ESPN "First Take" personality Skip Bayless.

ESPN "First Take" personality Skip Bayless. Credit: ESPN

There is no more incendiary figure in sports media than Skip Bayless, about whom Charles Barkley memorably told Dan Patrick last year, "I hate Skip Bayless more than any person in the world."

Most people do not get quite that worked up about ESPN's "First Take" agitator, but Barkley hardly is alone in his vocal disapproval of Bayless, among whose biggest claims to fame is his dogged support of Tim Tebow.

Jamie Horowitz, who as VP of original programming and production oversees "First Take," told me recently that the many public shots aimed at Bayless represent "the most curious attack I've ever heard."

The part that annoys him most is the perception Bayless manufactures outrageous opinions to attract attention.

"My invitation to anyone who says that is always the same: Please come spend the day with us," Horowitz said. "People can have disagreements with any on-air talent on any of our shows, but the notion that Skip is inauthentic is made by people who do not know Skip - period."

Horowitz said what some mistake for shtick merely is a function of Bayless' "incredible biases" for certain styles, such as running quarterbacks and pass-first point guards.

"The only rule at 'First Take' is you must be authentic," he said, adding that sometimes a guest will offer in a pre-show meeting to take either side of a debate to make for better TV.

"Everybody will jump up and go, 'No, we don't do that here, not on this show,' " Horowitz said. "It's the only rule, because we are going to drill you on the set. If you don't believe something in your heart the whole thing goes awry."

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