An addendum added 3/10 follows the interview.
To our readers, I do these interviews to give you a well rounded perspective despite what is known. I would be remiss in my growth to not challenge myself where others are not comfortable. Long interviews like this take about 24 hours to transcribe and I found myself falling asleep at the keyboard, but I had to get this done. I want the definitive. Short interviews IMO are nothing but production. They feed a corporate service. I long for the real story and seek out compelling personalities who are unafraid to let the TSF audience know who the hell they are. There are many questions I had when finishing up our chat, but Skip explained himself sufficiently. It’s the perfectionist in me who strives for a sense of 100% reality even if most times we all fall short of something so powerfully unrealistic.
In Part II, Skip and I touch on the differences between talk radio and talk TV, the what almost seems inevitable demise of newspapers as we have known them, Barry Bonds, Michael Phelps, Donovan McNabb, LeBron James, Alex Rodriguez and of course Terrell Owens. Part I blew up over the Internet unlike any piece drawn from TSF. Many sites linked to the interview mainly because of comments regarding Troy Aikman’s sexuality. I tried to hold off on the second part until that bs died down, so this installment would be given a proper context. Skip Bayless never said Troy Aikman was gay or bisexual, what he did say is there were rumors of such and that the circus surrounding the Cowboys ultimately became their demise and if you really ponder the thought, ain’t a damn thing changed.
I also offer my opinion about Terrell Owens. Terrell Owens wants to win. He came into the league backing up the GOAT and was left with an unproven Jeff Garcia after everyone retired or were traded. Conjures thoughts of when Charles Barkley was drafted and was surrounded by three Hall of Fame players and one shoulda coulda who would light up the Celtics or Lakers for 49 any given evening. After Doc, Moses, Cheeks and Toney left the game they loved and had a proverbial relaxing drink, Barkley was left hypothetically orphaned and his early years in the league were fit with rage. It’s a shame what is happening to Terrell Owens because remember this is a guy who has never been a criminal. Damn the criminals because they mess it up for everybody, but why is Terrell Owens being treated like a criminal?
Ladies no disrespect, but did you know what a locker room cancer was before you heard it on TV?
Read on people. Again, Skip and I had our disagreements, but as you read you have to respect his words for what they are…his. Skip is one of my more intelligent interviews and he stands his ground despite a whole lot of haters. He gets props for his uncommon thoughts pertaining to Barry Bonds and Donovan McNabb. There were some things that needed to be repeated because this interview is going to be read nationally. Those who are new here, read and judge yourself accordingly. There are both sides of the coin flexed objectively, so there will be no squirming, nullifying, subtracting or enacting the pack journalism ride on your back just for the southern get back stack.
Did you get that?
Michael Tillery: Skip I want to get your thoughts on an MSNBC quote during a discussion regarding the what almost seems inevitable death of newspapers. The quote was as follows: “If there is no professional journalism, our democracy is threatened.” Do you agree or disagree?
Skip Bayless: Yes, I agree with that. I don’t fear there isn’t going to be any journalism, I just think we are in a period of transition in which the universe is correcting itself. It’s finding a new level. I think these newspapers…and I was taught at several…got fat and happy and lost touch with their audience.
Let’s take Ann Marie Lipinski…I used to argue with her that Chicago Tribune’s deadlines were getting worse and worse for the night games during Michael Jordan’s final run from ’98 to the championship. I would go night after night to these playoff games–these games that meant everything to the readers of that newspaper–and it seems like each night we lost a few minutes of deadline. It took longer to print the paper and longer to get to doorsteps. So, games that would start at 8 Central and get over at 10:30-10:45, we would have to get a column sent downtown by 11:30. It was absurd because I couldn’t do my job. We couldn’t cover it the way it should be covered.
I told her this was going to be the death of this business and that they were going into the wrong direction. She would say it was just about delivering a product.
No, it’s not. I would finish frantically at 11:30 and be extremely unhappy with what I was able to write, march right out to my car and turn on the radio to the Bulls flagship station in Chicago and listen to the reporter go from player to player in the locker room, almost commercial free, and get a full interview with Toni Kukoc, then to Steve Kerr, to Scottie and finally to Michael as he was completely dressed (just so you know, some players are only seen fully dressed. Kobe comes to mind) to come out for his interview.
I’m thinking Bulls season ticket holders are driving home right now caught in traffic and they are hearing everything we can’t even get in that edition of the paper.
We are going to die!
I think that’s what happened. The Internet has infinite deadline capability and it’s delivered to your doorstep via your computer. I just think we are going through a period in which journalism will find a new direction and form.
