It’s Skip Bayless’ job to be polarizing.
You love him, hate him or share both feelings within the same window of his two-hour sports debate show.
Bayless, 64, makes no secret of his intention to resume the same type of combative discussion on Fox Sports 1’s new “Skip and Shannon Undisputed” with co-host Shannon Sharpe that he did with partner Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s “First Take.”
“Skip and Shannon Undisputed” debuts Sept. 6 at 7 a.m. Pacific.
For Bayless, the show marks a return to work in Los Angeles following his 1976-78 stint as a take-out feature reporter for The Times’ Sports section.
“I was there back in the day when the section operated like a daily magazine, a bottomless pit of space,” Bayless said. “My stories would be 3,000 to 4,000 words long and they’d jump six or seven times through the section.
“I think those days have passed because no one read them to the bottom anyway. It was a great ride. It was the best sports magazine in the country and it was a newspaper. Those were the days.”
With The Times, Bayless won a horse racing writing Eclipse Award for documenting Seattle Slew’s 1977 Triple Crown victory, and he gained a national sports columnist position at the Dallas Morning News at age 25.
“When I used to travel from The Times and touch down at LAX, I’d always say, ‘I’m home, this is where I belong.’ I fell completely in love with L.A., felt like this was where I was destined to be,” Bayless said. “When I left, I always said to myself, ‘If I ever get the shot to get back to L.A., I’m taking it.’”
Bayless said that “billion-to-one shot” was realized this year when former ESPN executive Jamie Horowitz became president of Santa Monica-based Fox Sports National Networks.
He began stirring it up in L.A. last week, taking to a Fairfax Avenue barber shop to talk sports with fans who came in for a cut. Bayless defended the abilities of Tim Tebow and opined that Aaron Rodgers is overrated considering his mixed playoff results.
Given the multitude of topics discussed through the course of the year, it’s hard to believe anyone can feel so passionate about so many different issues.
Disney is Mickey and Minnie. Fox is ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy.’ A different culture.
It’s Bayless’ commitment to remain deeply aware of all that’s going on in the sports world, striving to have a well-researched, strong position about wherever that day’s conversation steers.
In sticking with his schedule when he was based in Bristol, Conn., Bayless will rise each morning at 2 a.m. Pacific time to catch up with whatever happenings he missed by going to bed at 9 p.m., sharpening himself for the coming debate with Sharpe.
Unlike Smith (or Bayless), Sharpe brings the cache of playing experience. The former NFL tight end won three Super Bowl rings and his bust resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I love the matchup with Shannon, [him] having played the game at an extremely high level versus my NFL expertise,” Bayless said. “I live to win these debates and he’ll be a formidable foe.”
Shouldn’t the reporter yield to the athlete’s knowledge in some discussions?
“Absolutely not,” Bayless said. “I remind you to study the landscape of team building in football, basketball and baseball. The architects of many teams did not play the game at any significant level. I’d start with R.C. Buford of the San Antonio Spurs.
“The greatest athletes sometimes make the worst personnel decisions. Witness Michael Jordan.
“This will be an ongoing daily conference between me and Shannon. I will never defer to him just because he played the game.”
And Bayless predicts a stronger brand of discussion on Fox.
“ESPN, being owned by Walt Disney … I just felt a pressure of the last five-six years that I never quite fit,” Bayless said. “I felt like I gave about 75% into our debate. Disney is Mickey and Minnie. Fox is ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy.’ A different culture.
“I think Jamie will allow me to go deeper into my arguments, he’ll be behind me and he’ll ignore what I thought was irrelevant criticism from basically just blogger-critics that ESPN seemed to live by.
“I never could quite understand that. So I often felt on an island, unsupported, and that’s why I wanted to reunite with Jamie – feeling that would be a great new frontier for me.”
Part of that outlook will include talk about the UFC, which Fox televises. Bayless attended Conor McGregor’s UFC 202 victory over Nate Diaz earlier this month in Las Vegas.
“I had kept an arm’s length from the UFC because I thought, ‘Gee, it sort of bastardized boxing.’ But that main event, that was special stuff,” Bayless said. “It won me over. A lot of boxing skills were involved.
“I was overwhelmed by the pain threshold, by the guts and the heart these combatants showed. It was a long fight. I thought one or the other would give up, stay down. They never did. I was extremely impressed.”