Tuesday September 26, 2023
The Best Employers in Sports Survey is Now Open!

Embrace Debate: Is This Beginning of the End for Skip Bayless?

  • Bayless could split with partner Shannon Sharpe.
  • Will Damar Hamlin tweets damage his future at FS1? Or ESPN?
skip bayless talking
Fox Sports
Front Office Sports Today

How Jamie Erdahl Made Good Morning Football Her Own

Jamie Erdahl joins to discuss her career and the growth of “Good Morning Football.”
Listen Now
September 25, 2023 | Podcast
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

For nearly seven years, Skip Bayless has ruled as the Embrace Debate King of FS1, casting his shadow over everything from talent hires to guest selection.

But Bayless’ embarrassing faceplant over his Damar Hamlin tweets Monday night could cost him his successful on-air partnership with Shannon Sharpe. 

The controversy raises questions about the 71-year-old shock jock’s future at Fox Sports’ cable network. 

And whether ESPN would ever welcome Bayless’ possibly toxic brand back to Bristol – where he made sports TV history by pioneering the “Embrace Debate” format on “First Take” from 2007 to 2016. 

With ESPN looking to reunite him with Stephen A. Smith on “First Take,” Bayless scored a 4-year, $32 million extension with Fox in early 2021. 

Bayless paved the way for sports TV “Opinionists” like Smith at ESPN and Nick Wright at FS1. But critics feel his act has grown stale. 

His relationship with Sharpe has deteriorated to an “all-time low,” said sources. The divisive co-host of “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” had few, if any, allies this week as critics tore him apart on social media.

Sharpe, who’s co-hosted “Undisputed” since its debut in 2016, didn’t show up for Tuesday’s episode, leaving Bayless to face the music alone.  

To make matters worse, the domineering Bayless wouldn’t let Sharpe speak without interruption for even one minute when his partner returned Wednesday morning.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer opened the show by saying he disagreed with Bayless’ Hamlin tweet and hoped he’d take it down. 

Not so fast. 

Within 45 seconds, Bayless rode right over his partner, declaring he was standing by his tweet. Sharpe threw his pen down in frustration. 

“You can’t even let me finish my opening monologue without you interrupting,” he complained (A video of the exchange has been viewed over 13 million times and counting).

Marcellus Wiley, a former colleague of the duo at FS1, was shocked by Bayless’ disrespecting Sharpe.

“What we’re witnessing now, on live TV, is them breaking up,” Wiley said on Instagram.  “You can tell they don’t even speak outside the building, outside the show.”

Far from a staged performance, Wiley believes TV viewers got a glimpse of a “primal” struggle for power between two TV “alphas.” The “dynamic of power on that show has shifted,” he warned.

The spartan Bayless is usually oblivious to his surroundings, religiously watching NFL and NBA games in his Los Angeles home, getting up in the wee hours of the California mornings to film “Undisputed” from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. PT and eating the same meal every night. 

He’s fit as a flea and could probably work on air until he’s 90 years old, like ESPN’s Hubie Brown. Ironically, the hot-take artist doesn’t follow a single account on Twitter.

But a “scared” Bayless seemed worried about job security this week, sources said. A newly humble Skip even praised LeBron James, his favorite pinata, on the air this week.

“He’s been the kingmaker at FS1. But not anymore,” warned one source. “I don’t see Fox kissing Skip’s ring after this.”  

A Pot Stirrer

From his days as a newspaper columnist and author, Bayless has always been a provocateur – known for his contrarian hot takes on King James, Tim Tebow, Troy Aikman and the Dallas Cowboys. 

Just last month, the enfant terrible of sports TV engaged in an on-air shouting match with Sharpe over Tom Brady. Sharpe accused his partner of deliberately taking “personal shots” at him to defend his pet QB. 

Last year, Bayless disdained Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s admission about suffering anxiety and depression – leading Fox to issue a statement disagreeing with Bayless’ “insensitive” comments.

But those incidents were relatively minor compared to Bayless’ insensitive moment on Monday night.

With millions of TV viewers praying for Hamlin, Bayless seemed more concerned about how postponing Monday night’s Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals game would impact playoff seedings than whether the 24-year-old lived or died.

“No doubt the NFL is considering postponing the rest of this game – but how?” he tweeted to his 3.2 million followers. “This late in the season, a game of this magnitude is crucial to the regular-season outcome…which suddenly seems so irrelevant.”

