A take on First Take

Old habits die hard, they say. And it seems like I can do nothing to rebuke their peremptory aphorisms (is peremptory redundant here?), or at least that’s what I realize every time I toss ESPN’s First Take onto my computer screen as comforting background noise if not a directly frustrating source of entertainment. Despite my insistence in the classroom that my students engage in dialogue, not debate – meaning that they’re actively present and open to new ways of thinking, not bent on proving their narrow view as forever right and every other view as forever wrong and ridiculous – I can’t help but watch Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless’ nonsensical, hyperbolic banter. They communicate in a way that epitomizes the worst of our nation’s discourse – loud, ignorant, intransigent, biased conviction. Now there are moments, shockingly, when they do speak in a measured, skeptical way that betrays their standard circus performance, but given how infrequent those sober times are, my criticism of their act must persist. Yet what of the criticism of myself? Of my complicity as a viewer in tacitly promoting their toxic paradigm? Granted, their purpose is to entertain, which is the fundamental limitation of television as a medium (which I’ve written about before), but surely there is a way to entertain and to explore complexity and ambiguity. The sports world – and competition/conflict/drama generally – leaves little room for such an intellectual expanse, such an open field. There have to be boundaries, we have to stay within them, and we have to care deeply and fixedly about the mostly trivial things that dwell there. Knowing better, why do I keep going back?

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