Welcome to another edition of This Week In Hot Takes! Here’s a look at the hottest sports media takes from Sept. 15-21. 

5. Will Cain rips Kyrie Irving: It’s always nice when the ESPN echo chamber can feed in on itself, and that’s exactly what they did this week, with Cain going on First Take Tuesday to rip the comments Irving made on the show Monday. If you want six minutes of video of that (some of it involves Max Kellerman weighing in too), here it is:

Some highlights: “It’s my job to tell the truth. And the fact of the matter is, the truth of the matter is, that Kyrie Irving yesterday brought out a wheelbarrow full of BS, took out a shovel, threw it on this table and expected you three to eat it up with a smile. He condescendingly looked at all of you, especially you, Max, and suggested somehow, he’s above question.”

“What we do is analyze, sometimes criticize, and do our best to understand a pseudo-philosophical cryptic dodging demeanor that he brought out here to evade every single tough question. Set aside that he apparently considers himself some kind of philosopher king that can weave word salads around every question you guys asked, he contradicted himself within a matter of multiple questions.”

Calling Irving out for question evasion is fair (but did this really need to be a First Take segment, especially from someone who wasn’t involved in the initial interview?), but the rhetoric Cain uses here is cranked up to 11, as are the scatological references. If there’s anyone who considers himself some sort of philosopher king, it would appear to be Cain. He certainly rode a pretty high horse into this one.

Rating: ??

4. Phil Mushnick plays the hits: New York Post columnist and supposed media critic Phil Mushnick has become famous for repeatedly trotting out certain kinds of takes on games starting too late, broadcasters “glorifying” celebrations, foreign players being undeserving of NCAA scholarships, and Mike Francesa and ESPN being worthy of constant criticism. Mushnick cranked out three columns this week and managed to hit all of those notes, and not in any particularly new, interesting or original ways; these could have been written by a Mushnick predictive text generator. It’s the double album of Mushnick’s greatest hits, or more accurately, his set at the county fair thirty years after his prime. Here are a few lowlights; first, late starts.

Consider that TV money, Monday night, will give locals a chance to start 0-2 — not seeing the end of the season’s first two Giants’ games as they begin and end too late. Yet Roger “Good Investments” Goodell boasts he’s a consumer altruist, “It’s all about our fans.”

Yes, Monday Night Football runs too late. That’s the whole point of prime time, obviously, carefully orchestrated so no one will watch it. Well, at least not those with Mushnick’s bedtimes. How about celebrations?

In the first quarter, Buffalo running back Mike Tolbert hit a hole then ran for a first down. It was worth seeing again. But the replay CBS chose to show — and in slow-motion, for emphasis — was Tolbert’s post-play demonstrations of excessive self-regard, his me-dancing.

What was the point? Where was the upside? At a time when youth sports leagues are losing qualified refs and umpires because they no longer will suffer the uncivilized behavior of self-absorbed parents, coaches and kids, why is TV so eager to keep churning out more young creeps?

Maybe Mushnick will join Piers Morgan and Jason Whitlock in criticizing rap music next. How about foreigners?

Winning at all costs: The state-funded University of Delaware was proud to report it won two women’s field hockey games last weekend, led by Greta Nauck, from Germany, and Femke Strien, one of six delaware players from The Netherlands. Guess no Delaware kids were in need of their scholarships.

Or Francesa?

Francesa: This week, in a maudlin imitation of both Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper as the one man in Tombstone to turn to, the last-chance bastion of altruism, kindness and self-sacrifice, Francesa volunteered to The Post that he volunteered to ride in — or have his driver, Julio, drive him — to save CBS Radio from ruin, thus he may delay his December departure and first-ballot Sainthood.

Francesa: “The only thing I said [to management] is that I would not turn my back on the company if I thought it was in trouble.”

Thus the future of CBS Radio awaits Francesa’s decision as to whether he’ll dam the flood, rescue the low-landers, save the crops and the cattle. “Aw, shucks, if they need me to keep the town from collapsin’, I reckon I might stick around a spell longer.”

Or ESPN, this time for daring to show a highlight of a boxer being punched in the groin by his opponent’s kid during a weigh-in?

We shouldn’t be surprised, but ESPN’s “SportsCenter” included that delightful highlight within “Friday Funnies.” Without anchors Linda Cohn and Stan Verrett explaining why it was funny, they told us it is.

You can’t shame the shameless. That’s TV. And our kids and our sports continue to reap the damage.

The real damage is from reading too many Mushnick columns. Play “Free Bird,” Phil.

Rating: ???