The TV troll had finally crossed the line. The nation’s sports world exploded in outrage. The criticism directed at Bayless was withering. 

“I hope you LOSE YOUR JOB!!,” former Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant wrote on Instagram. 

ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins ripped Bayless as a “sick individual.” 

Even former Fox executive Scott Ackerson tore into him on Twitter. “What in the actual f$&k are you thinking?” he asked.


Skip Bayless Backpedals After Offensive Damar Hamlin Tweet

Skip Bayless created more controversy after posting an insensitive tweet.
January 3, 2023

To be fair to Bayless, he seemed genuinely horrified after watching the Bills safety near death from a cardiac arrest on “Monday Night Football.” 

When he appeared solo Tuesday morning, Bayless looked depressed. 

He told “Undisputed” moderator Jen Hale he’d barely slept. He added that the league did exactly the right thing by postponing the game. The scripts in his hand shook as he addressed FS1’s cameras. 

“I’ll admit up front I’m still shook up by what happened last night to Damar Hamlin. In fact, I’m still wrecked,” Bayless said. “In fact, I’m not sure I’m capable of doing this show today.”

Nice acting job, Skip, countered skeptics. There are plenty who think Bayless (and FS1 executives) secretly welcomed the Hamlin controversy as a way to goose “Undisputed” TV ratings.

Ex-FS1 personality Jason Whitlock accused both Bayless and Sharpe of “milking” the tragedy.

“This is all peak grifting by all parties… Skip, Shannon, and the faux outrage toward Skip,” Whitlock tweeted. “It’s all grifting.”

However, this week’s ratings may not reflect Whitlock’s characterization.

Monday’s “Undisputed” show had 232,000 viewers compared to 373,000 for the show’s competitor, ESPN’s “First Take,” according to Showbuzzdaily.com

But there was a very noticeable difference the day after Bayless’ tweet, where “Undisputed” fell to 165,000 viewers, while “First Take” saw a significant boost with 892,000.

Wednesday saw “Undisputed” reach 227,000 viewers compared to “First Take” at 540,000.

Fox declined to comment on this story. Bayless is reportedly under contract at FS1 through 2025. 

Pressure Points

Fox touted Bayless as a fearless TV pioneer when it hired him in 2016 after 12 years at ESPN. But the pressure on the network’s golden boy could be building up like Code Blue in the boiler room:

  • Losing Sharpe would be bad business for FS1. After starting as a mere debate foil for Bayless, the 54-year-old Sharpe has become nearly as popular in his own right. If he leaves, he’d join a long list of TV cast-mates who stopped working with Bayless, including Cari Champion at ESPN and Joy Taylor and Jenny Taft at FS1. Before leaving “Undisputed,” a fed-up Taft took aim at Bayless in 2021. “I’m allowed to have an opinion, Skip!” she declared.
  • Bayless saved Smith’s career by bringing him on as his full-time debate partner at “First Take” in 2012. But now the apprentice has become the teacher. Smith routinely thumps his old mentor in the TV ratings. In December, “First Take” more than doubled the “Undisputed” audience, averaging 492,000 viewers vs. 181,000. Plus, Jamie Horowitz, the former FS1 executive who recruited Bayless from ESPN, is no longer there to protect him (Horowitz now serves as an executive vice president at WWE).
  • Bayless is an intimidating individual to co-workers. The unwritten rule at Fox has long been: No criticism of Skip. But that fear factor is going, going, gone. Doug Gottlieb of Fox Sports Radio called bullshit on Bayless’ claim “nobody” at Fox had a problem with his Hamlin tweets. How could Bayless not know his own partner disagreed? asked Gottlieb. And did Bayless himself forget he admitted Tuesday his boss asked him to “clarify” his Hamlin tweet? “Dude, I was born at night. Not last night. Get the f— out of here,” said Gottlieb on his podcast. 
  • Former NBA champion Matt Barnes said he’s had to talk an NBA player and coach out of beating up Bayless. Barnes, who’s appeared on “Undisputed” and other FS1 studio shows, said Bayless has been acting increasingly “disrespectful and out of pocket” toward Sharpe. “I think Skip’s day is coming, and it may not be from a firing standpoint because we know white men in this profession can kinda get away with and do what they want.”
  • Michael Strahan took possibly the biggest swing at Bayless on the network’s top-rated “Fox NFL Sunday” pregame show. For Bayless to claim nobody within Fox minded his Hamlin comments is a “lie,” stated Strahan. “There were things done here, by somebody at this network, that were inhumane…Sensible human beings have a heart.”

