Sports

Why Is Skip Bayless So Afraid To Break From His Same Tired Script?

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Skip Bayless is a creature of habit. He’s a no-nonsense, award-winning journalist who sacrificed family for career, and he believes every word that he shouts on his television shows. He’s awake at the wee hours of the morning to get to work on the day’s talking points, and he studies more game film than most athletes. He cannot and will not make a mistake in his analysis, and he will never, ever lose a debate, because he is the most prepared man in his business. Viewers and athletes may not like him, but at the end of the day they respect him, because he is always right and never misrepresents his true beliefs for the sake of entertainment.

At least that’s what every profile ever written about Bayless would have us believe.

The latest attempt to get inside the mind of the well-paid 65-year-old host of Undisputed comes to us from Complex, and it’s an interesting read. The problem is Bayless is just recycling the same stories he tells every publication, almost as if the fearless king of Sports Shouting is afraid of anything that isn’t scripted or prepared hours in advance.

A man with a daily platform for spewing his opinions, Bayless never seems like he is itching to tell all. Thus, his interviews have always been sparse and seemingly hand-picked, as if he considers it an honor for a reporter to ask him about his daily routine. It also seems like the PR strategy of a man who wants to tell the same story, while avoiding real questions about his controversies or, plainly, the dumb things he says and does. He calls himself a lightning rod, sure, but he never engages the bolts.

Instead, the man who once considered becoming a preacher delivers the same sermon in each new profile.

He’s a Man of Character

“It’s not an act,” Mr. Bayless insisted. “It’s not a character. It’s the real me. I’m not a shock jock. I never ambush anybody. I just speak my mind and my heart and my soul.” (The Observer, 2012)

In my 12 years on ESPN and my going on three weeks here on Fox Sports 1, I have never ever contrived one debate. Anybody who has ever known me or been to our morning meetings will know that when I walk in the door at 4 am LA time as I did this morning, my opinions are in concrete. (Recode, 2016)

“I just speak from my heart; I just get to truth telling,” says Bayless. “And I have consistently been correct on all these outrageous takes.” (Complex, 2017)

So what is real? That’s the question that seems to dog Bayless. He swears, “from the bottom of my soul and my heart,” that he’s not playing a character and he’s not arguing for the sake of arguing. “That would be against my constitution, against my religion, against who I am,” he says. (Washington Post, 2013)

It’s 1,000 percent authentic. It’s as legit as legit can get. It’s the realest sports TV on TV because it is completely unscripted. And remember, I’m working with one of the loosest cannons in the history of cannons, and I have no idea where he’s going to go because sometimes he has no idea where he’s going to go. That’s as real as it gets. (Sherman Report, 2014)

“I say what I say because I believe it from the bottom of my soul and I can back it up. Now I feel like I can be completely honest, heart-and-soul, with full support from the people above me.” (THR, 2016)

For someone who swears he’s a man of character, who would never misrepresent himself on television, Bayless seems obligated to reinforce this idea in every interview.

But if he’s so authentic, why the hell is he (allegedly) posting comments on his Facebook page to make it look like one more random stranger thinks he’s “the man”? Instead of telling us all about his humble beginnings for at least the seventh time in five years, why doesn’t he address the mistake or simply blame it on an intern? Because any press is good press, sure, but also because he’s too busy taking notes to care what his haters think.

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His Unparalleled Work Ethic

At breakfast, ignored by his hungover dad, he’d crib the sports section of ‘The Oklahoman,’ fold it just so on the floor of his kitchen, and commit the Cardinals’ box score to memory. The names and stat lines, the stories on those pages – those became the bible of an avid mind, much the way church offered refuge to a boy who never felt safe at home. (Men’s Journal, 2012)

As hard as I can do it, day after day, and I’m going to try to be relentlessly great at it. I know I don’t live up to that but I’m going to give it that kind of — it sounds cliched — but it’s like crazed dedication. And anybody who knows me will tell you I am a psycho about this, but I think I’m a good psycho. I think I’m like a good-hearted psycho, but I’m crazy. And I’m the first to tell you I’m crazy. I live for this. I’m obsessed with it. (Recode, 2016)

Bayless, on the other hand, starts the previous evening and brings a stack of notes to the set. “The debate is often won the night before, beginning with the 6 p.m. SportsCenter,” he says. “After that I watch the games and comb box scores for stats, and get up at 5 a.m. and watch a loop of the 2 a.m. SportsCenter.” (Men’s Journal, 2012)

