On Tuesday, sports' reigning hot take artiste, Skip Bayless, turned 67. As way of marking the day, he published a lengthy autobiographical essay on Facebook that details his hardscrabble upbringing in Oklahoma. Bayless has always been persona non grata among thinking sports fans who believe in nuance and shades of gray, as opposed to Skip's world of the binary where every take is a bloodsport between two sides. His megalomania remains untethered to reality, and when you hear him describe his upbringing, it's easy to see why.
"I was 'raised' by an evil creep of an alcoholic father and a self-absorbed mother who eventually fell to the bottom of the bottle herself," he laments after outlining his code for life: "Trust only yourself and your instincts. Never back down. Survive and prevail." Those three brief maxims might as well be the guiding mantra of America's 45th President.
Regardless of how you feel about Bayless, the childhood he describes is brutal and unsparing—particularly his unflinching look at the violence he encountered at the hands of his alcoholic father:
My father’s abuse didn’t stop with the emotional or verbal variety. He did a lot of his own heavy lifting at the Hickory House, and in my childhood, before the alcohol began to weaken and shrink him, he was a black-haired, bad-tempered, muscled-up 5-foot-9 by maybe 180 pounds. When he got mad, which was often, he hit me in the face with his open right hand, always making sure he caught me in the cheek or lip or eye with his wedding ring, which would leave a bruise or welt or a little taste of blood. Freud would’ve had a field day with that. I put up with this until I was maybe 14, when one night I told him if he ever hit me again, I was going to hit back. He knew I meant it. I was big for my age. That was the end of the wedding-ring wounds. He was nothing but a coward of a bully.
From age 7 or 8 until I left home for good at 18, I spent just about every Friday and Saturday night at some friend’s house, just to stay away from my father. I didn’t even have to tell my mother where I was. Not once did a friend ever spend the night at my house. Not once. I had no curfew or ground rules.
Eventually, Skip fought back and knocked his belligerent dad to the ground. The rightful derision he holds for his long-dad father is clear by how he talks of his passing:
One Sunday afternoon not long after that, my Mom knocked on my bedroom door and said, “You need to go out and get your father. He’s sitting in the driveway with a pistol in his lap and he says he’s going to blow his brains out.”
And I shook my head no and said, “He won’t do it. He doesn’t have the guts.”
He soon moved out and took up with a woman who lived down the street, a friend of my mother’s. They eventually moved to Tulsa, tried to open another hole-in-the-wall barbecue place and lived in a trailer park. My father eventually drank himself to death at age 49. The official cause: cirrhosis of the liver.
According to Bayless, his mom battled alcoholism as well, but went to Alcoholics Anonymous and faced her addiction head-on. As disgusted as Bayless sounds when he chronicles his father's various transgressions, there's real love for his mom, whose strength he sees in himself.
Unlike my father, my mother had the backbone to take on and beat her demon. That, and the desire to live. My mother quit drinking cold turkey, never missed a Monday-night AA meeting and stayed sober the rest of her life. My mother humbled herself into someone I barely knew. My mother openly and constantly referred to herself as a recovering alcoholic, said she had a disease and warned she would always be one drink from oblivion. My mother remarried happily. My mother became a leader in AA. My mother channeled her addictive behavior into, of all things … golf! She took up the game at age 50 and won her club championship several times.
My mother was something. Much of her is in me.
You should read the rest of his birthday essay because it's an unvarnished narrative by a man whose own self-mythology goes a long way towards explaining his professional behavior. We're glad his hardened belief system helped him survive a childhood that may ruined many others, but we wish it had also allowed him a modicum of humility and decency. The world has long since reached its capacity for egomaniacs who think everything they say and write should be emblazoned on the very stones in the Book of Exodus.