There are Web sites like yours that have sprung up that are excellent, well done and certainly qualify to me as journalism–so it’s taking on a new form.
Did you go to journalism school? No, you didn’t. Are you accurate and responsible and do you get the abc’s of journalism? Yes, you do. I read your material and it’s clear you are delivering very responsible and professional material.
There are new ways the public is going to be informed. I don’t think it’s going to kill newspapers and “professional journalists”, they are just finding new homes and new ways to deliver good journalism to the public.
So yes, Democracy without journalism will fail because there will be no checks or balances.
Mizzo: Thanks, Skip. I think they also were saying there would be a paucity of investigative journalists and that the reason why big outlets like the New York Times were able to operate is because they were able to pay the best. That you need to pay for the best content.
Skip: Yup. I get it. That’s interesting. I still feel like…and I’m a little bit of a prisoner of my employer in a good way…I religiously read ESPN.com.
I think you would agree…while “game free”…even though there are ads sold on there…but you don’t have to pay unless you want to be an insider…but you can get a lot of content on that website that is high quality and sometimes investigative journalism.
I live and breathe the sports world and I’m content with the quality and depth of the coverage I’m able to read on a daily and nightly basis on ESPN.com
That’s my home. I’m completely satisfied. Maybe I don’t have the right perspective ’cause I’m just a sports guy.
I think the depth and quality of that staff is extraordinary to me. It helps and provides me with the tools by which I do my job. I comment on TV.
To ESPN’s credit, it allows me to become…and this is a compliment to the question you posed to me…but I view myself as a conscience and a voice that continually asks you to step back and ask why?
I’m constantly asking to look under this or that rock.
Skip: I’m not actually doing the legwork. They are doing the legwork. They are providing the facts. I’m taking their facts on a daily basis and saying “This is an outrage people!”
Why is this like this?
Have you thought about this?
Think about it! C’mon! Wake up and think about it!
I’m basically on live TV, reaching through the camera and grabbing you by the throat, shaking you and saying “Michael, just think about this with me.” Am I wrong about this? The facts tell me I’m not wrong.
Are you blinded by the advertisements or the media blitz?
Are you a victim of group-think here?
That’s my little goal everyday. That is my little crusade. I am a crusader.
Mizzo: So from what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that the debate and thought would be advanced if you were asked more questions in the realm of FirstTake.
Skip: Yes! I try. I do the best I can in the little time we’re allotted. I think it’s plenty of time. There is a huge difference between talk radio and talk TV…and I can’t quite explain this because it fascinates and baffles me at the same time…but as a veteran of much talk radio, I can talk to you via your car radio for ten or twelve straight minutes. If you are driving to work or play or wherever you’re going, you’ll listen to me and you’ll hang with me, especially if I’m going someplace you are interested in.
I used to guest host a lot on Jim Rhome’s radio show and they would allow me to go twelve straight minutes. I would have to have a beginning, a middle and an end, with where I was going. I would have to bring it on at the end…and I would, but they believed that via radio, you would let me do that and you wouldn’t turn the station.
On television, if I speak for more than thirty seconds…thirty seconds…at a time, and sometimes I go forty-five…I am pushing it. You will look away because you can’t stand to stare at that talking head for that long. I will lose you. Your mind will wander to the pimple on my forehead or the one hair that’s out of place or that my shirt really doesn’t go with my suit or however it is that I might distract you. Whatever I’m doing will distract you from my point after that thirty seconds. It’s just the nature of the beast.
So I’m bucking odds to try to get my point across. When Wilbon, Albom and I began doing those little segments on Prime Monday, they would tell us…rule of thumb…if a viewer can remember one thing you said tonight, then you have been a success. We spoke and did two 5 minute live segments, so we were on 10 minutes a night. I don’t know how many sentences we spoke, but again, if the viewer remembered anything, then we scored that night.
The point is that they can’t remember one thing you’ve said that night. My goal on my TV show every day is to try to drive home one point a day that somebody can actually remember. It’s hard in the format because it’s so quick.
When you are in the midst of the debate, it seems so fast to your ears and your eyes. I always warn people when they come on the first time that you’re gonna be shocked how fast it seems to go and how frustrated you’ll probably feel at the end because you forgot this and you didn’t go there or you wanted to say this but you didn’t get to that point. Yet, when you watch it on TV it will seem 5 times slower. Your mouth will move more slowly. It’s just the nature of TV. I can’t quite explain it to ya, it just is the fact.
The point is…like Stephen A. (Smith) and I have a fairly unique thing. We have some sort of chemistry that is also sorta beyond explanation. It works to the point that…most of the time Stephen A. and I will go in the pregame meeting and come up with ten topics but will only get to eight or nine because we know we are gonna be long on some. Trust me, we never get past six. I think today we got to six.
