“White people problems.” It’s a catch phrase that comes up occasionally at my house, which is walking distance from downtown and nicely adorned with a large TV and framed posters and a spoiled little dog who begs constantly for walks. She doesn’t seem to understand that it’s difficult to make time for a dumb pooch when I need to cook a decent breakfast – cage-free eggs and a ripe avocado – while watching the internet replay of last night’s “Daily Show.”
White people problems. If you’re white and you’re reading this, you know what I mean.
“Terry and James want to hang out tonight but I just wanna stay home and watch ’30 Rock’ on Netflix. What do I tell them?! Curse the gods!” “Wait… You are actually saying to me that there’s no 3G service in this area?” “My water glass sat here empty for almost three minutes before the waiter came with a refill. What do I tip now? If only I’d never been born.” “Do I give Dave and Karalyn $50 for their wedding, or should it be more? Sixty dollars? Eighty? Is there a bridge nearby I can jump off?” “The garbage man left the trash can in front of our driveway AGAIN! It goes back on the curb!” “Happy hour ends at 6 p.m. here? That’s too early! I wish nuclear war would just hurry up and wipe us all out.” “My Kindle is turning pages too slowly and I don’t know how to hard reset!!!”
What was I…. Oh yeah… There’s a dude called Skip Bayless with a TV show on ESPN2 called “First Take.”
On that show, Skip and another guy named Stephen A. Smith argue about sports. As an example, Skip has spun hours of air time from saying LeBron James sucks. He also dissed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point guard Russell Westbrook, saying Westbrook is a selfish gunner who hurts his team. Westbrook’s teammate Kevin Durant actually responded to Bayless, thusly: “That guy doesn’t know a thing about basketball.”
Totally. But he knows how to be a media personality. Whether you’re into sports or politics, there’s no avoiding the plain truth that a massive pseudo-industry has grown like forests of aspens around a single pseudo-product: opinion. Saying something zany or controversial gets you discussed, and being discussed is worth gobs of real money.
News media is increasingly focusing on what commentators say, about issues like Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow’s Tweets. Rush Limbaugh is the master of saying things that get him noticed (Sandra Fluke’s a slut, Obama’s Arab), and Skip might be the Rush Limbaugh of sports. (ESPN Radio’s hideous Colin Cowherd is probably the closer comparison to El Rushbo, but that’s a whole other conversation.)
So with a keen eye on his own marketability, Skip Bayless this week made a stupid-but-guaranteed-to-be-controversial claim about Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-trophy-winning quarterback who was drafted No. 2 overall this summer by the Washington Redskins. RG3 is black.
“I’m going to throw it out there,” Skip said. “You also have the black-white dynamic and the majority of Redskins fans are white. And it’s just human nature, if you’re white, to root for the white guy. It just happens in sports. Just like the black community will root for the black quarterback. I’m for the black guy. I’m just saying, I don’t like the dynamic for RG3. It could stunt his growth in the NFL.”
You’re “for the black guy”? Asshole. Anyway….
That is so completely, utterly wrong. White-power Nazis root for the white guy over the black guy, but that’s because “human nature” is alien to them. The rest of us know that white people are ridiculous, for reasons already detailed.
And sports fans? Herein lies the glory of sports, a glory that sadly escapes people like Skip and Stephen A., because they have made careers from saying stupid things that get them notoriety. The glory of sports comes from athletes excelling at a game, and most of the best athletes in America are black. Redskins fans are pulling for wins, for a Super Bowl. They couldn’t care less if their quarterback was white or black or puce, so long as he can beat the Giants and win more games than he loses.
Skip Bayless’s rant about RG3 was essence of racism, but that’s by design. Maybe he is actually saying something important and even profound about race and fandom within the sprawling universe of American pro sports, but he is not serious about “dynamic.” He is Skip Bayless. He called LeBron James a “dog” and then had this exchange with the show’s host:
Skip: “I’m offended when people dismiss me as a hater. I don’t like that term when it comes to LeBron. If you want to use it in the big picture that’s fine.”
