This is the first article in a two-part series.
When First Take was launched on May 7, 2007, it was nothing more than a run of the mill morning sports show broadcasted on ESPN. In August of 2011, the now disgraced Jamie Horowitz took over the fledgling show and turned it into a two-hour long debate between two of the most controversial sports writers. Skip Bayless, who is known for claiming that former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman is ‘homosexual,’ and Stephen A. Smith were introduced to the American public and immediately left their mark on the sports media landscape.
Within three months of the change in format, First Take had nine of its ten highest rated episodes due to a new environment that encouraged media pundits and commentators to give their “hot takes” and incite heated arguments instead of reporting the news.
As the ratings for First Take increased exponentially, ESPN changed from a network driven by substantive sports news to a network driven by personalities and stars. The network began to run stories on entertaining figures like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel constantly though both were failed pro athletes, and scrapped coverage of sports like hockey altogether.
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) February 7, 2018
The network also gave “hot take” artists free reign, allowing Boston sports loyalist Bill Simmons, a spot on the news desk during the 2013 NBA Draft Desk which led to multiple unprofessional moments indicating that ESPN was no longer interested in journalism.
First Take not only changed the way ESPN approached sports media, but the entire landscape of sports media. When former First Take showrunner Jamie Horowitz was hired to revamp the struggling Fox Sports division he took it upon himself to remake the branch of the Fox conglomerate into a First Take sports media company.
His first major moves were to hire Colin Cowherd, who was recently let go by ESPN for derogatory comments about people of Dominican heritage, and controversial African American sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who has a less than stellar reputation in the black community.
A few months into his reign, Horowitz changed Fox Sports when he signed his former colleague Skip Bayless to a five year $25 million contract to become the face of the network. Soon after, Horowitz paired Bayless with former NFL star Shannon Sharpe to form a First Take-esque show called Undisputed.
The success of First Take did not only change mainstream sports media, but the way Americans perceive sports. The term “hot take” is now a widely known phenomena that can be seen throughout the twitterverse, allowing everyday people to cast out their reactionary opinions. PFT Commenter, who was listed as the number one sports media talent by Forbes in its 40 under 40 series, was one of the first people to use “hot takes” to gain notoriety, albeit in a satirical manner.
Hike up ur skirt a little more bill https://t.co/AHjbBuFEkA
— PFTCommenter (@PFTCommenter) February 7, 2018
In an article with Rolling Stone he stated, “At the exact same time that Skip Bayless and the entire First Take industrial complex on ESPN was coming into full form, people were giving the most outrageous takes. Things like, ‘You should encourage players to hit with their helmets more often because the human body can adapt to concussions like a callous, so your brain will toughen itself up.’ People in comment sections that saw themselves as the working man’s Bayless. One guy on television who has disingenuous takes has now inspired millions of people to think about sports in that exact same paradigm.”
The truth is that a show meant to entertain by exposing the world to the most preposterous of thoughts has morphed the entire sports media landscape into a parody of what it is supposed to be, and we have First Take to thank. Unfortunately, the sports media landscape isn’t the only media genre to regress due to the First Take franchise, a topic that will be explored in part two of this article.