As many people here probably know, ESPN’s Skip Bayless is—hands down—my least-favorite sports journalist. It started when he outed Troy Aikman, the straight Dallas Cowboys quarterback, in a book, and has only gotten worse with time. To me, Skip symbolizes the worst of modern sports journalism; a brand of me-me-me-me nonsense that paints us all as buffoons and cartoons.
A couple of days ago, after Tweeting some slam of Skip, I read a response from @BaylessDefender, Skip’s biggest Twitter fan and defender. He was passionate in his words, so I decided to invite him here to explain to me why I’m wrong. @BaylessDefender doesn’t use his real name, and I understand. I’d like to thank him for taking the time to write …
I was saddened to see your anti-Skip Bayless thoughts hit Twitter last Friday morning when you tweeted that Skip is a sports journalist that “gives an honorable profession a crap name.” I disagree. In fact, I’ve spent the last nine months of my Twitter life fighting against the relentless attacks Skip receives on a daily basis.
(Skip does not respond to any vitriol he receives on Twitter. Hence, the reason my feed, @BaylessDefender, was created. However, he does reply to supportive fans occasionally via direct message.)
Shortly after I read your anti-Skip Bayless tweet, I began preparing to “unleash” on you, as I always do every time a prominent journalist and/or personality attacks Skip’s credibility. I alerted my followers to “buckle up” as I prepared a series of Bayless defenses and anti-Jeff Pearlman Tweets in an effort to level the playing field. I scoured your work for items that I took issue with, but, since I’ve always liked you for reasons I wasn’t yet able to fully articulate, I struggled to unleash in the prompt and ferocious manner that I like to think that my followers have grown to expect.
Moments later (and before I was able to unleash), you Tweeted “I feel sorta bad about pissing @BaylessDefender off.” I appreciated your contrition and, shortly later, it hit me: the criticism you receive for writing Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton is similar to the criticism Skip receives. Specifically, I find it similar to the criticism Skip receives for having written Hell-Bent: The Crazy Truth About the “Win or Else” Dallas Cowboys in which he wrote about Troy Aikman’s perceived sexuality that became the flashpoint of the book (to Skip’s dismay, in fact) and fodder for Skip Bayless attackers. You, of course, came under fire for writing about Walter Payton’s drug addiction and infidelity that has, in many respects, shaped your reputation, as well.
You have tweeted that Skip was “disgustingly wrong” to write about Troy’s sexuality. I am confused by your stance given the way that you defend your biography of Walter Payton in Sweetness. In your response to Michael Wilbon’s criticism of your book in his September 2011 ESPN.com column, you wrote that “one can’t write a complete, authentic, definitive biography of a life and ignore key portions.” I completely agree, and, using this logic, I ask: how could Skip tell the complete story of the 1995-1996 Dallas Cowboys without delving into the origins of the reasons why their team was so divided? Certainly he was more than qualified to do so and had extraordinary access. Heck, he was even close friends with head coach Barry Switzer’s daughter, Kathy. If any journalist knew about the problems that the Cowboys had and why, I’d think it would be Skip. I struggle to see how Skip’s reporting on what led to the Dallas Cowboys’ inner turmoil is that much different than your portrayal that Walter Payton was a deeply flawed man. Both reports contain difficult truths but are nonetheless crucial elements to help your readers understand the complete story.
What started the friction between Troy and his teammates? According to Skip, Aikman became enraged on the sidelines at wide receiver Kevin Williams after he ran a wrong route on a crucial third down in an embarrassing home loss to the Redskins. In a fit of rage, Aikman called Williams the N-word, according to Skip’s sources. The episode, obviously, did not sit well with Troy’s black teammates and from that point the inter-team mudslinging started. Skip wrote that Troy’s black teammates, understandably, lost serious respect for him and began to speculate that Troy was bisexual. Skip never speculated on Troy’s sexuality himself. Skip simply reported that Troy’s teammates speculated. Barry Switzer was also enraged by the N-word incident and felt that Aikman may be gay and brought the issue up with Skip on occasion.
I decided to focus on this singular issue, Jeff, because of the ignorant criticisms that both you and Skip receive for your brutally honest portrayals, respectively. I hope that I have caused you to give attacking Skip Bayless a second thought the next time you feel compelled to do so.
Thank you for this opportunity.