Embrace debate. The slogan of ESPN's First Take was visible on the screen as analyst Rob Parker decided to discuss Robert Griffin III's skin color and how he handles being black. It's just the latest example of an effective slogan gone wrong.
It's impossible to pinpoint exactly when First Take transitioned from a meaningful sports show to an endless debate driven by the desire to increase ratings by any means possible. Maybe Tim Tebow, the show's favorite topic despite rarely playing, knows the answer.
Chris Chase of USA Today provided a transcript of the discussion and summed up the major points of Parker's argument.
Rob Parker, a former Detroit News columnist, questioned the blackness of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and claimed he wasn't authentic. "Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother," Parker asked.
"I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancée. There was all this talk about he's a Republican."
The comments are barely worth discussing. Not only are they targeted at a player who's done nothing but help the Washington Redskins win games, but they are clearly made to ruffle feathers instead of promote a substantive debate.
Parker has since been suspended for an indefinite amount of time while a review of the situation is conducted, according to Josh Krulewitz of ESPN.
Update: "Following yesterday’s comments, Rob Parker has been suspended until further notice. We are conducting a full review."— Josh Krulewitz (@jksports) December 14, 2012
It's the right decision. Unfortunately, Parker is not the main problem that should be discussed by ESPN as it reviews the comments. It should be examining the entire First Take format.
There's nothing inherently wrong with debating. Actually, when done in a reasonable fashion, a good debate can accomplish a lot when it comes to educating viewers on the subject.
Over time, First Take has become less about good debates. That's what happens when ratings and trending topics become a key part of the equation.
Parker has been around sports for a long time. He could have taken part in a serious debate involving Griffin playing through an injury this week, his merits for being in the MVP conversation or basically any other football-relation discussion.
But that's not what First Take is about. Those type of basic discussions aren't going to get people riled up on Twitter or entice them to change the channel to see what's happening on ESPN2. So the topic gets pushed in a more controversial direction.
While Parker is the one in the spotlight now, the approach is the same whether it's coming from Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith or any other contributor.
The only way to set Twitter ablaze is to push the envelope. Parker's comments certainly accomplished that and, if not for the controversy that followed, would have been considered a success. He pushed the envelope too far.
Parker doesn't deserve to get off the hook for his comments—and he hasn't—but there's also an argument that at least part of the blame can shift to those in charge of First Take.
If he didn't bring an aggressive, outspoken style to the table, he wouldn't be a good fit for the show. That's why Bayless and Smith are staples. They don't mind saying outlandish things if they feel strongly about a subject.
In turn, Parker decided to go down the race road. It wasn't the right decision, but it's not hard to understand why he did it. Again, he went too far, but it produced the desired results in terms of getting people talking about the show. He was tiptoeing along the line, then fell over it.
As time goes on, the viewing audience starts to develop a resistance to the debate. So, in order to keep drawing viewers, the argument has to get taken up another notch. Then it goes up another notch. Then another one.
It's endless, at least until something like the Parker incident occurs to throw up a caution flag. Hopefully while ESPN is investigating it recognizes this trend. It's a dangerous path.
Then again, ESPN could argue it's an isolated incident and the show's success illustrates the high interest level in that type of programming. Embrace debate.