No matter how many hours of sleep I get, waking up for work in the morning is never easy. A hot shower and breakfast helps, but even after I get to the office, I take the streets’ advice in never forgetting where I came from: my fucking bed! It’s rough, which is why I’m glad I have something special to look forward to everyday at 10 A.M. Many of my coworkers are hitting up the adjacent Starbucks around this time, but as someone who rarely drinks coffee, I’m instead tuning the nearest TV to ESPN2 in preparation for First Take.
Even when I do have a coffee, I never understood how some people take it black – no cream, no sugar. My aunt once told me that she knows it tastes bad, but “that’s exactly the point.” The acrid taste works in tandem with the caffeine, apparently waking her up more as a result. What’s interesting is that her reasoning doesn’t seem too farfetched when I think about my own daily communion with First Take hosts Stephen A. Smith and the “Steve Harvey sharp” Skip Bayless.
As two of the most brazen personalities in sports journalism, their combined fervor makes for a show that is bold in concept, but pale at heart. While its sibling broadcasts (SportsNation, Pardon the Interruption, Around the Horn, etc.) use game show schema as a catalyst for discussing the day’s hottest sports topics, First Take strips the bells and whistles in favor of the more heated, gun-slinging debate style of Stephen A. and Skip. No cream, no sugar by design.
At its core though, First Take is really no different than any show you’d see on the Bravo network. As Sports Illustrated put it during a 1-on-1 interview with ESPN vice president of production Marcia Keegan, the show is built around disagreement as entertainment, which oftentimes – such as with many reality TV shows – must be manufactured in order to sustain an audience. That said, you’ll rarely find any nuances in the arguments Stephen A. and Skip offer when debating the topics set before them.
The point isn’t to leave the viewer thinking, “hmm, Skip makes an interesting point,” or “damn, I never thought about it that way;” the intent is to position the viewer in contention with one of the two hosts, leaving them convinced he’s an idiot, even if it’s only until the next topic. So, the next time you hear Stephen A. shouting like a Baptist preacher at the end of a sermon, or listen to Skip corroborate his savvy red herring of athletes with convenient stat breakdowns, realize that they’re both auditioning for you. For me, it often comes down to who has the less annoying song and dance, which should be expected of a show that thrives on polarity.
But I won’t pretend like I watch First Take purely in jest. It’s a good show, albeit in a Real Sports Guys of Bristol type of way. Not only is it lively entertainment that gets my vitals going in the morning, it’s a forum for agreement, which I believe is pivotal not only to the sports world, but to the human condition as a whole. Every once in a while, people enjoy hearing their opinions affirmed by others, especially by those in a position of authority. Who says journalism must always be brainy and informative? “Barbershop journalism” (i.e. the style of First Take) peaks an entirely different point of interest. I’ve found that Skip and Stephen A. aren’t trying to teach their viewers anything new, but instead are aiming to make them feel more comfortable with what they already believe by outlining these beliefs more eloquently than the average Joe can.
Comfort zones are real places, too, and despite the hyperbole by which we all debate sports topics sometimes, it’s hardly ever an issue of right and wrong. But even so, there’s still someone out there who probably agrees with your ridiculous opinion. That said, thanks to First Take, we never have to leave the warm bed of our sports delusions ever again, even as we groggily start our day at work – which is especially great for me, considering I wake up every morning as a neurotic Laker fan.