3. Charles Barkley, Rob Parker, Kristine Leahy and Colin Cowherd rip “coddled” NBA players: We’ve seen plenty of hot takes on NBA teams resting stars before, and we got a new batch this week thanks to the reports of NBA commissioner Adam Silver trying to reduce the practice (especially for nationally-televised games). That led to Barkley ripping the league’s “poor babies” and Cowherd and Parker building off that. First, Barkley:

Parker (accurately described as a “FS1 instigator” here):

And Cowherd and Leahy:

Criticizing the current resting practices is one thing, but the way that all these personalities do it is incredibly hot-takey. There’s little discussion of the goal (avoiding injuries and keeping players fresh for crucial playoff games), and lots of “they’re spoiled!” And that’s more hot take than actual analysis.

Rating: ???? for all.

2. Skip Bayless, Shannon Sharpe, Michael Powell and Maggie Gray all toss steroid speculation out there without evidence: It’s rare to find the same hot take on Undisputed, in a New York Times column, and in a Sports Illustrated video, but that’s what we got this week thanks to MLB’s all-time single-season total home run record being broken (funnily enough, by struggling Royals’ left fielder Alex Gordon). This season has seen a lot of players reach high home run totals while otherwise struggling, like the Rangers’ Rougned Odor, but there are logical and scientific explanations for that, especially when it comes to juiced balls and the emphasis on HR-or-nothing strategies (high launch angles and high strikeout tolerance). But, in the famed “gotta ask the question” tradition, that’s instead led to a whole lot of sports media people bringing up steroid use without any evidence. First, Sharpe and Bayless on FS1’s Undisputed:

Sharpe: “Something’s juiced, the ball, the players, because how are you hitting more home runs in an allegedly steroid-free era than they hit in the steroid era? It was like, and this is what people couldn’t understand about Lance Armstrong, how is the only clean athlete beating all the athletes that cheated? …Something ain’t right. Something in the milk ain’t clean, Joy.”

Bayless: “I’m with you. I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced and I’m pretty sure the players have figured out new ways to beat the system.”

Let’s go over to SI’s Gray:

“I look to a couple different things for why this record could be broken this year. One has got to be obvious. If it harkens back to the steroid era, then maybe guys are juicing again in a different way.”

How about the TimesPowell?

But this explosion of home runs is suspicion-inducing. In ancient times, which is to say the 2014 season, 11 players hit 30 or more home runs. This season, 32 players are projected to clear the 30-home run mark. In 2014, a scrappy bunch of Kansas City Royals battled into the World Series. They had just three players who broke into double figures with home runs.

This year, the Royals are a less formidable team, and they have four players with at least 20 home runs; the team leader has already hit 37. Eight Yankees have hit more than 10 home runs, and two have smacked more than 30. The broken-down Mets have 10 players in double figures this year.

Many point to physics, as though baseball were suddenly thick with budding Albert Einsteins. Batters and coaches have discovered launch angles, which is to say the upper cut, and concentrate on pulling the ball. As if it never occurred to earlier generations of stars — Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Ted Williams and Willie Stargell — to take an upper cut? As for pulling the ball, McCovey Cove in San Francisco is so named because Willie McCovey, that old long-ball hitter, poled home run after home run straight down the line and over right-field fences.

…It is at least plausible baseball has traveled this route. The early users shot and ingested, and records fell. Then the sport’s greatest stars began to use, and like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun. Barry Bonds, who was directly linked to a doping scandal, slammed 73 home runs in 2001, breaking McGwire’s record from 1998.

That ostentatious display arguably led to the exposure of the steroid era. If players are using now, they are likely to be doing so more discreetly.

I confess I’m no fan of these home run effusions, whether driven by steroid or technique. It’s a dullard’s game, strikeouts, power and little else. If we’re to live in this era of massive power, however, let’s at least seek an honest reckoning.

All of these takes focus on something that could be out there (undetectable steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs) without providing evidence, and ignore or downplay the mountains of evidence about a ball that consistently flies farther and higher launch angles and strikeout tolerance. Are there some players using PEDs? Sure. And it’s probable that some aren’t caught. But citing that as a reason for this home run rise without evidence while downplaying the amount of evidence for other explanations feels like a hot take. Maybe this will be proven wrong, and a majority of home run hitters in today’s game will eventually have been found to be using PEDs. But arguing that at the moment feels like more hot take than logic, and it’s disregarding Occam’s razor. ESPN’s Keith Law pointed that out nicely:


Rating: ???? for all.

