Sunday, October 26, 2014

0 comments Skip Bayless Should Be Suspended If Bill Simmons Got Suspended...But Of Course He Won't Be

I wrote this post a few weeks back about Bill Simmons and his attempt to get suspended by inserting himself into the conversation about Roger Goodell. As everyone probably knows already, he called Goodell a "liar" and opened up both barrels on Goodell (in my opinion) partially to gain attention. It worked and Simmons was suspended for three weeks by ESPN. Bill Simmons, as anyone who reads this blog regularly or semi-regularly knows, annoys the shit out of me. He's so full of himself and I think he displays immature qualities when staring at the prospect of being wrong. It's well-documented he doesn't like to be edited, in his columns when something is wrong he says "we" are wrong due to the fact he can't face the prospect of being wrong, and he enjoys the idea of being the ESPN rebel while staying safely in the cocoon of ESPN when taking risks. It's not a knock against him, just my point of view. It's easy to say you like to take risks when you have the golden parachute of ESPN backing your risks. Still, he has vision and is probably the type of employee ESPN wants, even if Bill doesn't always claim ESPN is the type of employer he wants.

This post isn't really about Bill Simmons though. It's about Skip Bayless. While being about Skip Bayless, it's also about Bill Simmons and his being suspended for spouting his opinion in a loud fashion. While Bill Simmons annoys the shit out of me, I think Skip Bayless is dangerous. His opinions aren't dangerous necessarily on their own, but the type of discourse and reasoning Skip Bayless tends to use in voicing his opinions is dangerous. The protection Skip receives from ESPN is dangerous. He favors attention over anything else and he has the backing of ESPN through all of this. The problem with getting attention is the process through which Bayless gains attention. He lies on air and an environment is created where he and Stephen A. Smith are encouraged to toe the line of decency and common sense, then receive a pat on the back if they accidentally step over it once in a while.

The reason Skip Bayless is dangerous is that he has ESPN's backing when he makes bold statements that gain negative attention, while Bill Simmons and others (it's just not about Bill, but Scott Van Pelt, Dana Jacobson, Rob Parker, Lou Holtz, and Jemele Hill as well) are suspended/fired when they go even slightly over the line of what is considered decency. They made dumb comments, but they paid a price for it. Skip Bayless makes dumb comments, but he only seems to be furthered encouraged by ESPN and never has been suspended for lying on the air or any of his other nonsensical comments. It gives the appearance ESPN supports his position. While ESPN is glad to punish others for stepping over the line of decency, they not only refuse to suspend Bayless for any comments/lies he's stated during his career at ESPN, but as you can see in that Richard Deitsch interview, he is encouraged to be controversial. The story during Bill Simmons' suspension was that others in the ESPN organization felt there were different rules for Bill than others. This may be true, but there are different rules for Skip Bayless as well. The rules of journalistic integrity are thrown out the window when Skip begins speaking. Such is the price of "Embrace Debate."

So the shit that Skip stepped in this time is that he said the rape charges against Kobe Bryant gave him "sizzle." At the moment I write this, Skip has not been suspended and no public admonishment has been reported on. Essentially, Skip is saying that being accused of rape gave Kobe street cred and helped him out in terms of marketing. Not only is this an unfathomably stupid thing to say, but it's also insulting to the public and slightly racist as well. Skip seems to have such little respect for those people who purchase products endorsed by Kobe that he thinks they will be more encouraged to purchase those products if Kobe has been accused of rape. As if Kobe needed some gang-type initiation of committing a violent crime in order to be considered cool enough to sell sneakers to teenagers. And yes, the slightly racist part comes in because the NBA has predominantly black players that undoubtedly appeal to black teenagers (and other races obviously, I'm not stereotyping, simply acknowledging black teenagers buy more athletic shoes sold by basketball players than by baseball players or football players) who want to purchase the shoes their favorite player may wear. So to indicate Kobe has "sizzle" is to indicate these teenagers purchasing the shoes think "Oh rape is great and now I will buy Kobe's shoes, because to be accepted into the culture I am in, one has to have a violent crime they are accused of and he has met this criteria."