My point is in the time other debaters and I cover 10 topics, we can only cover six because it tends to go off on good tangents that you can’t predict.
So to your question, do I wanna go on and crusade a little more or try to provoke more thought or try to open more eyes on a point?
Yes, I do. I try. I do my darnedest. I’m restricted by people in my ear telling me we have got to go.
It’s funny you brought up earlier about his earpiece (Stephen A’s) coming out today. He tried the generic one instead of his personal one which wouldn’t stay in. It was driving him crazy. He took it out, then the problem becomes that I can hear the direction from the line producer and he couldn’t hear it. It had me at an extreme disadvantage because he tuned out the direction while I could hear people in my ear say, “We gotta go!” They were waiting to go to the next interview or whatever it was and were over time and Stephen A. was killing me on a point and I had to bite my tongue and nod along like he’s beating me to a pulp. It was like I had no comeback when in fact I could comeback for five more minutes and put him back in his place but I can’t because I have been ordered to stop and he can’t hear them saying stop.
I’m convinced he did it on purpose to get my goat.
Mizzo: Ok Skip, let’s talk about some specific athletes. You and I know the first guy coming up is Barry Bonds. Straight up Skip, Barry Bonds is a sore subject with most Black people who follow sports.
Skip: I understand. He’s also a sore subject with this White person. I am pro Bonds and I have been from my days around him.
Mizzo: Yes, so you know the personality behind him and where he speaks from. All of that aside, I don’t think it has to do with Barry Bonds the man with us (Blacks). I’m sure it’s mainly about that we miss our Josh Gibson and Barry Bonds fills that void. Regardless if he took steroids or not…and most of us think he did…his home run total, his walks…both intentional and unintentional…are so far above anything we’ve ever seen…his timing mechanism…everything about Barry was ridiculous on the field. Take away his intentional walks or the unintentional walks…how many home runs would he have?
My readers know this but let me take it back for you Skip. I met Barry in Atlantic City–way before I thought of becoming a writer. He was very engaging. Very nice guy…that’s what I took with me was his personality in that moment of meeting him.
We read stories about how they vilified his father (Bobby Bonds) for his alcoholism but Mickey Mantle would get different treatment. Barry is growing up in the clubhouse when he was there with his Dad.
His hatred of the media was natural in my opinion.
Skip: His Father taught him that way…
Mizzo: And rightfully so. The hatred of Barry Bonds began way before the specter of steroids existed. How do people forget this? This snowballs into the steroids era and now there’s a reason to go after Bonds “legitimately” when he was a superhuman baseball player since his days at Arizona State. His pedigree was incomparable. Don’t give me Manning because there was no one like Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays or Willie McCovey around. So we see Barry as something we want to behold. Barry Bonds is our golden boy we aren’t allowed to have in professional football. Maybe Donovan but maybe not. Barry is flawed but so is everyone else. Most Blacks don’t understand why there was so much hatred of Bonds before the steroid era. It snowballed.
Skip: The mostly White media…who covered Barry…deeply resented his treatment of them on a nightly basis. On balance here, Barry could have done himself a lot of favors if he would have just turned on that charm that you experienced in Atlantic City–which was awesome.
When he wanted to be, he could be as well spoken as anyone I was ever around. Once he stepped foot in that clubhouse, he treated the beat reporters…mostly White…as virtual cockroaches around his locker that he had to stamp out. He treated them with little to no respect.
The resentment grew among baseball writers who as you know are very fraternal and protective of each other. I’m convinced that Hall of Fame vote that we go through every year is fueled in part…and maybe large part…by how those beat writers are treated by those star players…Black or White. Was he a good guy? Was he accessible? Did he give them time before and after a game? Did national writers get time with him? Did he sort of buddy up to them and tell them a few off the record stories they needed to know?
All those things…how you play that game…ultimately contributes to your Hall of Fame credentials–which is outrageous to me. It is just so wrong, but people are human so that’s how they are going to react to this. It’s even more so in baseball than it is in the football Hall of Fame voting.
So with Barry…who clearly…clearly…before we ever heard of steroids….was already a Hall of Famer. What was it eight straight Gold Gloves?
Look Michael…it’s as simple as this:
He was the greatest baseball player ever!
I’m a big fan of Mickey Mantle’s, Babe Ruth’s…throw them all out there and there is nobody who could hit the ball as consistently hard as Barry Bonds hit it for a long, long time.
I also believe he used steroids. I believe he committed purgery about the knowing use of steroids.
