Francesa, L.T. agent in Radio Row tiff
I need to start hanging out in the WFAN corner of Radio Row more often around 2 p.m.
Tuesday, that’s where I found Mike Francesa and Chris Russo reuniting on the air for 20 minutes.
Wednesday brought a less happy occasion: a tense confrontation between Francesa and Mark Lepselter, the agent for Lawrence Taylor, Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Tiki Barber, Joe Benigno, Brandon Tierney, Sid Rosenberg and other luminaries.
The back story is a little complicated – and convoluted – but I did my best to sort through it over the course of an hour that had me wondering why I didn’t become an accountant or longshoreman instead of a media reporter.
The original source of contention was an in-studio interview Lawrence Taylor was supposed to have had with Francesa last Thursday, the day after a Showtime interview in which Taylor discussed at length the events that led him to plead guilty to sexual misconduct last year.
Lepselter said Taylor had informed him he would not discuss that story beyond what he said on “Inside the NFL,'' and he asked Lepselter to make that clear to Francesa’s producer, Ray Martel.
During the call to Martel, Lepselter said, “Conan the Barbarian grabs the phone out of Ray’s hand and says, ‘Why are you calling here; why are you causing trouble?’’’ To which Lepselter responded with a couple of expletives.
Lepselter said Taylor still was willing to go on with Francesa, while still insisting he would not discuss his legal issues again. But Francesa said he was not interested under those conditions.
Francesa said he already had been back and forth on scheduling a Taylor interview before it at last was scheduled for Thursday.
“Lepselter comes on the phone with me and says you can’t ask him questions about this stuff,’’ Francesa said. “I said, Forget it, don’t do the interview.’ Ten minutes before we go on the air he tells Ray they’re reconsidering. I said, ‘You know what, forget it. I don’t want to have L.T. on.’ And that was the end of it.’’
Or so it seemed.
Wednesday Showtime’s James Brown, who conducted the interview with L.T., was on Radio Row and Francesa told him that he heard Taylor was not happy with how the interview came out.
When Lepselter came over to say hello to Brown, Brown told him that he had heard from Francesa that Taylor was displeased with the interview and that that was why he canceled on WFAN.
Lepselter told him Taylor in fact had no problem with the interview and that Francesa had misled him.
Francesa noticed Lepselter speaking to Brown near the WFAN set and the two began to argue. Brown held Lepselter back to avoid an escalation.
“Lawrence, let me be crystal clear, had no issue with any aspect of that [Showtime] interview,’’ Lepselter said afterward.
Lepselter said if Francesa “is going to lie about something like that to people I respect and do business with, I’m going to handle it . . . He can go push around his people at FAN. He’s not going to push me around.’’
Francesa said he only told Brown what he had heard from Arthur Aidala, Taylor’s attorney, who originally had set up the WFAN interview.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry about this whole thing,’’’ Francesa said, quoting Aidala. “He said everything didn’t go well with the interview.''
Lepselter later called Aidala in my presence, told him what was going on and said Aidala did not recall telling Francesa that Taylor was upset with the Showtime piece, or having spoken directly with Taylor before talking to Francesa.
Francesa insisted several times that Aidala did express concerns over the Showtime interview.
It was another twist in a long history of tension between Francesa and Lepselter, especially over Barber.
“Listen, I’ll tell you this, and quote me,’’ Francesa said during a commercial break. “Anything with Lepselter is a problem. That’s why I don’t like dealing with him, because there’s always conditions and this and that.
“They canceled it on Wednesday, then canceled twice on Thursday and I said, 'I’ve had enough, case closed’ . . . You know what, let him keep his clients and stay away from me, because I don’t want anything to do with him. I never have and it’s better because it’s always a problem.’’