It galls me to no end when sports columnists or pompous television analysts use derogatory nicknames to degrade athletes. I noticed this at least fifteen years ago with New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey. He’d toss around sarcastic and demeaning nicknames in every column. Over the past five or so years Vecsey has either mellowed or come to the realization you can criticize (even condemn) an athlete’s performance without using venomous nicknames.
ESPN’s Skip Bayless (on the program First Take), on the other hand, seems to relish the childish nicknames he tosses around daily. A brief sampling: There is “Bosh Spice” (basketball player Cris Bosh) given the nickname for playing soft; “Prince James” (Lebron James) for lacking what Bayless calls the “clutch gene” at the end of basketball games; “Tony Romeo” (Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo) for dating Jessica Simpson and other celebrities; and “Mark Sanchize” (Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez) for underachieving.
Bayless was finally taken to task for his name-calling by former basketball player and now analyst Jalen Rose on the April 11th airing of First Take. Bayless was called a bully by Rose and he didn’t like it one bit. And, Bayless wasn’t about to back down (he referred to himself during the exchange with Rose as “a fighter”). I’d have to wonder how he’d feel if another analyst referred to his beloved Tim Tebow as “Pastor Tim” or “Reverend Tim” because Tebow wears his Evangelistic Christianity on his sleeve. My bet is he’d take offense. More than that, he’d go berserk.
Bayless says athletes are fair game because of the money they make. What a sick rationalization. Bayless denigrates the person, not the performance or the player. He crosses the line with his vicious nicknames. He disrespects athletes as human beings – all points Jalen Rose eloquently made when putting Bayless in his place.
Why is this reprehensible? Because Bayless is acting like a bully, just as tweens in middle school and teens in high school label fellow students with nicknames to mock them. What kind of example is Bayless setting for teens who watch First Take and hear him tossing around derogatory nicknames with a smirk on his face? They’ll emulate him and bullying in schools will increase. Bayless is the worst kind of role model for young adults. And, lest Bayless forget in recent years bullying has led to a number of suicides. Bayless should be setting an example for our youth, not suggesting that bullying is acceptable.
There’s nothing wrong with Bayless giving his opinion about the shortcomings of athletes. The best analysts and columnists do it all the time . . . with class. But Bayless crosses the line when he disrespects his targets with childish putdowns. As another analyst, Bill Plaschke (Around the Horn and the L.A. Times) would say, Bayless should be ashamed of himself.