I don't think Skip's comment was overtly racist and this isn't the main point of what I'm writing. I am simply pointing out Skip knows what he was saying and Skip knows who buys athletic shoes that Kobe Bryant would sell. It's insulting to that population to indicate they are depraved enough as to want to purchase Kobe's shoes only after he has street cred with a rape accusation on his record. But see, this is all part of his act. Skip plays the role of provocateur for ESPN and they support him in this role. In fact, ESPN goes out of it's way to defend Bayless when he is playing this role, while they rolled over as quickly as possible when Bill Simmons dared to call Roger Goodell a liar. It seems offending people who buy athletic shoes is fine, but offending Roger Goodell is over the line. I'll give it to Skip, he knows how to play the game.

It's ridiculous to say the rape accusation against Kobe gave him "sizzle." If Skip had a daughter or son, I doubt he would be saying that his son being accused of rape would give him "sizzle" among his friends. Just like I doubt he would high-five the guy his daughter accuses of raping her, while acknowledging rape is a serious crime, but also acknowledging this could totally help him with his street cred and give him an edge. That's the issue at hand. To indicate any rape accusation brought against an athlete in any way is a positive or could be perceived as a positive is worse than calling someone a liar in my opinion. Again, that's where Skip Bayless is dangerous and Bill Simmons is just annoying. Skip is inserting positive attributes about a rape accusation into the public's eye and there are no repercussions for doing so. This isn't a "What about the kids?" situation. This is a "What about decency, respect for victims of rape, and respect for people who purchase athletic shoes or any other product endorsed by Kobe Bryant?"

Here is the statement ESPN put out when suspending Bill Simmons: 

“Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards. We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria. Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.”

But every employee isn't accountable to ESPN. Bill Simmons wasn't being accountable because he said something ESPN didn't like. Skip Bayless has been accountable to ESPN's journalistic standards because he was hired to say rape gave an athlete "sizzle." This is what ESPN wants him to do and they encourage him to do this. So in a way, I guess Skip is being accountable to ESPN. He's accountable in making sure he draws ratings and gets ESPN publicity for the things he says on "First Take." I just have a different version of what "accountable" means. ESPN's journalistic standards seem to have some give to them as it pertains to what Skip Bayless says and what others at ESPN may say. Just because Skip Bayless has been hired to say crazy shit and he follows through doesn't make it all right. If Bill Simmons says Kobe Bryant got "sizzle" from a rape accusation, can you imagine a scenario where he isn't suspended? I can't.

Skip doesn't do anything at ESPN but editorialize. He is the poster child for editorializing at ESPN. He very rarely tries to deal in facts, but prefers to deal in hot sports takes yelled as loudly as possible into the face of his debate sparring partner and the viewer at home's ears. So I would think he would be required to operate within ESPN's journalistic standards. Apparently "First Take" has lower standards than other arms of the ESPN operation. Lies, trolling, and demeaning victims of violent crimes by awarding positive attributes on the perpetrator of the crime (or even accused perpetrator) are considered to be within ESPN's journalistic standards. Maybe Skip didn't undermine any of ESPN's reporting on Kobe Bryant and that's why he's not been suspended. Perhaps ESPN thinks 10 years have gone by and it's fine to speculate on the street cred Kobe has received from the rape accusations against him. That's how it seems to me.

From the ombudsman's September 25 column on Simmons being suspended.

A case could be made that Simmons, who had done excellent work taking Goodell and the NFL to task up to this point, undermined ESPN’s solid journalistic efforts on the Rice story with some Grantland grandstanding. I don’t think that was his intent; Simmons tends to follow his passions as if they were truths, especially in podcasts, where he seems to act as if he is alone with a friend at the bar. 

