Ernestine Sclafani Bayless is like many partners of avid sports fans in that she is not a fan herself but tries to be a good sport and follow along in the interest of spending time together.
The fact that the fan in her life happens to be a professional sports talker and longtime social media lightning rod makes things more interesting, and complicated.
That would be Skip Bayless, whom Ernestine met in 2005 and married three years ago, just before they relocated from New York to Southern California to coincide with Bayless’ relocation from ESPN to Fox Sports.
Ernestine, who grew up in Mastic Beach and had been working for a quarter century in public relations in New York, was transitioning at the time to freelance p.r. work, and last year found herself with extra time.
So she decided to write a how-to book for partners in similar circumstances.
"I had friends say to me, ‘I don’t know how you put up with it on a Sunday,’ or, ‘You watch games on Saturday?’ ” she said. “I’d say, ‘Yeah, I watch because I want to be with him.’
“So I thought, well there’s something for a book, not to teach women about sports, because I don’t care about the 40-yard line, I don’t care about any of the rules. Mine would be tips on how I’ve kept my relationship alive.”
The result, “Balls: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive with a Sports-Obsessed Guy,” is a quick, lighthearted read that provides assorted pieces of advice.
“I live with a person who is magnified a thousand percent to the average person who lives with a guy who likes one team or two teams,” she said.
“It’s just a craziness that the more I started getting into it I saw this whole different world guys live in, because it becomes a religion and it becomes larger than life and they talk about their team like, ‘We won,’ as if they played on the team. I find it very funny. It’s very crazy to me.”
She said the only football games she had seen before meeting Skip were as a clarinet player for the William Floyd High School marching band.
And unlike Skip, who is from Oklahoma, she lacked any emotional connection to college sports.
“Growing up on Long Island, you didn’t have that,” she said. “You have the Giants. You have the Jets. What are you going to do, go to Suffolk Community College basketball games? It’s a different world.”
Being married to Skip means being accustomed to public criticism. He is paid well by Fox to have bold opinions, and many of those opinions get a rise out of people.
They met before the current era of social media, and reactions to him were an eye-opener.
“In the beginning, especially if he was talking about a certain athlete or team, people would just roast him,” Ernestine said. “It was brutal, and I was reading the comments back then. I’m very possessive of anybody I care about and anybody I love.
“I’m from Long Island, so if you’re going to say something about someone I care about I’m going to beat the crap out of you. I would say, ‘Oh my God,’ and he would say, ‘Don’t even worry about it.’ But it would stick with me, because these are awful things to say about people who a., you don’t know and b., it’s just sports.”
Ernestine said when people approach Skip in public, they usually are complimentary, or they express disagreement but do so respectfully.
“That’s what the whole social media thing is that I despise, that people don’t have nerve to say what they want to say,” she said.
Saying what she wants is not a problem for Ernestine, who grew up with an Italian-American father who was an engineer at Republic Aviation and a Jewish mother. The family moved from East Islip to Mastic when she was 5.
“He wanted to move his family out to have a nice life where it was quiet,” she said. “So we moved to Mastic Beach. Back in the day when I lived there, there were tons of potato farms and it was not the cool place where Anna Wintour now lives . . . It was very neighborhood-y.”
One thing about the book that likely will bother some readers is its stereotypical gender assumptions about sports fans.
Ernestine acknowledged there are many women passionate about sports, some of whom live with men who are not. But she was unapologetic about her approach.
“You can’t make the statement it’s 100 percent, but I would say while I’ve been doing this [book tour], there are such a huge amount of women who say, ‘I can relate to this,’ ” she said.
“If you take offense, then you don’t have to read the book, right? This is just my life and I know there are lot of women out there who can relate to it.”