“Live TV is physically grueling,” he says. “I’m concentrating very hard to recall numbers, dates and events to bolster my argument and win a debate. Every eight to 10 minutes, a new sport or topic is thrown at me.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)

I live for this stuff, and I watch games a little differently, maybe, than other people do, because I’m constantly asking myself why did that happen, what’s really going on here. (Sherman Report, 2014)

His days really start at 6 p.m., he explained, when he watches SportsCenter. He’ll then devour games until about 1 a.m., all the while scouring the Internet for bits of data that he can employ in the next day’s debates. Upon waking at 5 a.m., he logs onto Twitter. (The Observer, 2012)

“This audience is watching the games, so you had better [watch too], or you will get exposed,” he says. Before he heads to bed he knows what he’s going to say on the show. The alarm goes off at 2 a.m. and he’s on the treadmill or bike by 2:30, watching highlights and solidifying his takes. By the time he walks into the 4 a.m. meeting, he knows how he’s going to attack Sharpe. The next two hours are spent finding “second- and third-level statistics”—jewels like a quarterback’s fourth quarter performance from two seasons ago—that bolster his takes, loosely jotted down on blank sheets of computer paper. (Complex, 2017)

I’ve done all my prep, I’ve gotten all my ammo in a row on each of the debates that we might do. We’re not sure until 4 am because we’re ready for anything that might have broken or we have different ways to go. But generally I know 80 percent when I go to sleep for my four hours, that we’re going to do maybe two thirds of what I have on my sheets. And I start with the 6 o’clock ESPN sports center making notes and basically they rely on me to produce the show. I’m going to bring the topics, I’ll call them into the producer late at night and he’ll put them up on the board, and then today we kind of rejiggered everything at 4 o’clock. But my point is, my opinions don’t ever change when I walk in. (Recode, 2016)

I love it and I live for it, and I still leap out of bed at 5:30 every morning, but this is a rough one because if you’re doing live, unscripted debate for two full hours five days a week, 50 weeks a year, the preparation for it can be overwhelming, because within the confines of any given debate, it might go places that you’re not expecting or predicting or preparing for, so you have to prepare for every possibility. If he goes here, I could go there. Or what if he brings this up? And you just have to constantly look up, look up, look up, and I feel like I’m back in college cramming for exams. I cram for an exam every night. (Sherman Report, 2014)

He takes his job seriously. Very seriously. That’s great. Truly admirable. Even better, as he explained in several Undisputed promotional interviews in 2016, he is now free from the Disney handcuffs. He doesn’t have to think about what he’s going to say and bite his tongue because it might be too edgy and controversial. That kind of “freedom” is possibly the reason why his show’s ratings are getting better.

But if he’s allowed to talk so openly now, why doesn’t he do so away from the camera? After all, he just joined a network that employs Jason Whitlock, who previously criticized Bayless for “race-baiting,” and “The Alpha Bro” Clay Travis, who has openly bashed Bayless on Twitter. Even Katie Nolan has been a harsh critic of Bayless’s supposed journalism. Bayless will talk about his feuds with Richard Sherman, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, among others, but he won’t address his own coworkers? Either he hasn’t been asked about them, or it goes back to his fearlessness.

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He Wasn’t Afraid of Anyone from Day One

A high school English teacher pushed him into journalism, and Mr. Bayless took to it, casting himself as a provocateur from the outset. In one of his first columns for the school paper, he trashed the baseball team’s manager (never mind the fact that Mr. Bayless was the team’s starting catcher). (The Observer, 2012)

… he was playing for a coach who happened to be a lot like his father, “demeaning and abrasive because he could be.” In the spring of that year, Bayless decided to strike a blow at one of the overbearing men in his life. Just before his last game, he published a detailed takedown of the coach, a man named Winston Havenstrite, and his “tyranny.” (Men’s Journal, 2012)

And he later told a friend of mine that if he ever saw me again he was going to quote-unquote “kill me.” So that was the first taste of what I’m made of, what I’m all about. (Recode, 2016)

Have you heard this story? Bayless tells it well in every profile. After he finally stood up to his abusive, alcoholic dad, Bayless established his path in sports journalism by writing a scathing takedown of his high school baseball coach. He won a scholarship and attended Vanderbilt, and the rest is history. He was fearless then and fearless now, which is why he’s never been afraid to stand up to the people who didn’t read his book, Hell-Bent, in which he totally didn’t call Troy Aikman gay.

