Taking It Personal: The First Take Debate

It’s been said countless times that any time ESPN First Take is viewed, or at least mentioned, Skip Bayless wins. The most notorious hater in sports has made the morning program into the live, in-person manifestation of #TwitterSports; where rushing to be first or trying extra hard to be funny trumps actually learning something about the games we love. Truthfully, he’s the loudest carnival barker in the biggest circus there is, and he gets paid quite handsomely to draw a crowd to the show.

Yet, his latest moment of infamy has done something that is a rarity in the Bristol campus. It invited a somewhat coherent debate about the difference between objective analysis and disrespectful opinions presented as fact.

The idea that Jalen Rose gave Bayless a dose of his own medicine was equally celebrated as it was condemned, although the larger point he tried to make - how Bayless and others cross the line - may have been missed.

Though most won’t admit it, a wide majority of us who have gone into locker rooms, spoke with scouts and executives, shared insights with fellow media members, and broadcasted our thoughts to the world have never played sports at a significantly competitive level. Yet, for whatever reasons – an unbridled passion for the games, an addiction to the written (or spoken) word or just having the hook-up – we’re in the business in order to attempt to provide deeper understanding of the games we love.

Ideally, we provide diversity in our insights; mixing up the bird’s eye view of how a sport is to be played with the in-the-trenches reality in which the players live in from game to game. Interwoven into the narrative are conversations with the stewards of these games; owners, executives and coaches that create the framework of a sport with their finances and experience.

Where many in the business do their best to just stick with the facts and/or reveal news based on established relationships, there are some who make their mark with some sort of angle. There are the curmudgeons who opine about how the new generation couldn’t compete with the old. We have the obnoxiously loud radio show hosts who believe that screaming over their audience proves some sort of superior knowledge. And of course, we can’t forget the television announcers that keep their soapboxes near when a player decides to be a little different from the ideal.

So when Rose attempted to break the typical player-turned-analyst mold by calling out Bayless, it had less to do with stating that the former newspaper man apparently lied about a not-so-stellar high school basketball career. It had more to do with people like him making their analyses personal.

Sports exist, as is, in part because of the irrationality of our emotions. Consider the money and time invested from all sides; it’s not easy being a wallflower if you’ve worked a lifetime to make it as a player, support it as a family member, watch it as a fan, or cover it in the media. Unlike other forms of entertainment where the creative process is largely hidden from public view, everyone with at least a passing interest knows the rules to these games. We can compare players and performances because we all see these athletes rise and fall in order to succeed one play at a time.

When we can’t understand how someone fails at making the shot, stopping the goal or taking a swing, we tend to go overboard in our assessments by taking some sort of personal offense. Tim Tebow’s faith doesn’t save him from being a mediocre quarterback. Chris Bosh’s sexuality gets assailed because… well, who knows. “KWA-MAY” Brown is a freeloading bum because he’s paid for being very tall, if not very good compared to other players.

And it’s that very irrationality which pulls in the audience during games, and creates demand for commentary at all other times.

It goes to the larger point that friend of TSFJ, Jonathan Tillman (@thetillshow) made about the blurred line between analysis and opinion:

“Jalen’s point about the media is legit, but the entertainment is what pulls in casual fans. There’s a line between reporting performance and being disrespectful. Though I don’t know where the line is, I think we know disrespect when we see/hear/read it.” - Till

When you strip the name-dropping screaming of Stephen A. Smith, the staunch defensiveness of Bayless, and the frustrations of Rose, there was a meaningful conversation about the complexities of having behind-the-scenes access to the some of the world’s most visible people. Yet, the one indisputable point was made by Smith as he reminded us that this debate has been going on forever, with no end in sight.

Perhaps just the way we like it.

8 Replies to “Taking It Personal: The First Take Debate”

  1. I'm so glad that others see the point. Man Jalen was on point mentioning how they are overly critical of someone who is in the top 1% of their craft. They are there for a reason. Once the table was turned neither Skip nor Stephen A had a legitimate argument.

  2. The argument that was made against that was simple. They didn't deny that obviously Brown isn't straight trash because he's in the NBA, but the fact that he was a first overall draft pick and his skills haven't progressed since he was drafted makes him a scrub. I.E. Jamarcus Russell

  3. Skip couldn't take his own medicine. Case closed. He's free to get personal and trash talk the best athletes on the planet, but he had better be able to handle the consequences of that. Jalen was the first to stop him dead in his tracks.