Ironically, one of the only media personalities publicly defending Bayless this week was Smith: his former sparring partner and “brother from another mother” at ESPN.

Front Office Sports previously reported Smith and Bayless would like to team up again – either at ESPN, FS1, or on another media platform.

In an interview this week, Smith said he believes Bayless’ heart is in the right place. 

“I’ve spent years disagreeing with Skip Bayless. I disagree with him now – and I’m going to disagree with him in the future,” said Smith. “But he’s still my brother. He’s still the guy who brought me here on ‘First Take.’”

Hey, give it up for a loyal Stephen A. 

But one Bayless defender noted how Smith’s position differed from Sharpe’s.

“Wild that a guy who works for your competitor has your back more than a guy on your team,” he noted.

When Fox signed Bayless in 2016, Aikman, the network’s longtime No. 1 NFL analyst, blasted the hire. 

“I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals – none of which applies to Skip Bayless,” Aikman told Sports Illustrated.

Aikman’s gone from Fox. But Bayless’ problems may just be beginning.

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Commanders Still Face Legal Fight Over Former Name

More than three years after shedding their former nickname, the Washington Commanders are still facing legal hurdles in connection with it. 

NFL Owners' Debt Limit Could Increase To $1.6B

Currently, new NFL owners can use $1 billion of debt.

NFL's Next International Goal: Games in Spain, Brazil

A league executive says the games could take place in 2024.

LIV, PGA Tour Schedules Likely Clashing Despite Merger

In 2024, LIV is reported to go head-to-head with the PGA Tour.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

How Jamie Erdahl Made Good Morning Football Her Own


Featured Today


Oakland-MLB Relationship Devolves Into Next-Level Toxicity

Commissioner, mayor have very different accounts of July meeting
Jacksonville Jaguars Team President Mark Lamping addressed community members at Strings Sports Brewery on Main Street for the first of 14 planned town hall sessions to present the team's plans for the new "stadium of the future" complex and address the public concerns.
September 25, 2023

Jacksonville Jaguars President Walks Back Stadium ‘Threat’

"Viewing those comments as a threat to leave Jacksonville isn't correct."
Chatri Sityodtong
September 25, 2023

ONE Championship's Quest To Challenge Rival UFC Through U.S. Expansion

Leveraging its Amazon deal, ONE Championship seeks to expand in U.S.
September 24, 2023

Savannah Bananas Break All The Rules To Hit The Mainstream

Team concludes 2023 tour with even-bigger plans for next year


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Chicago Cubs
New York
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, Inc.
USA - Multiple Locations

ESPN's Reported Studio Closures Could Mean More Layoffs

ESPN's Seaport studio will reportedly close by 2025.
Ohio State players celebrate after after their defeat of Notre Dame in the final seconds at Notre Dame Stadium.
September 25, 2023

Ohio State-Notre Dame Scores Historic 10.5M Viewers for NBC

It was NBC’s second-most-watched regular-season college football game ever.
The in-market KnightTime+ streaming service will offer 69 regular-season games.
September 25, 2023

Vegas Golden Knights Launch New Streaming Model Amid RSN Fallout

The KnightTime+ streaming service will offer 69 regular-season games.
September 24, 2023

Fox Opts For College Sports Over WWE Post-UFC Merger

Fox has plenty of college sports to lean on in WWE's absence.
Deion Sanders and The Rock
September 21, 2023

Deion Sanders Reshaping College Football Fanbase With Buffaloes Surge

Deion Sanders has made Colorado "Black America's Team."
NBC will reportedly pay $287 million annually across five years to air broadcast on USA Network.
September 21, 2023

NBC Inks WWE SmackDown Rights for Reported $1.4 Billion

The reported rights fee is about 40% higher than SmackDown's Fox deal.
September 20, 2023

Can Amazon Keep Up NFL Viewership Boost After Record Week 1?

The San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants face off on Thursday night.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is tripped up by New York Jets defensive end Solomon Thomas in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium.
September 20, 2023

NFL Viewership Sees 2% Increase in First Two Weeks of 2023 Season

The NFL is experiencing its highest viewership since 2018.