In the late 1990’s, one of the most popular talk shows on television was “The Jerry Springer Show.” When it launched twenty years ago, it was far from popular. Only when producers began coordinating phony physical violence did its ratings peak.
In 2003, a new daily program launched on ESPN2: “Cold Pizza.” The show featured debates with people such as Skip Bayless and Woody Paige.
Four years later, the show was revamped as “First Take.” Not only would Bayless remain with the show, but he would become a focal point of the program. You could say he’s the “ringmaster” of “First Take.”
In other words, whereas the show featured debates as “Cold Pizza,” as “First Take,” debates were the show.
But recently, there have been several instances on the show that have sparked controversy, including, but not limited to, Bayless suggesting Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter may have used HGH.
Yes, in many cases, these instances happen to be limited to racism. Stephen A. Smith had nonchalantly uttered the phrase “n***er, please,” then later insisted he did not say that phrase because he talks too fast.
The aforementioned Bayless is no angel in the racism department, either: This past summer, a quote attributed to him on the program, stating his disapproval of drafting “white players in the first round of the [NBA] draft” was posted as a tweet to the show’s official Twitter account – and eventually was deleted.
Then you have Rob Parker, who at times joins in “First Take’s” reindeer games. On the December 13 edition of the show, Cari Champion, who you could say is the Steve Wilkos of “First Take,” tossed out a question about what Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III admitting that he doesn’t need to be defined by his race, says about RGIII as a player.
You can read the transcript here, but these are the highlights – or, should I say, lowlights: After assessing that he knows Griffin wants to be the best quarterback in the NFL, as opposed to being “the best black quarterback,” Parker, an African-American, posed this “straight, honest question: Is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?” When asked to elaborate on the brilliantly ignorant term that Parker anointed RGIII with, Parker acknowledged that Griffin, while a “black” person, is “not really down with the cause; he’s not one of us.
“He’s kind of black, but he’s not really the guy you’d really want to hang out with because he’s off to do something else.”
Parker then ratted off a few qualities that Griffin possessed that are not common among many African-Americans, like being registered as a Republican and having “a white fiancee,” things that Parker said fueled his quest to “dig deeper” on RGIII, because he believes “he has an issue… I want to find out about him.”
When Bayless brought up the fact that Griffin bears braids, all bets were off. Parker: “Now, that’s different. To me, that’s very urban… Wearing braids, you’re a brother. You’re a brother if you’ve got braids on.”
It was at that point that Stephen A. Smith, another African-American, joined in.
“I’m uncomfortable with where we just went.”
The video cuts off at that point, but Smith continued by proclaiming that everything about Griffin, from the braids in his hair, to the color of his skin, as well as that of the woman he will be tying the knot with, is “irrelevant” and “none of our business… That’s his life.”
But enough about the life of Robert Griffin. Let’s talk about the life of Robert Parker for a second.
Parker is no stranger to controversy himself. In 2008, he had to retract a report on a Detroit TV station that Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins – who, ironically, is serving as Griffin’s backup on the Redskins this year, and might start against the Browns this weekend – was part of an all-out brawl between football and hockey players, when in reality, he didn’t even set foot out of his parents’ house that night.
Later that year, on the heels of a dubious 0-16 season for the Detroit Lions, Parker, who was also a columnist for The Detroit News, threw a cocky question at then-Lions head coach Rod Marinelli: “Do you wish your daughter had married a better defensive coordinator?” (Marinelli’s daughter, Chris, happened to be wedded to the Lions’ then-defensive coordinator, Joe Barry.)
Of course, following a winless season, the Lions let Marinelli go and also sent his son-in-law packing. But Parker was suspended two weeks by the paper. At the start of the following year, still weighed by guilt from his loaded question at the former Lions head coach, Parker resigned from The Detroit News.
Parker has a history of pushing buttons long before he joined ESPN, so he knows the drill. Don’t think he had no clue what he was doing when he openly questioned the “blackness” of Robert Griffin III.
And ESPN knows what Parker was doing – perhaps quite too well. Many suggest that the remarks made on the show are about as real as the altercations on “The Jerry Springer Show” circa 1997. And ESPN has been known to manufacture controversies, there’s no doubt about that.
As soon as the segment aired, every sports media journalist had a thing or two to say about it. (This one included, of course.) And “Rob Parker” was even trending worldwide on Twitter – for a very, very long time, I might add.
But this is the kind of attention that ESPN thrives on now. It’s why, in fact, ESPN has not only expanded the “First Take” franchise into weekends during the “College GameDay” offseason, but is also considering importing that same “embrace debate” attitude from “‘hearsed Take,” I mean, “First Take,” into “SportsCenter.”
Parker will certainly issue an apology, but it’ll be about as genuine as Stephen A. Smith’s “I was talking too fast” defense on inadvertently dropping an N-bomb.
And even if Smith might have been dishonest at that point, he certainly proved to be way more credible than Rob Parker, when after his “cornball” diatribe, he said, “I don’t judge someone’s blackness… I just don’t do that. I’m not that kind of guy.”
Hours later, a Worldwide Leader PR person stated that Rob Parker’s “comments were inappropriate and we are evaluating our next steps.”
The next step should be for ESPN to curb the “First Take” empire before it takes whatever credibility it has left with it.
“The Jerry Springer Show” still airs on syndicated television today, but it’s not the same woman-slapping, chair-throwing, Steve Wilkos-restraining “Jerry Springer Show” that we’ve come to know back in the late 1990’s.
If John Skipper, George Bodenheimer and company aren’t careful, this could be the beginning of the end of ESPN as we know it – the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader.
UPDATE: The next day, ESPN suspended Rob Parker “until further notice”; the network is also “conducting a full review”.
Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.