I believe all that, but that aside, through the steroids era where many of the players were using steroids…many a pitcher were using steroids…Barry Bonds dominated the sport of baseball like it has never been dominated and that’s including the great Babe Ruth.
Just as you suggest, the timing mechanism was supernatural. In 2001…and I don’t care if he ate steroids for breakfast, lunch and dinner…I don’t care because if you threw him a strike in 2001…if you just threw him a strike…a random strike…the odds were great he wouldn’t just hit it, but hit it extremely hard and also over the fence. That has never happened. The pitcher has always had a great advantage over the hitter. The hitter is successful a third of the time right? Barry is the only hitter I’ve ever seen who had a distinct advantage over the pitcher.
That’s unheard of.
So the crescendo of this to me came from his good buddy and teammate Jeff Kent. This was the turning point for Barry Bonds damage to me and feel free to disagree, this is just my perception of it..but in April of 2001, Rick Reilly…then the columnist at Sports Illustrated…wrote his back of the magazine column on what bad of a guy Barry Bonds was and it featured numerous quotes from Jeff Kent. Jeff Kent…and I can speak to this because I was there…was the real Barry Bonds! He was the real bad guy in the clubhouse. He was the one who was moody, volatile, quick tempered and difficult for his teammates.
It was Jeff Kent.
Jeff Kent was a superstar in the media because he was very quotable and knew how to play the game. The writers would gather around Jeff Kent’s locker after every game because Jeff Kent gave you insight, he gave you humor, he gave you quotes for which you could build your game stories.
Jeff Kent took Rick Reilly under his wing and filled his notebook. He gave him scathing quotes about Barry Bonds. You can just look these up, but that was the turning point because Rick’s columns were powerful in that they set the national tone.
This is before the onslaught of the Internet–slightly pre-Internet explosion. Sports Illustrated was still the Bible of sports. He creamed Barry…just creamed him. It set a tone of that’s it…it’s in stone…he’s a bad guy!
As the year unfolded and he went to 73, there was a backlash among the mostly White media. This was a tragedy…and again we weren’t to steroids yet…because such a bad guy set such a hallowed record. That’s what it was.
So, I am with you. I became a huge Barry Bonds fan. I didn’t hang around him every day and I didn’t know the guy because he didn’t give us anything. He certainly didn’t give me anything.
I believe half of them were steroid guys.
It is the all time sports shame that he (Barry) went down in the flames of infamy that we have just seen him go down in.
As you know, they targeted Barry in 2002 after George W. gave his State of the Union and they declared war on steroids in America in a State of the Union message. It was clear to me in the Bay area they targeted Barry Bonds as the face they wanted to put on their standout steroids campaign. To this day, the feds are still trying to get him (case postponed indefinitely) and I don’t see a smoking gun. I don’t see a first hand witness who will close the case ’cause Greg Anderson ain’t talkin’. I think he’s going back to jail before he talks.
So, I’m with you on all of the above.
Mizzo: Let’s talk about the Black athlete. We are all human and thus have our faults. Blacks aren’t deemed worthy…if you will…to publicly show fault comparative to Whites. It seems to me that the faults of Whites aren’t made public for whatever reason. Stories get buried it seems and the attention and also the scrutiny en masse is minimal. I only make this an issue because most Black athletes do not get into trouble but it sure doesn’t seem that way. I’ve had disagreements with higher ups at your very network in this regard. It seems like if no one raises a stink then the Adam Jones’ and others will continue to be the focus of media scrutiny…deserved or undeserved. This is probably one of the main reasons why The Starting Five was created and allowed to flourish.
Of course this is a hypothetical, but if everything was flipped and the majority of the media was Black, do you think Black writers would be almost violent when we write about White athletes?
Skip: Michael, that’s so hypothetical I don’t even think I could answer that.
Mizzo: I’m not asking you to totally slam your race, Skip. That would be absurd. I just would like a logical explanation.
Skip: No, I understand. The irony of your question is that the Black athlete has become the majority in sports. Clearly, there are more Black athletes than Whites….we’re talking about the NBA and slightly in the NFL. Not in baseball and I don’t know if it balances out but I’ve come to consider the Black athlete as the majority athlete with the minority coverage.
Obviously, there are more White reporters than Black but ESPN has gone to great lengths to level that playing field and continues to do so by the day…of which I am very proud…but, it’s intriguing to me…I don’t have answers here…and I attempt to be colorblind.
Sometimes I think I’m quicker to jump on White athletes than I am Black…witness Michael Phelps. I’ve been all over him because I think he’s a fraud as a role model. I thought that from the start and I was ashamed of White America putting him up on such a lofty pedestal because he doesn’t belong up there.
