Skip Bayless, America’s favorite troll, ended his long run spewing nonsense on ESPN yesterday, and whether they want to admit it or not, sports fans will miss him. Sure, viewers en masse could start watching his new gig at Fox Sports 1, but that seems about as likely as Skip criticizing Tim Tebow. We will have to settle instead for lovely memories of our collective exasperation with his terrible opinions.
There is something undeniably engrossing about skillful trolls and the artful ways they get under people’s skin. We enjoy uniting in our frustration with them. We lean on them for inspiration before our next encounter with a thin skinned friend or a younger sibling. We may possibly elect one president.
Skillful trolls are intelligent. Skip Bayless may have said that Derek Fisher was a better coach than Steve Kerr, that Josh Freeman was better than Cam Newton, that Tim Tebow was better than than Andrew Luck and even Aaron Rodgers, but it’s not plausible that he’s actually dumb. Believe it or not, Skip went to Vanderbilt on a scholarship and was an award winning sportswriter in his 20s. His coworkers at ESPN have lauded his work ethic. He has been successful in print, radio and journalism.
He’s just a great troll. For years, he has latched his worst opinions on to the most controversial sports figures, from LeBron James (after an NBA Finals in which LeBron led all players in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, “Kyrie was more valuable“) to Johnny Manziel, (“The Houston Texans will forever regret it if they do not take Johnny Manziel with the No. 1 overall pick.”) He has declared allegiances to the Spurs and Patriots for no real reason besides looking like a bandwagon fan. Through it all, he has provided insurance for us all. No matter how wrong your take on sports turned out to be, there was Skip Bayless, calling Manti Te’o “the next Ray Lewis“, promising it was the Cowboys’ year before they went 4-12 last season, suggesting that Tom Brady should take Deflategate to the Supreme Court.
And there was Stephen A. Smith, who used Skip as his perfect foil, allowing Smith to be at his best, which is when he is righteously angry at some absurdity. Occasionally, there were other people as well, ranging from Mark Cuban to Richard Sherman, satisfying us by telling Skip off. (Sherman to Skip: “I’m better at life than you.” Skip: “Alright, that’s fair.”) It was great television: exasperating, entertaining and, unlike the troll we may possibly elect president, harmless. Skip knew where to keep his trolling; he never ventured into issues outside of sports.
Skip also knew that for those willing to be a troll, arguing is a win-win proposition. You can’t out debate someone who’s not debating seriously. So he ended his last segment on ESPN with a little grin and a perfect last remark: “I have never lost a single argument on this show.”