WASHINGTON — Sports narratives are fun.
National talking heads, like Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman of ESPN’s “First Take,” can take soundbites and parse them down, strip them of all inherent context, and then project their opinions on those watered down excerpts out to millions of viewers. From there, a new narrative is born.
It’s a neat trick; they may be the best at it.
Which is why it was so odd for Smith, one day after ripping Redskins defensive linemen Chris Baker and Ricky Jean Francois for claiming the Redskins run the NFC East, to make so such a huge admission to begin his followup rant.
“First of all, I want to say to the idiots out there that actually take something like, I’m not talking about the Redskins, I’m talking about the idiot trolls out there who actually take something like this — what do you think I’m gonna do, get in a fight with Chris Baker? What do you think, I want to commit suicide?” Smith said Wednesday on First Take. “It’s stupid. We’re talking sports. I’m having a good time.”
Word of Tuesday’s First Take broadcast apparently got back to Baker, so he responded to Smith on Twitter.
Baker’s teammates joined together in defending their honor, with Pierre Garcon, Francois and DeAngelo Hall all offering a response to Smith.
As it turns out, at the time of Smith’s initial remarks on Tuesday’s broadcast, the Redskins were enjoying their day off, which they get once per week. By Wednesday, it was back to the grind of preparing for their upcoming game against the Lions.
Smith invited Baker onto his show to hash things out regardless, which Baker accepted.
Leaving that detail out must have been a simple oversight by the First Take hosts.
“We did reach out to the Redskins to ask if Chris Baker wanted to join us on the show,” First Take host Molly Qerim said Wednesday while reintroducing the topic. “The team declined.”
Smith began his Wednesday rant by making a startling admission: “You’re right. I’m a professional smack-talker. That’s absolutely true.”
“I’m also a professional journalist for 24 years who was elevated to a general sports columnist, one of the few African Americans in the history of this country to have achieved that goal,” he said. “Not to mention hosting my own national radio show, my own national television show. So you’re right. I am a pro. This is my lane. So you are not on a football field, which means you have no chance whatsoever. My condolences to you ahead of time.”
“Chris Baker and the Washington Redskins,” he went on to say. “He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get this, Max. Chris Baker, I owe you a debt of gratitude. I want to personally thank you for opening your mouth and having something to say.”
Wow. Another bold concession.
Smith went on to say what Baker doesn’t seem to understand: “Who do I hate more than anybody in the world. The COWBOYS!”
“And who’s in their division? It would happen to be the Redskins,” he said. “Who’s the guys that were just talking about they’re the kings of the NFC East? It would happen to be the Redskins. So Chris Baker, based upon your words, because you want me to attach a respect to your name, and of course I’m going to for obvious reasons that I already articulated earlier on in terms of your relationship to this network.”
(Smith referenced earlier in the segment he, and other First Take staffers, having a personal relationship with Baker’s wife.)
“Ain’t nothing but respect and love for you, baby! Ain’t nothing but respect and love for you, Chris Baker!” Smith shouted. “But here’s the question! Whatchu gon’ do? Cause last time I checked, I’m sorry, did the Redskins beat the Cowboys? I mean, Max, refresh my memory. I don’t recall. Did the Redskins beat the Cowboys this year? I THINK they lost to the Cowboys. Am I correct? Am I correct, Max?”
“You made that point loud and clear,” Kellerman agreed. “You’re not in first place and you lost to the first place team.”
“So you’re not in first place, AND it’s because you lost to the team that is in first place,” Smith said. “So your definition of kings of the division is being the second place team? I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware. I’m sorry. Not even in chess or checkers is that true. Maybe chess, because we all know that the queen is the real strength. Maybe Chris Baker’s playing chess instead of football. Maybe that’s the problem! Okay?”
Smith went on to say, “The way I look at this Max, according to Chris Baker, you know, I’ll stand corrected. I mean we still got 10 games to GOO, but I will happily stand corrected, Chris, if you are, and the Redskins are what you say you are, which is not the team that hasn’t made the Super Bowl since 1991 by the way! Not that team that hasn’t been to the Super Bowl in 25 years! Oh no! You’re SPECIAL! Okay?
“So since you’re special, with the Dallas Cowboys playing football the way that they play, Max Kellerman, is it wrong? … Is it wrong for me, Max, to sit there and say, ‘Well, I expect the Redskins to step up and handle their business. After all, Chris Baker’s saying put respect on our name, right?’ Ain’t that what he said?! Ain’t that what he said?! I’m just asking, Max. I’m just curious.”
Kellerman then responded by repeating many of the points Smith had already made, including that they are indeed in Smith’s lane, not Baker’s lane.
“I think Chris Baker picked the WRONG fight this time,” he said. “Stephen A., here’s the thing. The Washington franchise, whose name I won’t even use, is the worst franchise in the NFC East. That is the franchise you would least like to be a fan of, the way they run their organization, starting with Dan Snyder. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in a quarter century. They celebrate winning the NFC East one year.
“When they call out, it’s not Dallas who’s running it — actually, at the moment, it is. They are a game better than you, because they beat you, and they’re in first place in the division, as though that’s the important thing, to win the division. And then you call out the Eagles; it’s not the Eagles, who are giving their fans more excitement and hope for the future than Washington is.”
“I was offended as a Giants fan,” he said. “You’re one game better than the Giants at the moment, and the Giants are the only team in the division that has repped in terms of Super Bowl championships, two in the last nine years, when you’ve got zero in 25. So I was offended as a Giants fan. Any NFC East fan’s going to look at Washington and think, ‘Who are you? Are you kidding? Cause you win a game?’
“On the other hand, they’re just, in terms of smack-talking, they were just talking some smack on their way to the locker room. They felt good about themselves because they won a game. Hey, ‘ya know. Whatever.”
Smith then went on to request confirmation, six times, that Baker does in fact play defense.
He then closed his argument by saying, “18th overall. 28th against the rush. ‘Ya might need to fix that if you’re going to be the best in the NFC East with Ezekiel Elliott there. I’m just saying.”
The biggest takeaway from this whole thing is Smith’s admission that this is stupid. Finally.
After all these years, it was Baker who brought it out of him.