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Slaten counters that keeping his distance enhances his objectivity. "I'm a journalist," he says. "I don't go into the locker room. I don't have to, because I don't cover a team on a daily basis. But I wouldn't even want to, because I don't want to be their friends. The other [media] guys in this town — all they want to do is be friends with the players!"
Slaten's daily homework consists of reading three newspapers, watching ESPN's SportsCenter and putting in a few calls to teams' front offices. "This job's too easy," he jokes. "They give me way too much to work with! Michael Vick killing dogs, NBA ballplayers fathering ten different children from three different women, Mizzou administrators' wives on jailhouse conversations with convicted felons.... The biggest misconception about me is that I'm intentionally controversial. The reason people say that is because I say what I think."
Quin Snyder (former Mizzou men's basketball coach), Mike Martz (former St. Louis Rams head coach) and Floyd Irons (dethroned boys' basketball coach at Vashon High School) are just a few of Slaten's favorite targets during his recent years on the air. Slaten regularly called Snyder a liar when it came to his recruiting practices, referred to Rams Park as "The Kremlin" under Martz's watch and alleged that Irons was a cheater for packing his decorated state-championship rosters with kids who didn't live within Vashon's attendance boundaries.
Slaten's repeated attacks drew the ire of many, both inside and outside broadcasting circles. "Kevin paid a high price from his peers and his listening audience for the allegations he made on the air about Floyd Irons," notes Wendy Wiese, who cohosted a morning news show with Slaten at KTRS for roughly six years, until 2004. "He was perceived as trying to take down this legendary inner-city coach and squashing the dreams of these beautiful young athletes. But all those allegations were borne out this past year," Wiese adds, referring to investigative articles in Riverfront Times and the Post-Dispatch that led to a federal indictment for real estate fraud, a twelve-month prison sentence for Irons and forfeiture of three state championship titles, plus five seasons' worth of games, at Vashon.
Slaten may have been correct on more than one occasion, many in the business concede. But, they say, his message got lost in his delivery. "I think his critique gets too personal too quick," sums up KTVI-TV (Channel 2) sports director Martin Kilcoyne. "Instead of saying, 'That was a terrible decision so-and-so made last night,' he'll literally start by calling a guy a jerk."
Take Tony La Russa. In 2006 Slaten famously called out the Cardinal manager for failing to lodge a formal protest when the entire nation spotted a foreign substance on the pitching hand of Detroit Tigers veteran Kenny Rogers early in the second game of the World Series. Slaten has also long been irked at La Russa for consistently refusing to be interviewed on his show.
According to recent court testimony, this year alone Slaten has referred to La Russa as a "liar," "punk," "fraud," "piece of crap," "long-haired creep" and "the biggest coward and jackass that walked the earth."
Off the air Slaten is quick to point out that he defended La Russa last year when police in Florida arrested the manager for driving under the influence of alcohol. Slaten also claims he was the only broadcaster to take La Russa's side. ("Team 1380"'s Miklasz also sought to quiet La Russa's "sanctimonious haters," writing that the manager was more than likely beating himself up for the mistake.)
"Look," says Slaten, "I say things that people don't consider, because they're afraid to consider them. Now, if God appeared to me and said, 'I don't like what you're saying,' I'd be concerned. The fact that Tony La Russa — who, by the way, thinks he's God — doesn't like what I say, I couldn't care less. I've never seen a more arrogant person in my life. My defense was: Look, anybody out here who wants to call out La Russa, make sure you look in the mirror and ask yourself if you've ever had three drinks and gotten on the road. La Russa, in his arrogance, never called me to thank me for the defense.
"I think La Russa is everything that's wrong about the human race."
And if someone were to levy the same charge against Slaten?
He shrugs. "I'd be happy to debate them."
"I'm not the guy whose kids, after their parents' divorce, never wanted their father to contact him again. I'm the guy who raised my kid by myself. That gives you an idea of the kind of human being he is," Slaten will say during a subsequent conversation.
Sunday services at First Baptist Church-Harvester in St. Charles begin at 9:15 a.m. Slaten, who lives two miles away, likes to arrive early in order to greet some of his elder fellow parishioners.
On the August morning after news breaks that KFNS' ratings have tanked in his absence, Slaten is rejoicing.
"Praise the Lord!" says an older gentleman upon hearing the news. "You know we're praying for you." The man asks how Slaten is faring in exile.
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