I was able to catch just about all of the ESPN First Take debate that took place yesterday primarily between Jalen Rose and Skip Bayless, but with significant input from Stephen A. Smith and finally, late in the show, from Cris Carter. The program was moderated as always by Jay Crawford, and this was an occasion where I thought that Crawford did an excellent job of letting the debate flow and interjecting as little as possible. I think that this was especially important because I think that this was easily the most substantive debate that I have ever seen on this show.
I should state early on that I have never been the biggest fan in the world of Skip Bayless or for that matter, Stephen A. Smith. In the case of Skip Bayless, my dislike of him precedes the revelation of what I believe is his irrational fanaticism with Tim Tebow. Bayless is smug, unbelievably arrogant (it is perhaps impossible to count the number of times he chooses to remind everyone of some prediction he made, while patting himself on the back in the process), and a condescending bully. And as for Stephen A. Smith, he's a bit too bombastic for my liking and there appears to be more than just a touch of arrogance in him as well. But perhaps my biggest reason for my disdain for Smith derives from comments he made back in 2009 when Rush Limbaugh was attempting, as part of a group, to purchase the St. Louis Rams. A link to an article in which Smith commented appears here, but I'll quote the lines that Smith said that infuriated me:
If he has the money, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, and those black ballplayers that are saying that, I'm here on national television telling you they're lying through their stinking teeth...Oh, you're going to pass up money because, oh, my God, I'm offended by Rush Limbaugh being the owner? Who are you fooling? They're liars.
Now, I have no problem with Smith's contention that Limbaugh should have the opportunity to bid for the Rams since he had the money to do so. It just so turns out that the other NFL owners and I believe the league itself were required to vote on and approve the ownership bid and they chose not to allow the group to purchase the team. My problem with Smith is that he had the gall to assert that all black NFL players who said that they would not play for a Limbaugh owned team, given controversial racial comments Limbaugh had made in the past, were liars. Just that it appears that Smith either has no integrity or that money trumps his integrity, does not mean that such was the case with these black NFL players. But I'll move on now to the actual debate that took place yesterday.
Generally speaking throughout the entirety of the debate, I agreed with Rose. I think that in many cases Bayless has moved beyond primarily operating on the basis of facts (i.e., field goal percentage, rebounds, completion percentage, interceptions, etc.) and has formed his opinion first and then looked for those facts that support his preformed opinion. Additionally, he doles out condescending nicknames to players in an attempt to get laughs, but Rose did point out, and I agree, that the nicknames are not really that funny. But when Rose in the previous show came up with the nickname "Water Pistol Pete Junior" for Bayless based on Bayless's less than spectacular high school basketball career, Bayless took offense and did not appear to be able to handle it. It seemed like the classic case of a habitual bully getting punched in the mouth and not being able to handle it.
At some point as the conversation was going on, Rose was accused of implying that a person without big-time professional sports experience was incapable of truly analyzing sports. I was happy to see Rose dispute that claim, and I do not think that this was the point he was making at all. I think that his point was that if you are looking first at factual evidence (the types of statistics that I mentioned earlier), you report these facts, and then base your commentary on these facts, that's completely appropriate. However, if you are in the habit of trying to create these cutesy nicknames for players, you already have your opinions set about certain players, and then you go trolling for those facts that will support your opinions, then you should not be surprised and you should be able to take getting "punched in the face" or being called Water Pistol Pete Junior.
At some later point I might write another post dedicated completely to my feelings about Bayless, but this is all for now. (And sorry I did not have more to say about Smith's involvement in the debate because I did think that he went way overboard in his attempt to defend Bayless. But I also do think that he did have some fair points during his interchanges with Rose. Alas, though, some of my memory of the program has faded at this point.)