Jemele and I debated the other day and I readily concurred that White America is giving Michael Phelps a big pass. Sponsors are giving him a pass because he was an Olympic hero. The Olympic ideal is different than the team sports ideal to me. I don’t care if he’s Black, green or yellow…he happens to be White. I would hold any athlete up to a higher ideal because it’s the Olympics. It’s the Wheaties box. Michael Phelps is a disgrace to the country who put him up on the role model pedestal because he’s not. There has been more than one Internet incident involving pictures and all sorts of things that disqualify him from being such. Oh he’s 23…no, he’s a veteran of two Olympics! It’s only marijuana. Everyone smokes a little grass.
I don’t. I’m sorry. I don’t. I know people who don’t. I’m sorry, it’s an illegal drug.
So I’m with you on that but I also try to be as fair as I can.
I’m coming down hard on Michael Vick because I think he deserves it. He does have some thug in him.
I’m with you on the small percentage of Black athletes that get into trouble but is there some thug in Michael? Yes! He was raised that way and that’s part of his makeup. That wasn’t the first nefarious incident where he was involved.
I’m coming down both ways but I don’t know. Because of this backlash you are talking about with Bonds the many Black debaters with whom we engage, sometimes I feel they are too quick to defend the Black athlete like it’s almost a mandate from the Black athlete journalism committee. It’s like you have to…at all costs…even to the point of being blind..
Mizzo: Skip, what about the disproportionate numbers in journalism? We write what we see. Athletes are cool with me and I get good stuff from them because there is no drama. I just want the good story, but sometimes I’m looked at with wicked glares in that arena.
Skip: I don’t think that’s healthy, either. Fair is fair. Open your eyes and open your mind. Whatever it is, it is…then say it.
If you think we are coming hard on Santonio Holmes because he had one little marijuana issue then that’s fine. I’m good with that.
He’s a football player, it’s different. It does have a different sort of expectation. He plays a violent sport. I’m more open to that.
I didn’t come down on Santonio Holmes the way I came down on Michael Phelps.
I think you are in deep but provocative water but I’m glad you are in there, Michael, because I wanna swim in that water. I haven’t figured out the depths of it yet. I haven’t figured out the answer. It’s below me in the water somewhere. I haven’t gotten into the depths of it yet but again, I’m glad you are tackling the issue. I push everyone on my show to tackle the issue constantly just to make people think.
The more we talk and think the better off we all will be.
Mizzo: Let me take you back a little bit Skip, because this is the way we view our athletes….we follow them from high school basically and in some cases before.
Let’s use LeBron James as an example…it may be a loose example but nevertheless let’s use him.
When LeBron was coming out of high school, there was the Hummer thing. There was the jerseys. There was all this stuff that eventually follows an athlete until Hall of Fame induction and then all of a sudden the percentage points are going down in regards to voting.
This is the reason why writers, readers here on TSF as well as myself, defend Black athletes because we see this stuff that every athlete probably does, gets away with or every athlete is afforded but the comparative scrutiny is not there. These idiosyncrasies follow these athletes and become a negative perception that isn’t realistic.
Skip: Hmmm….I was aware of those very minor flaws in LeBron, but I have forgotten about them. I don’t think they are haunting him. I think he has risen above. He had an excessive speeding ticket a few months ago. It’s not a big deal. I think it’s forgotten. I don’t think it’s a part of his lasting resume. I must say that kid…because he’s still a kid…has done remarkably well given the scrutiny.
He’s a good kid.. He’s a smart dude. I’m impressed with how he’s handled himself given the adulation, the idolatry and the scrutiny. I think he really carries himself well and it amazes me. As you know from covering athletes, the temptations are extraordinarily unbelievable.
The bigger you are, the more they are.
He just seems like he’s constantly rising above all that.
Now, I have some issues about his play, but that’s another issue. That’s sports.
If you are talking about his persona and his legacy, he’s an all time great.
Mizzo: Skip, my experience in the locker room goes back about 2 years. I don’t have extensive experience in that regard, but when I walk into the locker room with one of my colleagues, Anthony Gilbert, and even with LeBron and Kobe, they will set aside time for us.
We are able to speak with them at length. They give us exclusives and we are coming out of nowhere with no resources and no major corporate credential. We’re independent…the little guy…if you will.
Skip: Michael, they have respect for you.
Mizzo: It pains me because of how Donovan McNabb is treated here. This guy has been working with less than stellar talent that is just not up to par with his “more esteemed” colleagues.
Skip: Michael, again, I’m with you. It’s funny, but SportsCenter was coming on and they were showing Donovan McNabb just as you were saying that.
