspapers, no one from the Steelers ever has tried to tell me what to write or criticized me for what I did write. To the contrary, almost without exception, the Steelers have been extremely cooperative.
Toward the end, Madden topped himself as only he can.
"Not only is nothing I've said during this rambling and sometimes disjointed monologue untrue, none of it is even exaggerated."
Once again, Madden shows himself to be the man who will say anything, whether it's true or not.