Did You Even Read the Book?

“I obliterated the Dallas Morning News reporters from start to finish on that story. If you read the book, you will conclude that Switzer is a maniac and Troy is the hero. I’m very proud of that book.” Nobody who actually read it, he insisted, “would conclude Troy was bisexual or gay.” (The Observer, 2012)

You now work at the network that Troy Aikman works at. Have you guys talked?

Have you read that book?

No, I’ve read the summary of the book.

Okay. If you will read that book, I will talk to you on the air about it.

Sure. I read Brian Curtis’ piece, which was good.

You should read the book and then we’ll have this discussion because I’ve been dumbfounded by the reactions to it from the start. It’s been as misinterpreted a book as ever has been written.

So my only question is, have you talked to Troy Aikman and what’s going to happen when you see him?

I’ll talk to you about it if you’ll read the book. I’ll tell you everything. (Recode, 2016)

If the people lucky enough to be granted access to Bayless have pressed about anything, it’s usually his long-running feud with the legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback. Sometimes they’ll ask about Richard Sherman, and obviously they ask about his pride in becoming famous for attacking LeBron James, but the Aikman story never dies, because Aikman wants to physically harm Bayless. Now, they work at the same network. Funny how many people who previously hated Bayless now call him a coworker, and yet he’ll only (kind of) talk about the famous athlete.

Bayless is correct, though. He never called Aikman gay. Instead, he gave Barry Switzer and his “camp” a platform for calling Aikman gay. In Hell-Bent, Bayless simply explained how he never knew, as a journalist, how to handle sensitive information and allegations. Switzer’s anonymous camp challenged Bayless and other reporters to “tell the truth” about Aikman. Bayless wouldn’t, and so he certainly never called Aikman gay in his book. If you ask him, he’s a hero.

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His Personal Sacrifice

Every woman I have been with has known my career was first. My current knows that my career came first, and she was the first one who’s been good with that, which is why we’re so good together. But my career is my life and my passion. It’s not a job, it’s just my life. (Sherman Report, 2014)

They met seven years ago at ESPN and on their first date, he informed her that he is married to his job. (The Observer, 2012)

“My wife and I have date-night Fridays. She understands my mania, so she came to the gym with me and waited while I lifted for an hour. I didn’t realize the gym closed at 9 p.m. and I had one more set of leg lifts left, but the staff kicked me out before I could finish. My wife had to prevent me from getting in a quarrel.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)

“No regrets,” he says. “This is my calling. I was born to do this.” (Washington Post, 2013)

How serious is Bayless about his job? He will never have a child because he has made this business his passion. Winning every debate, he told his wife, is a bigger priority than his marriage, and by Bayless’s accounts, it seems to be working fine. We definitely cannot fault him for being open and honest about his intentions.

So, who the hell is Bayless to tell Stephen Curry how to handle his daughter? Why does the father of none think that his opinion on Riley Curry attending a postgame press conference matters? Because it’s a hot talking point and he needs to address it, obviously, but if he can’t put himself in Curry’s shoes, then shouldn’t he pass on this subject? That’s rather inauthentic. It’s a shame no one has asked that question. Everyone is too impressed with his physique.

Did We Mention He’s in Great Shape?

Out of his on-air uniform – the hand-stitched and double-starched shirts – he is ferociously fit for a man his age, as obdurate about the body he’s spent 30 years building as he is on the subject of Tebow’s glory. (Men’s Journal, 2012)

“I always feel a sense of satisfaction when the current and former athletes on the show are impressed by my fitness,” he says. He did once make the mistake of racing NFL kicker Jay Feely for 40 yards. “Feely beat me pretty easily, by about 5 yards,” Mr. Bayless says. “I immediately asked him to race me 5 miles the next day, and he said no way. When it comes to distance running I know I have an edge.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)

He then runs on a treadmill for an hour before getting into ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut, office at around 7. After the show, he often lifts weights. “I’m pretty ripped,” he said confidently. “The pressure of the show drains me. It’s why I work out so hard. It’s why I’m jacked. I have to be to stand up to the beating of it.” (The Observer, 2012)

“My colleagues think I’m crazy but my motto is, never miss a day,” he says. “If we’re taping in L.A., I’ll get up at 2 a.m. to go run. If I’m on the road and the hotel doesn’t have a gym, I’ll find a 24-hour gym,” he says. “I don’t know how to exist without my workouts.” (Wall Street Journal, 2015)

The gym’s a sanctuary for Bayless—you’ll find him there at least three days a week lifting weights, sculpting a physique guys half his age would die for. His competitiveness, stemming from slights suffered at the hands of coaches while playing high school baseball and basketball, has driven him professionally and personally. He says he’s down to 7.3 percent body fat and, despite multiple knee surgeries, maintains a no-days-off policy. Bayless claims he hasn’t missed a cardio session since May 3, 1998. (Complex, 2017)

… the physical aids the mental. You need to physically be able to stand up like right now. I just finished a show and not to gross you out, get too graphic, but I got a t-shirt on underneath and it’s soaking wet and it’s soaked down all the way to the top of my underwear because I’m so focused, I’m fighting so hard. We had this Tom Brady battle to start off with and we had a Tim Tebow battle and we had a couple in between that I’m forgetting about, a Floyd Mayweather battle. I am fighting for my life because you can get exposed and humiliated like that on TV. (Recode, 2016)

It’s fun to think that Bayless was inspired to stay in such good shape because of the times he’s been threatened. There’s always the Aikman elephant, obviously, and former Chiefs RB Larry Johnson once asked him to step outside. Woody Paige told a story about going after Bayless on set like they were hockey players, all because Bayless claimed he’s had sex more than Paige (very authentic!). Hell, Charles Barkley wants to straight up kill the dude, which is probably the most interesting thing about Bayless, and yet he doesn’t talk about it.

Have reporters ever brought that up? Terrell Suggs once called Bayless a “douchebag,” but they’re buddies now. Why hasn’t Bayless made amends with the Round Mound of throwing people through windows? At the very least, he could address the 1.4 joke that his Twitter followers bring up daily, but that would go against his vow to ignore the haters. He simply must focus on winning.

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He Never Loses, According to Him

But sitting in his chair on the set of his show Undisputed, the 65-year-old believes everything he’s about to say and is supremely confident he has “never lost a debate.” (Complex, 2017)

I can’t teach it, I can’t coach it, I can’t create it. It’s just who I am. And so I’m going to go in there every day, I’m relentless, I wear people out that I debate against. I wore out Stephen A. a lot of days and he’d say, “Would you just please calm down and back off,” because segment after segment after hour after hour, that’s all I pride myself on is I’m going to bring it as hard as I can bring it. And remember, I am trying to win every debate. There’s no tricking them up, there’s no contriving them, I just want to win! (Recode, 2016)

Childless, divorced, and void of outside interests, Bayless’ one passion is protecting his record in debates. “I’ve never lost an argument and don’t intend to start, though I’d be happy if our audience thinks Stephen won a day’s debate.” (Men’s Journal, 2012)

“I love the matchup with Shannon, [him] having played the game at an extremely high level versus my NFL expertise,” Bayless said. “I live to win these debates and he’ll be a formidable foe.” (L.A. Times, 2016)

They don’t debate in the conference room. “I will not show my cards,” Bayless says. “I don’t want to lose the debate in the meeting.” (Washington Post, 2013)

The truth is I do win every debate… I have never lost a debate… In my mind. (Sherman Report, 2014)

“When I walk off the set, you could wring out my T-shirt and the top of my underwear. I’m sopping with sweat,” Mr. Bayless, 63, says. Known for relentlessly defending his opinions on the show, he admits he likes to be right. “I want to win every debate and I think I do,” he says. (Wall Street Journal, 2015)

I believe it with all my heart and soul, to a fault. I am as stubborn as they come, they all laugh at me. But to heck with all of them because it’s who I am and what I believe. I win the debates, I always say at night. (Recode, 2016)

How do you win every debate? By saying you win every debate. This is the worst part of every Bayless profile, but he makes sure that it’s in there for his nonexistent stats. No matter what happens, even when he’s flat out wrong, he wins. He wears headphones in public so people won’t argue with him, even though he’s not listening to music, and when it comes to guys like Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, a regular critic of Bayless’s trolling, Bayless claims he doesn’t know him. Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo taking shots at Bayless on his way out of Bristol? They’re “threatened” by FS1.

As he told Complex, he’s “driven” by the people who continually insult and question him, even though he doesn’t pay attention to the haters. All he cares about is continuing his mission from God, and forcing everyone to have opinions about his predetermined topics. Even if we’re all wrong and he’s always right.

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