FOX Sports Exclusive
Jeter comment exposes Bayless again
About a year ago, I walked out of my apartment in New York City and saw a line 500 deep of teenage girls and their mothers screaming their heads off.
“What’s going on?” I asked one of the starry-eyed moms, assuming a pop star or world-class athlete was inside the hotel they were crowding in front of.
“Kim Kardashian’s filming her show in there!” she screamed back at me with excitement.
It was as if someone had just handed her a lottery ticket with the winning numbers. This was her moment. She, a woman in her mid-forties, was going to lock eyes with Kim Kardashian.
The Kim Kardashian craze is something I’ve never quite fully grasped. She’s famous for having a reality TV show, which I know are very popular at the moment. But she got that reality TV show because she was in a highly publicized sex tape a few years ago, right? Yet, mothers and daughters cling to her as a role model of some sort. Is she clever? Not really. Is she inspiring? I wouldn’t think so. Is she unique? It doesn’t seem like it. So why the widespread attention and mania around her every waking breath?
Kardashian’s all over the headlines, but it’s baffling to me as to why anyone would pay attention to her. In the sports media world, there’s only one man she can be compared to.
That man is Skip Bayless.
Every few weeks or so, Bayless says something on his daytime ESPN2 show “First Take” that ticks off everyone in sports media world. Like clockwork, someone with a verified account tweets about Bayless’ stupidity, the rest of the sports media world chases after the bone with wagging tongues, and it — somehow, someway — becomes a “story.” It’s a vicious cycle, one that repeats itself far too often, and one that can cause right-minded people great frustration.
Bayless knows what he’s doing and the result of his chicanery. ESPN knows that whatever formula Skip’s concocted, it’s working. And the same writers that pound their fists and pump out 140 character tweets at whatever trash he throws out there, know that it’s coming.
Yet, time and time again, everyone falls for the bait — hook, line and sinker.
Bayless’s latest act has been made especially newsworthy because of the subject, the city and the type of implication he has made. There are few things more sacred to New York sports fans than the purity of Derek Jeter. Trash Eli Manning all you want, call Carmelo Anthony a ball hog if you must, but do not tarnish the glory that is No. 2 in pinstripes.
In the midst of what, arguably, has been the best season of his entire career, Jeter’s a legitimate MVP candidate at the ripe old baseball age of 38. And while Bayless stopped just short of saying the shortstop is taking performance-enhancing drugs — "I have no idea," he said on Wednesday’s show — he didn't deny the possibility.
That’s all it took. A suggestion and a shrug, and the rest of the sports media world was off and running, hurrumphing and tweeting minutes later. A few hours after the show, a reporter asked Jeter about Bayless’ comments. The shortstop responded, and voila, you have a national story the next day.
Jeter didn’t appreciate the implication, telling the New York Daily News: “Whenever you have people that anytime you bring something like this to light with guys that are doing things, it's like, now you have everybody questioning everything. That's the unfortunate thing. Maybe Skip should be tested."
Asked if he were bothered by Bayless' backhanded accusation, Jeter shrugged.
"This is a first for me, man," Jeter said. "I don't know what to tell you. … What do you want me to say? I ain't getting involved with this, man. You can say whatever you want to say now, huh? There's no repercussions."
Meanwhile, The Associated Press ran a story on Bayless’s accusation, Will Leitch at New York Magazine got on a perch to shout Bayless down, and just about every sports blog with an audience of five readers or more had its own “Anti-Skip” take. And here I am, writing about it now.
This is a story, about a non-story, involving a guy who likes creating stories out of nothing. How meta can we get?
And yet, it’s news. It’s part of the national conversation.
The sick part is that unlike Kardashian, Bayless was actually once a widely respected master of his craft. I grew up reading him and enjoying his work on ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” program throughout my childhood. He always had a flair for the dramatic, but he could write the hell out of a story. He played a leading role in breaking the SMU “Death Penalty” case back in the 1980s, and despite some moments he’d likely rather forget, he was one of the main voices following the Dallas Cowboys during their glory years of the early 1990s.
Bayless drifted out of the public eye for some time in the 2000s but is no doubt enjoying a career revival up in Bristol these days. His show, which has enjoyed a ratings bump since it moved into an all-debate format last year, is one of the more buzzed-about sports programs on TV, and every athlete knows his name and face.
He is a world-class rabble-rouser, instigator and media personality. But he is not a moron. Bayless knows what he’s doing every time the producers say, "Action!" Who are the morons if we're the ones falling for his act time and time again?
I have met Bayless on multiple occasions. You may be shocked to read this, but he’s actually an incredibly nice, rather soft-spoken, guy off-camera. That changes, of course, when the lights come on and he morphs into the character he’s being paid to play. He’s no different than Dwayne Johnson turning into The Rock or Terry Bollea becoming Hulk Hogan once they dim those arena lights and crank up their introduction music.
In the ever-changing world of sports media, when trending on Twitter or having Richard Deitsch complain about you in Sports Illustrated seems to be just as important as winning Peabody Awards, I’m not sure any of us can really fault him. If buzz and ratings are his objectives, Bayless is achieving and exceeding his goals by a mile.
The last time I met Bayless was when I went up to Bristol to promote the book I wrote with Victor Cruz this summer. The first thing he did was tell Cruz, a New York Giants wide receiver, that the rival Cowboys were going to win the NFC East this year.
Did he really believe it? Who knows? But it made for good TV, as Cruz was put in a position in which he had to defend his team and explain why Bayless was wrong. Four minutes of heated debate later, ESPN had its TV gold. Cruz and Bayless posed for a photograph afterward, handshakes were exchanged and we were on our merry way.
Bayless isn’t a bad person, and he’s certainly not dumb. He knows exactly what he's doing.
If people just ignored him, his act would change, and he likely would fade away.
But with all the attention his every word gets, with all the ink spilled, it’s really no different than waiting outside a hotel lobby to link eyes with Kim Kardashian.
We know, deep down, that we are better than this. And, yet, we're screaming over nothing, just like those delirious mothers and daughters hollering for Kim K.