If Boston and Philadelphia sports talkers are united about one thing, it’s the near-universal condemnation of 98.5 The Sports Hub host Michael Felger’s rant about former Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay.
On Wednesday, just one day after Halladay was killed after his plane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, Felger unloaded on the two-time Cy Young winner, calling him a “moron” and an “idiot” and saying the former MLB star “got what he deserved.” He also mocked Halladay’s death by mimicking his plane’s crash with sound effects and whistling noises.
“Weee! Oh, look, I just landed on the water, everybody. I’m gonna tweet it! Splat. You’re dead. Two kids. Moron,” Felger said. His on-air rant came after TMZ posted a video taken by boaters who filmed Halladay’s amphibious plane flying up and down, getting close to the water, minutes before crashing.
On Thursday, Felger told listeners that it was “poor judgement” to speak so callously about Halladay’s death, noting that the “tone and hysterics” were uncalled for. But the popular Boston host stopped short of apologizing to listeners for his over-the-top comments about Halladay’s death.
“The only folks I would really want to extend that to are the loved ones of Halladay’s family,” Felger said. “Sorry doesn’t do that justice as it relates to them.”
He did express regret for forcing his colleagues into a terrible position, and called it “dumb hyperbole” when he said he rooted “for the wall” during the death of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.
“I know what NASCAR means to a lot of people,” Felger said. “It was dumb.”
— Rob Tornoe (@RobTornoe) November 9, 2017
Here’s what sports radio personalities had to say about Felger’s comments.
Longtime Philadelphia sports radio host Glen Macnow said a discussion about whether Halladay took unnecessary risks while flying could be a legitimate topic for sports talk radio. But, Felger crossed the boundary of good taste.
“It’s fair to question Roy’s responsibility there. But the mocking, taunting, insensitive nature of Felger’s comments – including sound effects — was horribly offensive,” Macnow said. “And his closing remark, saying he “rooted for the wall” in Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash, suggests Felger’s entire goal was to incite.”
But Macnow wouldn’t say that Felger should lose his job over the comments.
“It’s not for me to say anyone should get fired for those comments,” he said. “If you don’t like them, don’t listen.”
Macnow, who works for The Sports Hub sister station WIP (both are owned by CBS Radio), said he’s been hearing on-air comments in poor taste since since 1982, when Howard Stern mocked the fatal plane crash of Air Florida Flight 90 in Washington, D.C. Stern called the airline on the air in an attempt to book tickets to the crash site at the 14th Street Bridge, asking, “Is this going to be a permanent stop?”
“It’s stock-in-trade for a lot of people in my business,” Macnow said. “I don’t like what it does for the reputation of all of us — but on the other hand, it’s a free-market business. People have the right to be offensive.”
Jason Myrtetus, the midday host at The Fanatic and the station’s acting program director, agreed that Felger crossed the line, and called out an industry that too often rewards hot takes over a more legitimate discussion.
“Too many people in our industry say things to be outrageous and incite a response,” Myrtetus said. “That is part of the job to have a strong opinion, but when you say something that insensitive, I am sure the management will have to respond.”
Even Josh Innes, at times a combative and edgy host on SportsTalk 790 KBME in Houston who was fired from his afternoon show at WIP last year, thought Felger went too far.
“When you say someone “deserved” to die and that person isn’t a mass murderer or a serial rapist, you are going to get a terrible reaction,” Innes said.
Gerry Callahan, the co-host of The Kirk & Callahan Show on WEEI, The Sports Hub’s main competitor in Boston, said Felger’s comments crossed the line. But he also said angry listeners shouldn’t expect Felger to be fired or even suspended.
“If Roy Halladay were a Red Sox, [Felger] would be in trouble,” Callahan said. As a white male, the former ace wasn’t a part of a group that might decide to protest the station or its sponsors.
“There is no one with any power that will demand his suspension or firing,” Callahan added. “[Felger’s] fine. He picked on the right guy.”
Callahan’s co-host, Kirk Minihane (who himself once courted controversy by calling Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews a “gutless b—-“) protested outside the Sports Hub’s studios Thursday morning holding a sign that read, “Fire Felger!” According to WEEI, there were a few confrontations with employees of the Sports Hub and police were called.
— OMFonWEEI (@OMFonWEEI) November 9, 2017
Felger is also a host for NBC Sports Boston (where his radio show is also simulcast), and made his regular appearance on Early Edition Wednesday evening, even as criticism over the comments began to spread.
“NBC Boston doesn’t want me to talk about it tonight,” Felger told the Boston Herald’s O’Ryan Johnson, who reached him Wednesday night. “My boss doesn’t want me to say anything about this tonight. Again, my boss doesn’t want me to say anything.”
So far neither NBC Sports Boston nor the Sports Hub have responded to requests for comment.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation into Halladay’s fatal accident has begun and a preliminary report is expected in a seven to 10 days.