ESPN is the sports industries worldwide leader. Composed of seven different cable sports television networks, the definitive sports radio network, producers of the best sports web site, ESPN rarely if ever makes a mistake. ESPN deserves most of the praise the Disney owned company has earned. Programming seven different sports cable channels is a herculean task, mistakes can be made, ESPN’s First Take is an abomination, television at its very worst, and a black mark for all the great programming ESPN produces.
First Take originally hosted and moderated by Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson, formerly of the show's predecessor Cold Pizza. In August 2011 Skip Bayless role with the show increased dramatically. Bayless brought his abrasive, confrontational style to the program, the end result a dramatic ratings increase with a reported 58% increase for the first 3 months of 2012, compared to the same time in 2011.
On April 30, 2012, it was announced on-air that regular guest contributor Stephen A. Smith would be joining First Take on a permanent, five-day per week basis. When Smith wasn’t available Rob Parker filled in.
First Take’s foundation is fostering debate, creating and building controversy. Thursday First Take stepped over that invisible line in the sand, when Parker an African-American questioned Robert Griffin III (RGIII’s) “blackness.”
"I've talked to some people in Washington, D.C. Some people in [Griffin's] press conferences. Some people I've known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is ... is he a 'brother,' or is he a cornball 'brother?' He's not really ... he's black, but he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the guy you'd want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don't know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancé, people talking about that he's a Republican ... there's no information at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, 'I have black skin, but don't call me black.' People wondered about Tiger Woods early on -- about him."
Ceasing the moment sadly as only Skip Bayless can, Bayless looked at Parker and asked: "What do RG3's braids say to you?"
"To me, that's very urban," Parker continued, seemingly determined to dig his own professional grave and end his ESPN. "It makes you feel like ... I think he would have a clean cut if he were more straight-laced or not ... wearing braids is ... you're a brother. You're a brother. If you've got braids on."
This wasn’t the first but hopefully will be the last time Rob Parker has an opportunity to use any platform as a “journalist”.
According to Parker’s Wikipedia page: in October 2008, Parker erroneously reported that Kirk Cousins (now with the Redskins), then a quarterback for the Michigan State Spartans, was involved in a fight with members of the Michigan State hockey team. At the time of the fight, Cousins was at church with his parents. After being publicly reproved by head coach Mark Dantonio at his weekly news conference, Parker was suspended by The Detroit News for two weeks.
On December 21, 2008, at a press conference following the Lions' 42–7 loss to the New Orleans Saints, during the Detroit Lions historic 0-16 season, Rob Parker caused some controversy when he addressed a question at Lions head coach Rod Marinelli about Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Marinelli's son-in-law, inquiring whether Marinelli wished that his daughter had "married a better defensive coordinator."
The question was criticized as unprofessional and inappropriate. The next day, Parker wrote that the comment was "an attempt at humor" and not a malicious attack.
Parker wrote no further columns for The Detroit News, nor did he attend any press conferences, following the incident. On January 6, 2009, The Detroit News announced that Parker had resigned from the newspaper the previous week.
ESPN suspended Parker, in all likelihood Rob Parker will never work for ESPN again. ESPN can suggest whatever they’d like regarding Parker, but they knew who Rob Parker was then they hired him.
"They brought on Rob for a reason -- he is confrontational," said a former ESPN staffer who worked at the network for years in an SI.com report. "That is his style. They want debate and conflict and that can be a good thing, to force people to look at issues and force people to look at things. I know they get hammered a lot for making everything a racial topic, and sometimes it does go too far, but they do a good job of getting debate out there that people are shying away from because it is uncomfortable."
Great sports media includes debate, discussion and different opinions. It doesn’t include what First Take has become – verbal and visual diarrhea.
The mistake First Take continues to make time and time again is creating and building stories around the show’s hosts. The hosts have become the show as opposed to the issues the hosts are debating.
RGIII along with Andrew Luck have electrified the football universe this year. ESPN reported Monday: the Washington Redskins rookie quarterback's No. 10 jersey has sold more than any other player's in a single season since the NFL started keeping track six years ago, league spokeswoman Joanna Hunter told ESPN.com. How black Robert Griffin III is irrelevant, nonsensical, what First Take has become.
"The issue is that it becomes ESPN and not First Take when people weigh in," one longtime ESPN staffer told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch. "They don't say, 'First Take said this or that.' It's, 'ESPN said this or that.' I don't wish to be lumped in with that nonsense."
"They have created a culture of this," another ESPN employee said in the SI.com report. "The fact that they didn't remove it [Parker's comments about Griffin] from the re-air [the show repeats at 12 p.m. ET] proves their intent wasn't to do anything."
There are a number of questions ESPN needs to ask about First Take. Is the risk of producing First Take worth the reward? If First Take continues to produce ratings it will be difficult for ESPN John Skipper to cancel the program.
“It’s just another show. It’s not journalism. Nobody goes, ‘Gee, look how awful it is that CBS does these awful reality shows. Doesn’t that taint their great news organization?’ We have seven networks. There’s 8,760 hours per year. We’re programming 50-60,000 hours per year. ... But people say, ‘Gee, that awful debate that you’re doing, how can the great 'SportsCenter' coexist with the debate of 'First Take.’ I don’t know, how do infomercials coexist with the great journalism they’re doing someplace else? We’re not a micromanaged place. Jamie Horowitz is the producer of 'First Take.' He’s gone in a direction that’s working. Ratings are up.” Skipper offered in an interview conducted with The Sports Business Journal conducted before the Parker incident.
ESPN’s original programming is second to none. The networks daily sports magazine show “Outside the Lines” is journalism at its finest. 30 for 30 offers some of the best documentaries produced today. First Take is a black-eye for the thousands of men and women who take tremendous pride in building and moving forward ESPN’s brand. It isn’t going to happen; ESPN isn’t to do what’s right and cancel First Take. ESPN as Skipper alluded too needs a great deal of programming and First Take sadly is a ratings winner and a money maker.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom