One might expect Bill Simmons to come out swinging at ESPN after a messy divorce with the network… but Skip Bayless?  That’s a much bigger surprise.

While Simmons’ tenure at ESPN was marked with controversy, suspensions, and rocky relationships with management, Bayless’ tenure saw him get nothing but support publicly from ESPN executives.  That support came in spite of the fact that First Take was named one of the worst shows in television and Bayless did everything from lie about his high school basketball career to getting in petty fights with athletes.

And yet, in a feature piece with the LA Times, Bayless throws a little dirt on the folks at Bristol by saying he felt a lack of support at ESPN.  And he promises that we’ll see the full Skip Bayless experience on his new FS1 show Undisputed with Shannon Sharpe.  (I would come up with a witty alternative name for it, but the only obvious choice here was already taken by Deadspin, Second Take.)

Via the Times:

“ESPN, being owned by Walt Disney … I just felt a pressure of the last five-six years that I never quite fit,” Bayless said. “I felt like I gave about 75% into our debate. Disney is Mickey and Minnie. Fox is ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy.’ A different culture.

“I think Jamie will allow me to go deeper into my arguments, he’ll be behind me and he’ll ignore what I thought was irrelevant criticism from basically just blogger-critics that ESPN seemed to live by.

“I never could quite understand that. So I often felt on an island, unsupported, and that’s why I wanted to reunite with Jamie – feeling that would be a great new frontier for me.”

And if that’s not enough, Bayless continued the PR tour with The Wrap and said that ESPN almost canceled First Take in the wake of his very public feud with Richard Sherman in 2013:

“But the truth was, I never quite fit on a Disney-owned network. And it’s not that I was ever a shock jock — I just like to go a little deeper in my arguments than [ESPN] was comfortable with,” he continued. “I like to take on athletes who have issues with me.”


“That was the time that I thought ESPN should have supported me,” Bayless told us. “Our show took a big hit over it to the point that there was some discussion upstairs of pulling the plug on ‘First Take.’”

If only… if only…

These comments about Bayless feeling unsupported at ESPN and First Take nearing the chopping block, seem very perplexing for several reasons:

– Bayless was offered a multi-million dollar contract to stay at ESPN, but got outbid by FS1 because of their need to be the epicenter of the hot sports take universe.
Bayless has been defended many times on the record by ESPN execs against tidal wave after tidal wave of criticism
– On the flip side, an ESPN employee who dared to criticize First Take risked being suspended.
– The only time First Take really got any kind of public reprimand from ESPN was in 2012 when ESPN mandated the show get “enhanced editorial oversight” after the Rob Parker fiasco, not anything Bayless did.
ESPN remade First Take into a show entirely centered around Bayless’ polarizing character.

I never really saw much evidence that ESPN was giving in to “irrelevant criticism” from “blogger-critics” (hi-ya Skip!), at least with regards to First Take.  ESPN has made a lot of positive changes in some other areas of their broadcasting in the last couple years – more diverse on-air talent and clearer attribution standards for starters – but First Take has always been that sore thumb that sticks out.  It’s just a little bit strange for Bayless to go negative against ESPN after leaving the network when Bristol seemingly bent over backwards for him, and sacrificed a lot of negative PR at his expense, over the last several years.  Perhaps it’s all in the name of trying to drum up a rivalry between First Take and Second Take, but odds are from the get go that Skip will start well behind his former show in the ratings.

Given the reality of Bayless’ ESPN tenure and the promise of bigger, stronger, hotter takes… just how much will he run amok at FS1?  If Horowitz really gives Bayless carte blanche (as we’ve seen with FS1’s other bombastic personalities) then anything might be possible.  Can the sports world, and the universe as a whole, handle a Skip Bayless that gives 100%, or will we all collapse into dark matter because the takes are just too hot to handle?  I guess we’ll get to find out together one way or another.

[LA Times / The Wrap]

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