It's been a while, but Bill Simmons has finally weighed in on something ESPN. Naturally, it's about the show that sucks up the most oxygen in Bristol, First Take.
Context you probably know: Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman appeared on ESPN's afternoon edition of First Take yesterday. He carpet-bombed Skip Bayless. He called him all sorts of names. This has happened in the past, and it seems to be happening more often now that First Take has added an afternoon edition on ESPN. Producers for the show are teeing up athlete interviews like this, hoping for a little Bayless vs. angry athlete fun. When Terrell Suggs called Bayless a douchebag, it felt like a ploy, a win-win for everyone. Light name-calling, harmless fun, ratings!
And then there was Sherman on Bayless. Sherman went on a rant—calling the 61-year-old co-host of the show egotistical, ignorant, less accomplished in life than he was—and Bayless tried to move things along (What about Darelle Revis? How do you feel about him?). Sherman wouldn't bite. He was there to crap on Bayless. Then Bayless, looking genuinely uncomfortable, got annoyed. "You're only becoming known for your trash talking," Bayless said, which is pretty fucking rich. Sherman wasn't embracing debate. He was burning down the whole village. It was weirdly satisfying.
It caught the attention of plenty of people yesterday, and it finally caught the attention of Simmons, too. The most powerful bit of talent at ESPN finally decided to weigh in on this. He started off lightly:
It's amazing to me that people get so worked up about First Take. Who cares? Just don't watch it. There are like 800 TV channels.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) March 8, 2013
This, of course, echoes what his pal, ESPN president John Skipper, likes to say whenever he offers up a few tepid endorsements for the show.
But eight minutes later, Simmons couldn't help himself:
I am not defending this segment - youtu.be/j6x-O3kb1sI - I thought it was awful and embarrassing to everyone involved. Seriously.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) March 8, 2013
And five minutes later, Simmons answered the question posed in the first tweet.
But what bothers me about the reaction to that segment is people saying Richard Sherman "won." Nobody won. Everyone lost. Including ESPN.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) March 8, 2013
Who cares? Well, Bill Simmons does, at least.
What a week for First Take. In fact, what a year! From Tim Tebow to Rob Parker to Richard Sherman it's been one cringe after another. So, Skipper: Your boss is being asked about Rob Parker at a Disney shareholders meeting and now your biggest star is fed up. And he did this because either a.) he's so grossed out by the show that he finally felt compelled to speak up, or b.) he finally sees where the wind is blowing and isn't afraid to criticize the show because he knows a dead man walking when he sees it. When does Skipper realize that the 300 to 350k viewers that this show gets a day isn't really worth the destruction it's wrought on all of ESPN?
A few months ago, Skipper described the criticism of the ESPN brand this way:
We have no choice but to worry about our brand with our friends in the media and with advertisers and with business people. ... If you do the old concentric circle thing, of course the stuff that happens inside the figurative Beltway, happens first then it moves outward. We never want to wait until it gets to the edge. It hasn't gotten to the edge. Am I concerned it's getting there? No. But am I concerned enough to try and react and do things differently? Yes.
What happened yesterday was the stuff finally getting to the edge.