Mizzo: I don’t understand what they want here. If Donovan bounces, then what is this town going to have? Are the Eagles going to be 4-10 or 5-50 (of course I’m exaggerating)? It almost seems as if the town is more comfortable with losing as long as McNabb is out of town.
Skip: I agree.
Mizzo: OK Skip, I won’t belabor the point regarding Donovan because you’re pointedly in his corner (regarding his career), but let’s talk about Terrell Owens. Let me give you my perception of T.O. When Terrell came into the league, he looked down the line and saw Jerry Rice while catching balls from another Hall of Fame player, Steve Young.
I compare him to Barkley who was characterized as a malcontent mainly out of being frustrated that the team he wanted to win so bad for neglected to surround him with championship caliber talent. Coming into the league with Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Mo Cheeks spoiled him. When they subsequently became athletic ghosts, these talented players are left with nothing but has been high school I was the man stories. Why wouldn’t he want to win at all costs playing blessed with some of the best players the game has ever seen? Most talented players do not want to do it alone. They want help. It adds to the span of their respective careers. Then an unfortunate inferiority complex settles in because these players know the organizations are living off past glory instead of putting their feet on the gas. What is it about this malcontent tag when players are only showing a human side of themselves that can only benefit the organization, the city and ultimately the league and its fans?
This has become the caricature of Terrell Owens the media pushes on all of us. It’s both unrealistic and pure bs. I’ve spoken to his teammates and no one told me Terrell was a bad teammate. Then all of a sudden Jason Whiten becomes a more capable receiver than Owens…which we all know is patently false. I remember an exchange Jay Crawford had with Rob Parker where he said Terrell only had 69 catches this year. What is supposed to do? Throw the ball to himself? Is that really his fault he only had 69 catches? His drops are overblown as if he’s the only receiver dropping passes in the league as Romo continues to throw yet another interception late in a game that is inexplicable. I do not think his on field performance should be criticized because of his work ethic. Back in the day he would have gotten his ass kicked in the locker room but there just aren’t those strong personalities anymore I guess. I’m sure you’ve covered games where he’s one of the first players on the field pregame. Can Terrell be overbearing yes, but it takes a strong hand to reel in the man and that man ain’t in Dallas.
Skip: Well, if you want my opinion and I was around him a lot when he was with the 49’ers, so I knew him before he became T.O. Just again in a nutshell, I supported him in the Bay area when no one else would. This went on for about a year because of the positives as you well know: Hard worker, in supreme physical condition, Bill Walsh was then an adviser to the 49’ers and would always tell me that no one knew the offense better than Terrell Owens…even the quarterback. He was the quickest, asked the best questions, knew others’ assignments before others knew themselves…
That one night on Monday Night Football against Seattle when Barry Bonds was in the World Series when he caught the touchdown pass and pulled the Sharpie from his sock, signed the football, ran into the end zone and handed it to his agent who was sitting in one of those end zone box seats. That night he went over the edge from great football player into a celebrity. He badly wanted to be a celebrity to the point that it eclipsed his desire…in my opinion…to win football games.
He created that persona which overtook him..that T.O thing. I’ve been around him off camera. He can be very reserved, very withdrawn and almost shy. When the cameras role, T.O. takes over…sometimes to a fault. My issues with him last year is that he led the league in drops. He had a problem in San Francisco in the biggest clutch situations against their rivals the St. Louis Rams. This year I saw him lose a little bit of a step…maybe not a full step..but a half a step of quickness. He’s 35…going on 36 years old and he’s on the downside.. So you ask can I blame him for that and I just have to say that he is what he is. He is no longer in his prime. I’ve been around him enough to tell you that he just can’t help himself in a locker room situation. He becomes a divisive force because of the Alabama background and the pretty rough upbringing, he remains very insecure to me. He’s very thin skinned and very quick to blame because of his insecurity. He points fingers at the quarterback and as we have seen him do with Mariucci, Andy Reid and Parcells. He will also go after his coordinator. We’ve seen that again and again and again…Greg Knap, Brad Childress…he does point fingers.
His aura is so overpowering in the context of the locker room because T.O. the alter ego is so huge that the media gravitates to every expression on his face, every word that comes out the side of his mouth that his teammates are aware that he sets the tone. For better or for worse, he is the leader of that football team. I think it’s for worse because I don’t think he has leadership qualities. He has a hard enough time leading himself. Because of that, you’ve taken a tremendous talent and thrust it into the media spotlight to the point when he does drop a ball, is covered for a game, he will still blame it on everybody but himself. Now (then) he’ll be after Jason Garrett. Before long, he’ll be after Tony Romo and it’s just hard to win with that dynamic. I don’t think the Cowboys will ever win big with Terrell Owens on that team (Obviously this was before he was released by the Cowboys March 5).
