If there were a Mount Rushmore for cable TV sports debate shows, both Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith would be on it. The two talking heads were one of the first pairs to popularize what is now a common trend on TV: two (or more) people having impassioned arguments about sports.
While Bayless and Smith no longer appear on the same show, it raises the question: are they still friends?
The history of Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and First Take
First Take debuted in 2007 on ESPN2. Previously the show had been known as Cold Pizza, featuring Bayless, host Jay Crawford, and columnist Woody Paige. Smith would not join the program until 2012. That’s when he and Bayless became the iconic duo sports fans would come to associate with televised sports debate.
Bleacher Report compiled some of the show’s most infamous moments throughout the years, including:
- Smith claiming that Bayless, an unapologetic Tim Tebow aficionado, “ruined” the former QB’s career. Bayless had a similar affinity for Johnny Manziel that also did not go well.
- Jalen Rose appearing on the program to criticize the concept of sports media, debating with both Smith and Bayless.
- Smith being incredulous when Bayless claimed Brett Favre played poorly due to travel.
- Mark Cuban calling out Bayless over his criticism of LeBron James.
The point of the show was to create divisiveness and it never disappointed. Smith and Bayless had multiple shouting matches over the years, becoming well known for their propensity for disagreement. But their partnership at First Take is no more.
Where are they now?
Skip Bayless left First Take in 2016. He now appears on a similar style of a show called Undisputed. Now he argues every weekday with former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe. As for Smith, he’s still holding it down at ESPN on First Take. Instead of Bayless, he now spars with boxing analyst Max Kellerman.
After Bayless left, First Take suffered a massive decline in ratings. To keep the ship afloat, ESPN signed Smith to the tune of a $10 million deal. He’s now the network’s highest-paid personality. Bayless made out well in his new role, signing a four-year deal worth $5 million with a $4 million signing bonus.
Are Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless friends?
Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless have a long and storied history together, but their working relationship was put on hold several years ago. It would make sense if the two declined to be friendly from here on out. After all, Smith works for ESPN and Bayless works for FS1, two direct competitors.
Despite their professional break-up, the two have remained on good terms, however.
Smith appeared on the YES Network’s CenterStage with Michael Kay. In it, he was asked who he’d want in a foxhole with him. His answer revealed where his relationship with Bayless stands:
“Skip Bayless and I are tight and we’re tight in a very different and unorthodox way. You’ll never see us hanging together. We might go out to dinner. His definition of a vice is Diet Mountain Dew. That’s Skip Bayless, he’s a devout Christian. I try to be. So we’re very different, but I’ll tell you for the purposes of a debate show, that’s my man.”
After years of yelling at each other on camera, Smith and Bayless clearly still have what appears to be an unbreakable bond. Sports debate shows are commonplace now, but First Take with Bayless and Smith was one of the forebearers of all the others. No matter what network they’re shouting on, they’ll probably be connected in the minds of sports fans for the rest of their careers.