I think the exact same could be said for Skip Bayless and comments he makes on "First Take." Bayless takes his passions (or trolling attempts as I think of them) and grandstands them into truths, and not only truths, but truths about Skip Bayless as he inserts himself into the story. It's Skip being alone with a friend at the bar.

But Skipper certainly thought it was, and that insubordination was one of the main two reasons for the severity of the suspension. Particularly on podcasts, Skipper said, Simmons has a tendency to slip back into his “bad boy, let’s-go-to-Vegas” persona.

It's easy to see what is really important here. Simmons challenged ESPN to suspend him, almost daring them to do so. That's part of the reason a suspension resulted. He was being insubordinate and ESPN can't have employees being insubordinate like this. Fortunately for Skip Bayless, in stating that a rape accusation gave Kobe "sizzle" he wasn't only not being insubordinate, he was doing exactly what ESPN has hired him to do and they support him with almost zero public questions about his act and it's impact on the viewer. Who cares? Ratings are king. Skip didn't challenge ESPN, he only challenged the idea of journalistic decency, and that doesn't matter because ESPN hired him to piss on the grave of journalistic decency in the first place. That's what makes Skip dangerous in my opinion. He's got the full backing of ESPN to keep his act going.

Simmons, Skipper believes, is transitioning into an important influence and mentor at Grantland and needs to leave his well-worn punkishness behind. 

Skip Bayless is 62 years old by the way. It's okay for his punkishness to be front and center even though he gets an "AARP" magazine in the mail.

The more important reason for the suspension, Skipper said, had to do with fairness and the difference between commentary and reporting...Skipper said Simmons had to advance the story, bring some evidence, before he could make flat-out charges against anyone. 

I'm guessing that evidence of this "sizzle" Skip Bayless spoke of was not required. After all, Skip is just shooting the shit on the air. No need to take him so seriously. He didn't challenge ESPN to do something about his comments and got his name out there on the Internet and blogs. He's done his job. No evidence is required and it's perfectly fine for a 62-year old man to believe a rape accusation can help an NBA star sell products.

But the big issues here are some of the same discussed in recent Ombudsman columns. Is anybody watching the baby? Who reviews content, such as podcasts, before posting? Do the people who review Simmons’ work report to him? Producers and editors are supposed to vet content before it hits the fans, even if the content is generated by a franchise player. 

And what makes Bayless so dangerous is that he isn't recording a podcast or writing a column that can be edited. He's just speaking, debating in a furious fashion on the air, so there is an air of "whatever happens, happens" about "First Take" that lends itself to idiotic comments. The ombudsman thinks ESPN should vet content before it hits the fans, but there's no way to vet what Skip Bayless says. Therefore his license for stupidity won't be revoked and he can tread in waters that others aren't allowed to tread in. Journalistic integrity is important, unless ESPN has hired you specifically to work against that purpose for the sake of ratings.

Sometimes that means keeping the reins on network superstars, challenging them, holding them to the highest of standards. 

Or this problem can simply be avoided by holding these network superstars to no standards. In the video, you can see Skip Bayless saying what happened in Colorado gave Kobe "sizzle" and he pauses repeatedly on his way to saying this. Why? I think because he knows it's wrong, he knows it is inappropriate, and he knows he's basically saying, "Hey rape is a tough crime, but boy look at all the athletic apparel you can sell with a rape accusation on your resume! You can only be tough and worthy in the eyes of people who buy sneakers if you have been accused of a violent crime."

Skip knows what he is saying isn't right and he knows it sounds terrible. Yet, he kept going because he also knew there would be no repercussion for finishing that sentence. Probably because while Skip Bayless thinks what happened in Colorado gave Kobe "sizzle," ESPN thinks comments like this that should offend the public give Skip his "sizzle."

This isn't the first time Skip has tried to argue that Kobe's rape accusation helped him with endorsements. He wrote a column essentially saying this in 2004 (I think that was the year). 