The owner sees a lot of himself in Terrell Owens. Tough background, self made, against the grain…loves the limelight maybe even more than his star receiver does. Jerry Jones knows that in the end he is in the entertainment business to sell tickets. He appreciates that Terrell Owens attracts national attention.
And I call T.O. “Team Obliterator” for very good reason. He destroyed the 49ers and the Eagles, and now he’s destroying the Cowboys. Great talent, but now he’s more concerned about promoting himself than winning games. Extremely thin-skinned and insecure, yet very media savvy and quick to deflect blame for his drops or the step he lost this season by pointing fingers. In no particular order, he’ll go after the head coach, coordinator and quarterback. I do not believe the Cowboys will ever win big with him in the locker room and huddle. But Jerry Jones loves him like a son because Jerry also prefers publicity to winning.
Mizzo: I’ve covered one game of Terrell Owens so I am in no way a professional authority on his persona. I can just go on what I feel regarding the media crush…self generated or not.
Skip, what are your thoughts on Alex Rodriguez?
Skip: I’ve been saying on my show for three years that it’s laughable he has gotten a pass through the steroid era. All you have to do is look at the physique. Two years ago, he got hugely muscular. I have also defended Canseco from the day his first book hit print, and he proved to be right once again. If ARod cheated on his wife with stripper after stripper, you don’t think he would lie to Katie Couric about using ‘roids? This is why, once again, that Barry Bonds is the home-run king, not Hank Aaron, as so many Bonds-hating purists keep saying. Lately, they’ve been pushing ARod as the clean heir apparent to Bonds, but again we see that the entire era was tainted.
Mizzo: Why are you so critical of LeBron James. The kid is a beast and could be the GOAT before it’s all over.
Skip: If your readers are as tough as you say, they’ll wonder how I dare criticize LeBron by calling him LeBrick or Prince James …
In all objectivity, I see two glaring flaws in LeBron’s game that the Witnesses refuse to see. Obviously, he is the most awesome attacker of the basket we’ve ever seen — ever — but he’s also the worst high-volume three-point shooter in the the NBA. Look it up. And worse, his three-point percentage has fallen for five straight years. He often looks terribly awkward launching from behind the arc and does rattle the backboard with lots of bricks. There is no need for him to shoot this many threes, because he now has such an array of snipers at his disposal — Mo Williams and Wally combined to go 7-for-9 on in a game recently, while LeBron was going his usual 2-for-8. Once again, too many for him, not enough for them.
LeBron also went 4-for-8 on free throws, but as I’ve often said on TV this year, the most amazing and significant improvement in his game is that he finally improved his free-throw percentage from around 70 to 78 percent — a tremendous leap. He is also playing consistently much harder, especially on defense, than he has before.
But my biggest reservation about LeBron is, does he have the MJ clutch gene? I have my doubts. It was staggering to me that he was in his sixth NBA season before he hit his first walk-off jump shot (vs. the NBA’s worst defensive team, at Golden State). He appears to get so nail-biting nervous near the end of tight games, and sometimes it appears he prefers jacking up long j’s at the buzzer to attacking the rim because he knows he’ll get fouled and have to make the free throws to win or tie. Unfair? He chose to wear 23, and many of our viewers believe he’s already better than Jordan, so this criticism is absolutely necessary and valid.
Mizzo: Give me something on Tiger Woods Skip.
Skip: Here’s an objective view of Tiger, who’s obviously on his way to becoming the greatest golfer ever: As great as he has been, I also remain astonished that not once in 35 majors has he come from behind when trailing after Saturday to win on Sunday. Greatest front runner ever, and I mean that as a supreme compliment. Give him a lead heading into Sunday, and forget it. But Nicklaus came from behind on Sunday to win nine of his 18 majors. Tiger starts looking shockingly mortal without the lead. Bizarre hole in an all-time great resume.
Mizzo: Comment on Jay Cutler’s development and why isn’t Vince Young playing?
Skip: A friend called me before Jay Cutler’s junior year at Vanderbilt and said I should check this kid out. I started watching and couldn’t stop, and I began to rave about him on my show, calling him “Brett Favre Jr.” Of course, everyone I work with scoffed at me, saying I was touting him only because he played at my school — but that wasn’t it at all. Before the draft, I drew a line in the sand and said I would take him over Leinart any day. Much bigger arm, much more mobile, much tougher physically and mentally. But I also loved Vince Young, saying he was Jordanesque and that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win more than one Super Bowl. The throwing motion wasn’t pretty, but it always worked, and the size and strength and escapability and ability to lead and make game-changing plays were all at extraordinary levels. I still believe I was right about all three QBs, although Cutler remains too much of a gunslinger, and I must admit, Young’s mental breakdown early last season remains troubling. His strength — leadership, intangibles, mental toughness — have become highly questionable weaknesses. He proved in his first two seasons he can be a star, and I still believe he will be, but now he must win back the confidence of his coach and his team.