Host: “And it’s used towards you a lot, when it comes to LeBron James and… and others too.”
Skip: “As God is my witness, I don’t hate LeBron.”
It is weird that you get paid to say things like that.
The book “Boys Will Be Boys,” by Jeff Pearlman, chronicles the drug-and-sex-powered Super-Bowl run of the mid-1990s-era Dallas Cowboys, led by Michael Irvin, who stabbed a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors and loved sleeping with two, three, four, five (yes, five) women at a time in precisely choreographed orgies. It’s a modern classic. An excerpt:
Through all the drama, the biggest bombshell of 1996 came with the release of a book, Hell-Bent, written by local scribe Skip Bayless. Billed as a biography that would spill the ‘crazy truth’ of the ’95 Cowboys, the prime rib of Bayless’s text emerged out of a six-page span in which the author suggested (Cowboys star quarterback Troy) Aikman was gay.
Wrote Bayless: “I had heard the rumor since 1991. An off-duty Dallas police officer who traveled with the Cowboys and worked security at their hotels first told me that ‘the word on the street’ was that Troy Aikman was gay. Over the next four years, I heard the rumor from two more police officers who worked around the team (and I know they mentioned it to team officials). One officer told me Aikman ‘was supposed to be’ having a relationship with a male member of a country-western band.”
While Bayless attempted to ward off critics by noting that Hell-Bent featured 284 pages not dealing with Aikman’s sexual orientation, he had broken two written-in-blood journalistic tenents:
A. Don’t out people for the sake of book sales.
B. If you decide to ignore Rule A, know what the hell you’re talking about.
Aikman had dated his first girlfriend for seven years, and arrived in Dallas in 1989 in the midst of another serious relationships. “I know for a fact that Troy was having sex with women who, quite frankly, he knew he would never call,” says Dale Hansen, the veteran announcer. “Skip thought it was suspicious that Troy had spoken of taking an AIDS test. Well, knowing some of the women Troy slept with, I’d have gotten an AIDS test too.”
In short, if he was gay, Aikman was putting on one hell of an act.
Such details mattered not to the attention-obsessed Bayless. Hell-Bent was neither righteous nor journalistic, and neither was its author. “While he was working on the book Skip would call me all excited and tell me that he got information about Troy being in the back of a car in a gay area of Melrose,” says Dean Blevins, the veteran Dallas radio host. “My reaction was, ‘Why are you telling me this? And why are you so happy about it?'” As a former muckraking columnist for Dallas’s Morning News and Times Herald, Bayless was one of the first scribes to hire an agent; one of the first scribes to be featured on billboards; one of the first scribes to negotiate for perks like a company car and stock options. It was often said the best way to torture Bayless was to remove the I key from his laptop. Frank Luksa, a local columnist who refused to speak with Bayless, nicknamed him “Baby Jesus.” The tag stuck.
“Skip Bayless could have been one of the really great columnists,” says Dave Smith, the legendary Morning News sports editor. “But as a columnist, if you’re going to beat up on someone, it better be from your heart. You better feel that way. Skip attacked people just for the sake of doing it. His take on Aikman was the most unfair thing in my forty-five years in journalism.”
So this is the type of person we have in Skip Bayless – someone who’s grown rich and famous trashing athletes to such an extreme degree that he actually delights in spreading gay rumors. People like me will, in turn, trash him. Attention accomplished. Hard to begrudge someone his living, I guess, but these angry, reactionary ESPN opinion guys (their numbers grow daily) are making sports worse for both athletes and fans.
The athletes hate Skip. (Charles Barkley: “I hate Skip Bayless more than any person in the world.”) We hate Skip. He’s a dope. The problem is there’s a market for these Skips, a vast audience of sports-crazed morons who happily inhale thoughtless, race-tinged generalities. And you better believe that audience is mostly white guys.