  4. First and foremost, I appreciate the shared sentiments. It's amazing what placing yourself in the realm of Pistol Pete can do...

    Let me just say that while normally I don't watch the show (I was always more of a PTI fan than the other fare on the network, and I barely watch anything that isn't a game), I was pleasantly surprised that this debate was happening. It's the kind of conversation that many people have said they want to see on ESPN, as opposed to the recycled topics that tick folks off.

    Some of my POV sits in those words; I believe that there are quite a few in the business go too far in providing their analyses. Though it exist everywhere, if you live in the Boroughs like me, you can feel in the hate in the columns of the major dailes (print or online). Local radio is even worse. However, there are some DAMN GOOD reporters, bloggers, hosts and other personalities that are overshadowed because they keep the venom out of their work unless warranted.

    And while I'm one of the few who believes that media outlets can make quite a bit of coin catering above the lowest common denominator, it takes work that all partners involve rather not do. That's a media business conversation for another day.

  5. I have a problem with what Jalen Rose said. I mean I understand that some of these analysts get personal when they name call some of these players, but what I want to ask is are they the only ones that gets name called in their life and profession? I am in the military, and there was a time when I walked through a grocery store in California and was called a murder and that I am on the same level as a rapist and a killer. Now that's personal and I take it personally, but in the end of the day no matter what they say its my job and I need to represent my profession. I just look at them and I criticize them right back. Are you trying to tell me these players don't name call others? Now these guys get paid million times what I get paid and will get paid. These guys are playing the game and getting paid that much because of the fans that watch the game. So you can't tell anyone that they can't call you names because you are getting paid to play by these fans that watch and most of these analysts on ESPN speaks what most fans want to hear, because it sells. The players on the NBA can take it personally like I did when people called me names, but in the end of the day you got to realize that you need to represent your profession and that they pay your salary as stupid as they are. These analysts call you out with names because fans want to call them out. It makes me GLAD to see some players get called out (ex. bron, bosh, westbrook...) because that's what I been wanting to say. The thing is any of these players that gets name called, can name call the analysts right back.
    The other problem I have with this is that you cannot say someone can't be an analysts because they never played the game at the highest level. Dave peltz never played at the highest level and he is THE best short game instructor. He is that good because he was born to analyze the short game, but it doesn't mean he himself can perform it (maybe its due to his physical attributes or something else). Bob Rotella, one of the best sports mind psychologists, never played anything professionally but he can tell you what goes through the mind of MJ when he is in his zone and when Bron chokes at the end. There are lot of coaches that succeed who haven't played at the highest level because for them their mastery is to be a coach and the same thing for a reporter/analysts. They spent their life to be the top 1% in analyzing the players, so in a way the players who have played spent their life playing the game and the analysts spent their life analyzing it.
    Brown is there for a reason, but at the same time for a average person watching they see him as a scrub. Because he never developed and he will be compared to other NBA players esp. starters. Do you know why you have to compare him to the other NBA players? because he is at that level so why would you compare him to someone who is playing NCAA or something. I am a division one golfer so I compare myself with other college golfers. I don't EVER compare myself with high school kids. I might compare with some professionals and say that I could do it if I devoted my life to it (doesn't mean I could but I'm just saying I think I could). When I play basketball I compare myself with other kids that I play pick up with and imagine myself as MJ even though I can't perform any moves he could.
    Rose thought of himself above Smith and Bayless because he played the game before and because he played in the NBA, but like Smith said he doesn't have a degree in what he has. He hasn't set and analyzed for his life. Jalen Rose called out Grant Hill and Duke before on national level just to point out... so how does he come back and say they can't after he's done it before. Everyone does it.
    damn I wrote a essay over here. lol but I just got really heated up about this as a fan of sports and espn. great article btw. I enjoy reading articles that you guys put up.

  6. Eric, yours and all the other responses show why the debate will forever rage on.

    This has nothing to do with sports, but I can't imagine being called the sorts of things you were, even if it was a rare moment. It doesn't even enter the realm of rational thought, let alone does it sway my respect for the military. And you're better than most of us to not have committed A&B on that person. I salute you, sir.

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