And pre-Eagle, it appeared to irritate Kobe that he was viewed as so suburban by so many urban NBA fans. As too upper-middle-class privileged to be street cool. As lacking the edge the shoe companies want from their primary pitchman.

Sluggish sales prompted a split between Kobe and adidas. Shortly before Eagle, Kobe signed with Nike for about $45 million over five years. That's a pittance next to the $90 million over seven years that Nike gave LeBron James, a kid who hadn't played anything but high-school ball. 

A Los Angeles Times story examined the question of Kobe's "street credibility." Several marketing experts were quoted as saying Kobe hadn't proven to have sneaker-selling power. 

David Carter of Sports Business Corporation in Los Angeles said: "You've heard a lot being made about street credibility the last month or so. I think both those guys (Kobe and LeBron) have street credibility. It's just that their streets are in different neighborhoods." 

Nevermind that another expert basically said, "Well, Kobe has street cred, but just in a different way." Skip rejects this conclusion.

Now that the rape case has been dismissed, you could argue that Kobe has at least added enough controversial aura to sell the products that anti-hero-worshipping kids buy -- sneakers, especially. Yet Bob Williams, CEO of Burns Entertainment and Sports Marketing, argues otherwise.

"Kobe Bryant is not from the street," Williams said Friday, "and people on the street know that. He hasn't ever appealed to that group. Just being controversial in and of itself isn't enough to give him a significant increase in being able to sell shoes." 

Because we all know kids who buy sneakers want to know how many rape accusations a player has before purchasing those sneakers.

Skip Bayless and his act are dangerous in my opinion. What makes them dangerous is he has the full backing of ESPN and ESPN executives will even go out of their way to defend him from the idea he is a huge troll who is there to gain attention. While Bill Simmons is expected to provide a litany of proof that Roger Goodell is a liar, Skip Bayless is using rape as a tool to help increase Kobe Bryant's marketing prospects and no one at ESPN has blinked an eye. Skip should be suspended, though he will not be. Skip is too smart for that. He knows better than to bite the hand that feeds him. He will keep doing what brings in the ratings and being the circus clown ESPN has hired him to be. What makes Skip Bayless and his act dangerous is that Bill Simmons bit the hand that feeds him in making comments about Roger Goodell being a liar, but Skip Bayless was perfectly meeting the journalistic standards ESPN has for HIM by stating a rape accusation was a marketing opportunity for Kobe Bryant.

Therein lies the problem. ESPN claims to have journalistic and editorial standards, but only for those employees of ESPN who they feel like should be held to these standards. Skip Bayless, a man who was quoted in "Those Guys Have All the Fun" as saying, "No one at ESPN has ever told me 'no'" isn't being held to any standard, other than to bring in eyeballs to the network. That's an issue for a network who wants to preach about journalistic standards when one of their writers refers to cheering for the Celtics as being the same thing as cheering for Hitler, an employee calling Roger Goodell a liar, or an employee harshly criticizing Bud Selig on a radio show. Just like a child who has never been told "no," Skip Bayless knows he can get away with anything...and Skip Bayless is a child, so he will continue to be the pimple on the journalism side of ESPN's ass.

See, ESPN separates the "entertainment" and "journalism" side of the company from each other. Bill Simmons is "journalism," so he is held to a higher standard than Skip Bayless, who is part of the "entertainment" side of ESPN. ESPN is fine with their in-house circus clown using rape as a marketing opportunity because it's all in the act of a good debate. That's what is dangerous about Skip Bayless. He is a corporate-backed idiot who hasn't been told "no." Bill Simmons can't get away with giving his strong (and out of line) opinion on Roger Goodell without the great pimp hand of ESPN smacking him back, while they push Skip Bayless further up on the pedestal to preach his message to the masses. On the other hand, perhaps Skip has a point. You know, Major League Baseball is looking for a new "face of the sport." Maybe Mike Trout should look into raping someone in order to help the sport get the "sizzle" it needs to compete for attention and sell more merchandise.