1. John Middlekauff mocks Eddie Lacy’s weight, says “it’s called discipline and portion control,” disregards eating disorders:  The hottest take of the week comes from Middlekauff, a former Bay Area radio guy who now has a podcast and contributes to NBC Sports Bay Area and The Athletic SF. In the wake of an excellent Kevin Van Valkenburg piece talking to Seahawks’ running back Eddie Lacy about the weight-based trolling he receives, part of the larger problematic conversation around athletes and weight, Middlekauff decided to weigh in on Twitter, saying that keeping weight off is easy and implying that eating disorders aren’t a thing.

He then doubled down in response to the many angry criticisms he got, saying he was only talking about Lacy, but still throwing out some odd statements about people and food:

That’s not a great look for Middlekauff here. Saying that Lacy is more heavy than optimal is one thing (but as Van Valkenburg’s piece shows, even that’s far from a clear conclusion), but this kind of trolling towards Lacy with insults and suggestions that losing weight is easy is something to be expected from egg avatars rather than people actually paid for their opinion, and his reaction to Twitter criticism is perhaps even worse. But hey, he can throw out whatever hot takes he wants. This kind of stuff doesn’t help anyone take him seriously as an analyst, though, and that’s not great for someone you’re supposed to want to pay to read.

Rating: ?????

Notable absences: Stephen A. Smith.

Hot Take Standings: 

Stephen A. Smith – 128
Skip Bayless – 105
Phil Mushnick – 75
Colin Cowherd – 34
Shannon Sharpe – 30
Rob Parker – 21
Doug Gottlieb – 18
Charles Barkley – 17
JT The Brick – 17
Albert Breer – 16
Ray Lewis – 14
Rick Morrissey – 13
Don Cherry – 11
Kristine Leahy – 10
Chris Broussard – 10
C.J. Nitkowski – 9
Bill Plaschke – 9
Tony Massarotti – 8
Jason McIntyre – 8
Bart Hubbuch – 8
Dan Dakich – 7
Michael DeCourcy – 6
Luke Kerr-Dineen – 6
Terry Bradshaw – 6
Greg A. Bedard – 6
John Middlekauff-  5
Garth Crooks – 5
Bill Plaschke – 5
Ameer Hasan Loggins – 5
Jesse Watters – 5
Jeremy Roenick – 5
John McGrath – 5
Ross Tucker  – 5
Mike Sielski – 5
Gordon Monson – 5
Scott Fowler – 5
Bob Brookover – 5
Berry Tramel – 5
Mike Bianchi – 5
Terry Frei – 5
David Jones – 5
Sabrina Parr – 5
Abbey Mastracco – 5
Terry Cushman – 5
Rob Rossi – 5
Rick Bozich – 5
Michael O’Doherty – 5
Simon Briggs – 5
Dan Wetzel – 5
Mike Parry – 5
Bob Ryan – 5
Robert Reed – 5
Pete Dougherty – 5
Dan Le Batard – 5
Marcus Hayes – 5
Kyle Turley – 5
Mike Ditka – 5
Erril Laborde – 5
Lowell Cohn – 5
Rosie DiManno – 5
Frank Isola – 5
Maggie Gray  – 4
Michael Powell – 4
Mark Spector – 4
Chad Forbes – 4
Gary Myers – 4
Mark Schlereth – 4
Andy Gray – 4
David Fleming – 4
The Sporting News – 4
Jeff Pearlman – 4
Tony Grossi – 4
FanSided – 4
Cris Carter – 4
Kirk Herbstreit – 4
Tony Kornheiser – 4
Mike Felger – 4
USA Today op-eds – 4
Nathan Ruiz – 4
Matt Burke – 3
Michael Rapaport – 3
Malcolm Gladwell – 3
Mike Milbury – 3
Mac Engel – 3
Nick Kypreos – 3
Jason Smith – 3
Caron Butler – 3
Don Brennan – 3
Robert Tychkowski – 3
Mike Johnston – 3
Mike Francesa – 3
Jeff Mans – 3
Danny Kanell – 3
Joe Browne – 3
Mike Harrington – 3
Greg Mitchell – 3
Will Cain – 2
Bill Cowher – 2
Paul Finebaum – 2
Charley Casserly – 2
Amin Elhassan – 2
Jim Henneman – 2
Mitch Lawrence – 2
Nick Wright – 2
Domonique Foxworth – 2
Gary Parrish – 2
Michael Farber – 2
Andy Furman – 2
Donovan McNabb – 2
Seth Davis – 2
Jon Heyman – 2
Jason La Canfora – 2
Dan Wolken – 2
Booger McFarland – 2
Joe Schad – 2
Cork Gaines – 2

Thanks for reading! Tune in next week for more This Week In Hot Takes. As always, you can send submissions to me via e-mail or on Twitter.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.