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When to speak up and when to be quiet

Reporters far too often find themselves talking when they shouldn’t because being first to speak outweighs being qualified to speak.

Super Bowl XLI - On The Set of ESPN - February 1, 2007

There are many voices present in the sports reporting world. I’m one of them as is every writer on this site and all the major sites and outlets you can think of. Sports reporters have existed since well before any of us current ones came around. There will be people reporting on sports long after every single one of us is gone. It’s my hope that long before my time in the game is up we will have made some serious headway in recognizing what sports reporters are and aren’t qualified to speak up about.

The latest in a long line of sports reporters being out of there depth happened on Undisputed, a talk show hosted by Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe. This particular show is no different than any other talking head sports show rattling around in your brain right now. Sports shows today all meld together into one giant pot of hot takes and wanting to be the loudest dude in the room (the fact that I can write dude without batting an eyelash speaks to the lack of non-cis white male representation in sports reporting.) This week Skip Bayless did what he does best and spoke up when he should have remained silent.

This particular case dealt with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott opening up to the public about his battles with depression after his brother, Jace, committed suicide earlier in 2020. The fact that Bayless felt the need to comment on Prescott’s depression isn’t an issue in and of itself. Any reporter should be able to report on the matters at hand. If all Bayless had said was something akin to “Prescott was clearly suffering, I feel for him, hopefully, he’s in a better place now” then the “news” of Prescott’s depression would have been talked about and empathy for his situation would also have been a part of the reporting. Instead, Bayless stated that Prescott’s depression made him weak and unfit to be a quarterback in the National Football League.

This is an issue that transcends football and the NFL. It crosses over to baseball and the way our favorite sport is covered as well. I could write an entire article about the perverted idea of mental weakness that is trotted out any time any baseball player opens up about some psychiatric issue or another. I’m not going to write that column though, because it’s not my place to write that column. I’m not qualified to speak about that issue like other reporters are. It’s important that we take a look at some issues and say, “you know what, I’m gonna back off this one and support these other writers who are far more capable and immersed in the topic at hand.”

The rush is always present for those of us who write about baseball, all sports really, to be first and to be the loudest. It’s honestly something I have always struggled with. My foot has always been firmly planted in the area of wanting to write about the topics I care about and not giving much thought to whether I am first or if it’s a topic that will get a lot of readers. I think that’s why I can look at an issue like minor league living conditions and say, “What could I possibly bring to the table that a tenants rights lawyer like Sheryl Ring wouldn’t?” There are times when being a good sports reporter, writer, personality, or whatever nomenclature you prefer is more about how willing you are to keep quiet than how willing you are to start clacking away at your keyboard.

Can I safely say that Skip Bayless is wrong about Dak Prescott, depression, and what it means to be a leader? Yes, I most certainly can. Am I the best voice for people to hear from on issues related to depression and sports? No, I’m decidedly not that person. Others are better, it’s ok to admit that others are better. Being qualified doesn’t mean you have to of played the sport in question or suffered from an illness like depression. All being qualified means is that something in your life has given you the experience that others are lacking.

It’s clear from Bayless’ comments that he lacks the necessary empathy and understanding to talk about depression and how someone might react to their brother committing suicide. Bayless also lacks any sort of medical or psychological background that would give his words extra weight. All in all, Bayless is wholly unqualified to talk about Prescott’s situation. Yet, he felt it was necessary to open up his maw and tell everyone exactly how he felt about Prescott’s situation. That doesn’t make Bayless a sports reporter, it makes him the equivalent of a caller to a sports radio show. We need more reporters who understand what they are qualified to speak on and less who are first-time-caller, long-time-listener, Skip from Pawtucket.