ESPN First Take's Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith Are Wrong About Name-Calling

Jacob PratherContributor IIIApril 22, 2012

Last week there was a week-long debate about name-calling among the hosts and guests of ESPN's First Take.

The debate originally began because a reporter after a Thunder game asked Kevin Durant about Skip Bayless's criticism and opinion that Russell Westbrook shoots the ball too often. The comment's implication was that Westbrook takes too many shots, sometimes costing the team wins. Durant responded, "He (Bayless) doesn't know a thing about basketball," setting off an emotional discourse among the debaters on the show.

Bayless, Stephen A. Smith and Rob Parker vehemently defended journalists and called out today's athletes as being soft and too emotional, which is ironic considering the way they debate on the show about other players.

This led to a debate between Jalen Rose and Bayless in which Rose called out Bayless about his tweet that said "FYI: I started for high school team that lost in state finals. Coach didn't like me b/c I shot too much and he wanted me to be more PG...Decided I was Maravich. Coach Disagreed."

During the debate Rose called Bayless "Water Pistol Pete, Jr." Bayless took offense to Rose’s comment, which sparked all of this debate on First Take nearly every day for at least a week.

Each segment, day after day, was being argued by Bayless. The opponents were Marcellus Wiley, Ryan Clark, Rose and Cris Carter (by phone). Each day Bayless had a running mate who was a tag team partner to help him defend the journalists on First Take who outwardly use derogatory names to demoralize players.

Jalen Rose, Stephen A. Smith, & Skip Bayless debating
Jalen Rose, Stephen A. Smith, & Skip Bayless debating

Each day the producers would pick a different journalist to assist Bayless with his argument to pair up against a single athlete to defend the position of all athletes. The second guest journalist would help Bayless defend his reasoning for why he and every other journalist (and player) who appears on the First Take should be allowed to call athletes derogatory names.

Smith has stood by his point that he believes his journalism background gives him the license to call athletes spiteful names. He claims that calling players scrubs, worthless, Jabba the Hut (Boris Diaw), and mocking players' names (Tiago Splitter, Kwame Brown, Rasho Nesterovic, etc.) is fair game.

Smith should understand that his point is a paradox of the truth. His degree should not give him free range and a license to use name-calling; it should do the opposite. His journalistic career and a journalistic background should cause him to refrain and prevent himself from using derogatory names to describe athletes.

Smith attended school at Winston-Salem State University, Bayless attended Vanderbilt University and Parker attended Southern Connecticut State University and Columbia University, where they all received degrees in journalism.

It is absolutely disturbing for journalists who are as highly educated, highly accomplished and highly skilled as Smith, Bayless and Parker to assume that because they have a degree in journalism they are somehow permitted to speak down to athletes and discredit their character.

Those who receive their degrees in journalism will fight to uphold the standards and ethics of which I believe Smith, Bayless and Parker operate outside. Most news organizations have some differences in their codes of ethics, but most share common elements, including the principles of objectivity, impartiality, fairness, public accountability, accuracy and truthfulness.

I would like to point out that, more times than not, Bayless, Smith and Parker operate outside of those codes of ethics. While what they say may be “true” in the sense it is what they believe, it is not based on fact. There are not two definitions of truth in journalism; there is only one.

Reporting facts and interpreting those facts is journalism. Name-calling with or without “facts” is childish and poor journalism. These well-accomplished journalists should name the facts, give an opinion on those facts within the framework of their report, but keep impartial to the facts.

Calling athletes names is making it personal and not staying impartial. Personal attacks lean toward a lack of professionalism and immaturity, not intelligence and superiority. 

Smith, Bayless and Parker parade their arrogance to the athletes as if all athletes want to become journalists to give an opinion. They don’t become analysts to give a false opinion. They become analysts because they want to analyze plays and teams like they are asked to do.

The First Take journalists also lose sight of the fact that bringing these athletes on their show gives the show validation and credibility. Without the athlete responding, joining the network/show, or agreeing or disagreeing with Bayless, Smith and Parker, like they constantly ask the players to do, the show has no “WOW” factor. Nor do the journalists have any point of reference when speaking on specific topics.

(From left to right) Stephen A. Smith, Jay Crawford, and Skip Bayless
(From left to right) Stephen A. Smith, Jay Crawford, and Skip Bayless

The lack of acknowledgement from the journalists on the panel points to a larger problem within the media, particularly ESPN’s First Take, Sports Center, etc. The larger problem within the media is the blurred line between their professions which leads to most journalists losing sight of their own integrity to be the face of a show on ESPN2.

I believe Bayless said it best during the argument with Rose, “This is the entertainment business. We are here to entertain.” This exposes the real goal of First Take, Bayless, Smith and Parker, which is extending their hand to entertain and to gain Bayless recognition (Emmy Nomination) not informing an intended audience.

They have all become enamored with being a star like the athletes they critique. They have become too blinded by their own accomplishments, awards and rewards to think critically with reason. 

Bayless's quote simply counterattacks Smith’s point of having a journalistic background. If these accomplished journalists are going to lean on their journalism background while also leaning on the notion that they are in the entertainment business, there is no beating their argument.

They have protected themselves on each side of the argument by claiming one or the other when beaten into a corner.

Their credentials of being a journalist are meaningless when arguing the side of entertainment. The idea of journalism's sole purpose should not be to entertain the audience. Its main focus should be to inform the intended audience, and if it does entertain the audience, then so be it.

But, the journalists on that show and ESPN as a whole cannot have it both ways. Either they should care about entertaining or they should care about being a journalist. Entertainment and journalism rarely coexist, and when they do, it usually doesn't bode well for one of the two.

So, while I do love the show First Take because I love hearing the opinions of those on the show, I would like them to keep sight of what their profession entails and to not operate outside of those parameters. Remember Bayless, Smith and Parker, it is a give-and-take relationship between athletes and journalists. Operating outside of that bubble is essentially biting the hand that feeds you.


    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

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    Iconic Sports Illustrated Writer Deford Dies at Age 78

    Tyler Conway
    via Bleacher Report