Longtime sports talk host Skip Bayless, host of FS1's "Undisputed," was a trending topic early this week after an apparently heated debate with co-host Shannon Sharpe.
Bayless seemed to take cheap a cheap shot at Sharpe in defense of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, suggesting that Sharpe's criticism of Brady after the Bucs' blowout loss to the 49ers in Week 14 was rooted in personal jealousy.
The bizarre exchange was marked by shouting and seemingly cracking voices.
Whether it was spontaneous trolling or perhaps even staged -- as some users speculated -- the segment seemed to succeed in getting Bayless and his show the clicks and video views they obviously crave.
But it also prompted concerns about the seemingly ever declining seriousness and quality of sports punditry.
Among those expressing their contempt was former journeyman NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
The former fourth-round draft pick, who appeared in 43 games in his 12-year career with the Commanders, Dolphins, Texans, Vikings and Giants, slammed Bayless as the worst sports media has to offer.
"Skip Bayless is the worst type of sports media personality," Rosenfels said on Twitter.
And he also offered up a scathing indictment of the sports media ecosystem itself.
"In America that can get you millions of dollars, but that can't buy class or happiness."
Sadly, there's more than a little truth to Rosenfels' assessment of the situation.
Somewhere along the line, ratings and ad dollars became the final say in content and programming. Perhaps it was always so.
It's not hard to see how this incentivizes lowest-common-denominator stunts that have come to define the career of the likes of Bayless, who in a previous lifetime was a respected and decorated sportswriter.
But now, as a talking head on a cable network, Bayless occupies a unique lane. There's only so many of those jobs, and they pay exceedingly well, especially in relation to sports journalism in other mediums.
And in that sense, Bayless' behavior is "rational" by the logic of the market. When ratings and ad dollars are The Bottom Line, all else falls by the wayside, because Bayless surely knows that if he doesn't provide the buffoonery, someone else will.
Sports punditry has always blurred the lines of infotainment. But Bayless seems to be resorting to increasingly crude and unscrupulous methods to remain relevant as alternative forms of media and voices threaten to drown his out.
Such outlandish stunts may not make for very nuanced or thoughtful debate, but apparently they draw more moths to the flame. This formula may have made Bayless rich, but as Rosenfels said, it also seems to have cost him his credibility and dignity.
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