Sometimes, it’s hardest saying goodbye to those you like least.
Skip Bayless’ much-maligned career as a hot take artiste for ESPN has come to an end, fittingly days after LeBron James won his third title. Bayless will be joining Fox Sports 1, ESPN’s main competitor, after his run at “First Take” ended Tuesday. While his debate partner and “polar opposite” Stephen A. Smith gave Bayless an emotional goodbye that, appropriately, ended with an awkward hug (and a missed bro hug), make no mistake: this is good news for sports fans. And as a LeBron fan, this is great news.
For 12 years, Skip has made a living at ESPN crafting hotter and hotter takes. Skip’s real crime, however, has been in propagating an ugly part of sports fandom: the part that essentially bullies athletes, whether it be online or with a legitimized platform like a daily TV show.
Sure, his criticism of LeBron — which has largely shaped the conversation for most of LeBron’s detractors — has become more and more ridiculous as its folly has become ever more evident. After LeBron won his third title, Skip went, well, full Skip, and devolved into a caricature of himself, arguing his beloved Spurs could’ve beaten the Cavaliers despite losing in the second round of the playoffs.
If this was as far as Skip went, there wouldn’t be much of a problem. Unfortunately, however, Skip has indeed gone further, most notably in relation to Miami Heat star Chris Bosh. When Skip felt like Bosh wasn’t playing “tough”, he started to call the forward “Bosh Spice,” a play on his name and that of Posh Spice, one of the Spice Girls.
By doing so, Skip made some classic mistakes. He played into the culture of exaggerated masculinity that’s already present in sports to mock Bosh. Furthermore, Skip associated a lack of “toughness” with women, a problematic and disempowering viewpoint to say the least, and feminized Bosh’s name as an insult.
Look past his problematic statements — a tall task when remembering Skip helped facilitate rumors regarding Troy Aikman’s sexuality before joining ESPN — and Skip is apparently a nice, loving person by all accounts. I don’t doubt this. Most of what he argued was likely said for the purpose of ratings and to get segments to go viral — which they often did. I commend him for leveraging such asinine comments into success. And I certainly respect that he defended his comments when athletes came to debate him on the show. But that does not override everything else he has done and said.
Skip has made life much harder for up-and-coming sports writers. His ascent, which has now earned him a reported nearly $30 million contract, has given rise to plenty of imitators and has turned the whole world of TV sports journalism into a game of who can voice new takes loudest. Rather than being right or informative it’s about being so outlandish that you become the story and the subject of other headlines and debates. Although it’s on a smaller scale, Skip has taken advantage of and bolstered the same tendencies that Donald Trump has.
The substance of arguments matters very little. In a time when ESPN controversially shut down Grantland, which produced countless examples of high-quality writing, it doubled down on Skip, advertising his statements consistently on social media and suspending those who criticized him.
And Skip made sure to cover all his bases on just about every topic — flip-flopping back and forth enough times that no matter what happened, he ended up right. He would go on his show the next morning and boast about how he couldn’t be beat and how he was never wrong before jumping into another round of unfoundedly attacking people’s character. All for the ratings. Sound familiar?
Now, as Skip moves to FS1, he will surely continue making his absurd statements on a much smaller platform. Without the spotlight ESPN afforded him, Skip’s name will likely become rarer and rarer in the news cycle.
Actually that goodbye was easy.