Mizzo: Whether I disagree with you on points is immaterial but I do very much respect your intelligence. Doing research, I read up on a lot of your stuff and I was impressed. You are a very misunderstood and also a very polarizing figure yourself. Why do you think you are misunderstood and who are you?
Skip: I am as passionate a sports fan as you will ever find. I watch games and follows sports more intently than anyone you will probably ever find. It is my life. My crusade is to tell the truth about what I see in the world I love…the world of sports.
Not to be loved, but in the end…respected.
I am misunderstood in part because of the medium in which I operate. Television is so hot and I am so overly emotional that what I’m saying gets lost in how passionately I’m saying it. The message is lost in the medium of television.
It scares me because I don’t know how to correct it. If I calm completely down and speak quietly and rationally as I am speaking to you, it won’t work on television because it’s boring. It’s slow.. It’s tedious. It gets dismissible because it’s turnoffable. It’s not me.
I am real.
It’s possible, Michael, that I am just too real for television and I may be better suited for print. I also tend to run hot in print to the point that I’m off putting to some people. They think it’s too strong and the message gets lost in the strength of the prose sometimes. I think more often on television, that the way I’m saying it makes me out to be a worse guy than I am. Anyone who knows me will tell you that my heart is good and so are my intentions.
I just want to be a conscience. I just want to make people stop and think about what is really going on here with the things we all love. I don’t get caught up in these runaway sports nation overreactions to superstars that we see on a daily basis.
I’m not a blind Witness to LeBron James. I’m going to be objective about him for the greatness and some of the flaws I still see in his game. Because nobody else out there would dare say a single disparaging word about LeBron James, I’m a bad guy for daring to do that. I would like to think I’m a good guy for doing that because I’m being honest and telling the truth and backing it up with facts.
I dare anyone to tell me I’m wrong about this, but it’s part of the TV package. Fortunately in the grand scheme of things, people do seem to like me on TV that they watch. They are riveted by what I’m saying but sometimes they don’t hear me they just see me.
Mizzo: One more question for the kids. You are a great journalist. What advice would you give that teen who wants to be a writer and has great thoughts but is having difficulty getting said thoughts to pen and ultimately to paper?
Skip: To screen as we say now?
Mizzo: Yes, of course.
Skip: That’s a great question.
I would tell him to try because the more you try the better you will get at it. Your goal each time should be to simplify your great thoughts to distill them into palatable doses. The greatness will still come out but you need to start simply.
The best thing they taught me at the Miami Herald was I had way too many thoughts in my brain…too many words spilling out.
Simplify it. If you lose someone in your first paragraph, obviously you’ve lost them for good.
Start simply and directly. Establish immediately where you’re headed, what your theme is, what your sorta thesis statement is. Once that is clear to your reader, then you can flex all of your great thoughts. They’ll come out and spill out once you’ve hooked someone up top, it will flow, work and it will sustain them the rest of the way.
I had a very hard time trying to get that by my thick head because I was that guy you are talking about or that woman.
Mizzo: Skip, thanks so much for doing this. I hope my readers get a more rounded sense of who you are and why you do what you do.
Skip: I appreciate your approach to this interview and respect very, very much that you did your research. What you have done here in so little time is really impressive. Good luck with your career and God bless you.
Mizzo: Skip straight up and I’m hot at myself for letting this pass but you do understand that some Blacks see thug as a code word for nigger. It’s my personal opinion that rarely is the word used to describe Whites. Could you explain?
Skip: I have been using the word “thug” to describe an athlete’s background or nature for probably 30 years — as in “so-and-so has some thug in him” — and I have never, ever heard it used as a synonym for the single most abhorrent word in our language. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it at least as much to refer to nonblack athletes with a history of low regard for the law — Randy White and Mark Tuinei spring to mind, guys who were often involved in alcohol- or drug-fueled bar fights and who were accused by Black Cowboys teammates of racist behavior. I’ve used the word on TV to describe Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and Olin Kruetz of the Bears. So apparently the word “thug” has taken on a new connotation for your readers — one I have never heard from the many black athletes I’ve known or still know. I don’t speak in “code” words. But it’s enlightening to know that a word I’ve used for so long has been redefined.