He is one of the most unappealing men you could imagine — a cropped haircut floating atop that thin, weirdly muscular frame, punctuated by a reedy, deeply irritating voice. No one agrees with him. You do not log on to Twitter and see the phrase, “Hey, when Skip is on, you gotta admit he makes some good points.” He never makes good points. He makes bad points, one after another, in a manner that drowns the viewer in rhetorical molasses. There are no Skip stans; no Bayless Army. He is not on TV for any reason other than his freakishness.
I am talking, of course, about Skip Bayless. Once upon a time, when he was crossing swords every day with Stephen A. Smith, also a kook with an immaculately odd brain (albeit a far less unnerving TV presence), he could have been maligned as a virus coursing through the sporting discourse’s body, but on Fox, for several years now, he’s just spinning his wheels, cashing out.
Lately, however, he’s managed to be repellant enough to draw the attention of the masses. When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin nearly died during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, collapsing following a hit and resuscitated after nine minutes of horrifying on-field CPR, it turned out that the man still had one more rhetorical atrocity in the chamber, one more stupid thing that could manage to get him back in the rotten halls of our consciousness.
Above, we see Skip trying like hell to distance himself from the idea that an NFL game that was halted because someone may have died is important, and he… can’t get there. He can’t help it. He is sports brain incarnate. The Takeman. Then he doubled down.
Who knows when he came into being — not Skip, in particular, but the type of person he is, the career he has had, the life he has been consumed by. Pro sports and writing about pro sports were, at first, a conduit for gambling. But as children descended on the enterprise, an alternate view of the games’ utility was needed. And so, writers and athletes alike conspired. They created the intellectual tropes that underpin sports fandom to this day: the sports hero overcoming adversity, the regional rivalry, the conquest of greatness, the burdens and treasures of stardom, the great responsibility of being a great athlete. The sports columnist would be there, in the locker room, post-game, chatting half-naked young men up, gossiping, taking all that crap and putting the real facts of this social and professional scene into the frame. Guys who defied this, who were bratty or rude (or not white, depending on the columnist or the city), would be cast as villains; guys who didn’t say anything interesting and played consistently would be heroes.
The sports pages were separate from the rest of the newspaper — their ethical concerns, their broader vision of the world. It was about sports, about winning and losing and making money for doing either. It was a slight craft that embraced a blinkered worldview. Some did compelling work, but the vast majority of sports columnists were axemen doing the bidding of team ownership every week, peddling rumors and easy narratives and hanging out at steakhouses in their off-hours.
In the ‘80’s, with the advent of WFAN and other full-time sports radio enterprises across the country, the sports columnist had to become a multi-tool player. Yes, he needed to keep pumping out slop on behalf of his newspaper masters, but he also hopped onto sports talk radio to joust with hosts who needed to fill three hours every day, with callers who had engineered their own thinkpieces, and with other sports columnists across the country.
This is the milieu where Skip Bayless honed his warped mind. Skip was hired by the Dallas Morning News at the age of 26, and, according to the man himself, stuck with a mandate: compete with Blackie Sherrod, a legendary columnist who worked at the Dallas Times Herald. “People in the business told me nobody will ever take him down,” said Bayless, an adult man who is not an anime villain, in an interview.
“I did it my way. My columns were more topical than his. I’m not as talented as he was but I could write. Straight off the news from the heart. No holds barred, no sacred cows. Honest, well reported, well researched… go for the throat. I was able to make an instant splash in that market — at least hold my own. There was no way I could beat him at his game, but I could beat him with my game — which I did. I started winning awards and drawing most of the attention in the market largely by the topics I selected. I was writing about things he wouldn’t choose to write about.”
Those things? Gossip — mostly about the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL’s main characters at the time (Skip would likely insist this is still the case.). One such piece of gossip was a strange, left-field claim published in his third book about the Cowboys: that the team’s star quarterback, Troy Aikman, was gay. (He is not.)
This tabloid nonsense brought national attention to Bayless, who was on the ground floor when ESPN, sitting on two networks that needed 24-hour-a-day programming, decided to shift away from games and SportsCenter into Take Thunderdome. Skip, his brain poisoned and totally devoted to the take in and of itself, was a natural fit for this milieu.
Why is Skip Bayless still on national television, even though he is universally reviled by viewers, athletes and Charles Barkley, a guy who likes everyone? The answer is that the man is a sideshow, a creature, a living, breathing waste-dump of sports-takes thinking that gained sentience. Bob Ryan, Woody Paige, the other guys who ended up at ESPN after careers that superficially resemble Bayless’s were eccentrics, sure, but you watch them and get the sense that, somewhere in there, they know that what they do is not all that important. Skip, on the other hand, is so divorced from reality outside sports that he devoted himself, like a monk, to the stupidest job in media and fed off how asinine it is.
Look at him. There is nothing more important to this guy than sports bullshit. Five days after 9/11, Skip wrote a column where he castigated the professional athletes of America for failing in their “duty” to provide him and other sports fans of this great nation with an “escape”. This guy couldn’t go without sports for five days! “Many in this country needed baseball and football to be played as soon as possible. This was the least sports could do for us after all we have done for them,” he wrote in the San Jose Mercury News.
It’s all personal to him. A month or so ago, Skip, who is reportedly paid $8 million a year, got in a way-too-real fight with Shannon Sharpe, a Hall of Fame tight end who currently serves as Skip’s less-ridiculous sparring partner on Skip and Shannon: Undisputed over at Fox Sports 1, when they tussled over Tampa Bay quarterback (and history’s most divorced man) Tom Brady. Shannon said Brady was not performing up to his own lofty standards (true statement) and Skip replied, with a shit-eating grin, that Shannon was only saying this because Brady won more Super Bowls than him and played longer.
Shannon is clearly piping mad that a leathery weasel has the gall to say this to him on national television. In a world ruled by the precepts of natural law and honor, Shannon would have had the right to stand up, grab this bum by the collar, and throw him through a plate glass window. But Shannon is a professional, so he kept debating this clown-man whose lone skill is being a blinkered lunatic.
Of course, cross the line with Skip and he will not hesitate to act like a piss baby. For years, Charles Barkley, one of the more genial personalities in sports media, has joked on-air about how, someday, he is going to see Skip at an event and kill him.
Skip, a goblin man with hatred in his heart for everyone (none more than LeBron James), who once responded to reports of Chris Brown battering Rihanna with the line, “We now know Chris Brown’s favorite sport: sock-her,” and who once accused Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott of showing “weakness” for publicly disclosing his mental-health struggles, responded to this with classic concern-trolling. “My wife Ernestine has believed for 15 years that Charles Barkley is nothing but a sick individual. To her, he is just pure evil, that he is depraved, that he is a scumbag and she believes or fears that one day, Charles will somehow ― maybe unwittingly or maybe wittingly ― inspire some other nut to end my life. And this haunts her, this hurts her, because she believes that in the end, Charles Barkley would have my blood on his hands.” Alright, man. Sure. Everyone is really scared that Barkley is going to assassinate you.
For the last eight years or so, we have become entirely too familiar with grifters: Donald Trump, his cadre of unhinged dickriders, Silicon Valley ghouls, Bitcoin creeps, PCP-addled real estate chuds. It can seem like our entire society is stocked with people on the grift, trying to get you in on a multi-level marketing scheme. This is Skip, a man of the times. A guy who went into Dallas writing hot shit to dethrone a big-deal sports columnist, got in too deep and transformed into the ultimate sports-media golem. He shouldn’t be on TV, but it almost seems cruel to take it away. Can he even exist outside of the studio, slinging his fucking garbage?