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Rightfully Let Go, But Not Soon Enough
The only remaining question being asked in many quarters of the Steel City is "what took them so long?"
There obviously was some outrage over Madden's initial comments, but for years he's been maligning some of Pittsburgh's more iconic sports figures with half-truths, innuendo and mostly inappropriate comments. Steelers owner Dan Rooney, golfer Arnold Palmer, football stars Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris, former Pirates manager Jim Leyland and even the late and wildly popular Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, among many others, often were the targets of a boorish broadcaster making a six-figure salary whose main redeeming quality was the fact his show dominated his time slot with unusually high ratings.
Fair comment and criticism is one thing, but Madden often took the low-down road any chance he got, often with the exception of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team he unabashedly rooted for as a fan on and off the air.
"The sad part is he had a following," said one long-time Pittsburgh newspaper reporter. "He's wished death on people before, even said on the air he hoped their planes crashed. He's told listeners he had sex with their wives. There was some talk about him being fired last December, but they put him on a short leash and told him this stuff had to stop. But this one was pretty bad, the worst of anything he's ever said."
"I'm not that surprised he was allowed to stay on," said one long-time Washington radio executive. "The competition for ratings in a lot of markets has driven some people nuts. So many stations are barely making it by the skin of their teeth. To survive, sometimes you do wacko things to attract an audience. It's dead wrong, but it's the reality of what's happening in the business all around the country. When you tell me what he said on the air about Kennedy, I just can't imagine anything that would keep his rear end from being dumped."
In the end, ESPN clearly did the right thing in a decision that ultimately came down from the worldwide leader's Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Madden will be paid for the duration of his contract, but sources indicated he will never appear on the station again.
Perhaps ESPN's proper but somewhat belated dismissal also will serve as a warning to some of the mean-spirited, frequently irresponsible shock-jock broadcasters who talk sports, politics or whatever in radio studios all across the country (are you listening Michael Savage?) Maybe they'll now think twice before spewing their venomous remarks.
Then again, after Don Imus was tossed off the air last year following his offensive and totally inappropriate on-air comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team, you might have thought some of these mopes might have paid attention and cleaned up their own acts.
Mark Madden surely did not, and for now (emphasis on "for now") it cost him his job. Still, how much would you care to wager that he won't be unemployed for very long. He'll be back on the air somewhere, maybe even on a rival station in Pittsburgh. Sadly, the ratings beast must be fed, and far too often, at any price.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.