Every time Michelle Beadle has ever seen me, she's called me "f---face." There are some variations. "Hey, f---face!" "How's it going, f---face?" "Long time no see, f---face." But I always get called a f---face.
I shouldn't be too flattered; from what I understand, it's a go-to term of endearment for Beadle. And it is endearing. (And certainly has its one-of-the-fellas merits when dealing with the primarily male-driven sports media.) When Beadle was briefly at NBC before returning to ESPN last March, I was the occasional fill-in co-host/second-in-command on her show The Crossover. When her wooden, charmless initial co-host Dave Briggs was booted after just a couple of months, they had me and other fellow C-listers from the sports media world like SB Nation's Matt Ufford and Dan Rubenstein and The Dan Patrick Show's Paul Pabst pop in from time to time. I'm not the most riveting television presence, but I loved working with Beadle.
She's a terrific talent: She's instantly likable and relatable on television in a way that few are, possessing that natural, ineffable ability that the greats of the medium have. Beadle has that Matt Lauer thing, that Bob Costas thing, that Diane Sawyer thing, the sense that she just happens to be hanging out on your television screen being herself. Television is about giving the illusion of casual intimacy to millions of people at a time, and Beadle is brilliant at it. When I was on The Crossover, I took delight in basically just playing Ed McMahon to Beadle's Carson, laughing at the right times, nodding along as she conducted an interview, trying to find the least obtrusive moment to interject with a joke. (Plus, you know, Tom Green.) She's the real deal, and when she left NBC and returned to ESPN, she was welcomed back with open arms and no hard feelings. She's so skilled that she temporarily made even Colin Cowherd look likable. People know how good she is.
Beadle has done this in an unconventional way, too: She has remained defiantly herself, whether it's (unnecessarily) feuding with Erin Andrews or amusingly calling out some of her more idiotic Twitter followers. Some of my favorite subplots of this year's NBA Finals involved occasionally glancing courtside during San Antonio home games and seeing Beadle losing her damned mind. The San Antonio native has been a Spurs fan a lot longer than she has been on television, and even though she had done some hosting on the ESPN pregame show during the playoffs, she got to spend the Finals cheering like she always had. This is a newer thing, you know; outside of Bill Simmons, and maybe Michael Wilbon's Northwestern honking, openly rooting for specific teams is still considered a bit gauche among old-timers in sports journalism. You can't imagine a mid-tier SportsCenter anchor getting away with it. This makes Beadle more likable and relatable too. There are so many bland hosts, and there she is, screaming like the rest of us.
So, it's clear that I'm in the tank for Beadle here, yes? So let's say this then: What she did on Friday afternoon was the most important thing she'll ever do in journalism. It is legitimately one of the most courageous things I've ever seen someone in sports journalism do.
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In the off-chance that you haven't heard, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith went on his happy-fart-time-hour-jamboree show First Take on Friday morning and said this about the NFL's two-game suspension of Ray Rice, who knocked his then-fiancée unconscious in a casino elevator earlier this year:
But what I've tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this what, I've done this all my life, let's make sure we don't do anything to provoke wrong actions … we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn't happen.
Deadspin noticed this and put up a post around 11:30 a.m. ET, which got a few hits and got a few people talking. But it was all relatively muted, just those First Take boys doing what they do, until 12:39 p.m. ET, when Beadle chimed up on Twitter.
So I was just forced to watch this morning's First Take. A) I'll never feel clean again B) I'm now aware that I can provoke my own beating.- Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
I was in an abusive relationship once. I'm aware that men & women can both be the abuser. To spread a message that we not 'provoke' is wrong- Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
Violence isn't the victim's issue. It's the abuser's. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.- Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle) July 25, 2014
Now, three days later, it is obvious that Stephen A. Smith is in serious career hot water for his "provoke" comment, particularly after he went on Twitter and, as people like Stephen A. Smith tend to do, made it about 100 times worse. On Monday's First Take, Smith issued a scripted apology.
But there was little reason to think this would turn into much of a tempest before Beadle's tweet. Smith is generally untouchable at ESPN, his show a ratings machine that's perpetually in danger of eating everything of quality that ESPN does. (He had even said something similarly repulsive in the past, to zero reaction.) First Take had reached the point that either Smith or Skip Bayless could have cooked a rabbit on live television and there would have been little backlash; the free rein for those two to be awful is basically unprecedented.
Then Beadle -- who had been bashing the NFL the day before for its weak "punishment" of Rice, also in defiance of the rest of her network -- spoke up. Suddenly, people weren't just talking about Smith's revolting comments, but also the general place of women in sports and the practice of victim-blaming in domestic violence cases. Beadle didn't just call out Smith; she started a conversation that we desperately needed to have. She called attention to Smith, and the scores of others like him. We're all still talking about Stephen A. Smith and domestic violence and Ray Rice because of Michelle Beadle. It is also of note that Smith didn't feel the need to explain himself on Twitter until Beadle had spoken up, and he was so upset by her reaction that he specifically referenced her in tweeting his "defense."
Do not think that Beadle, who declined to comment for this piece, did all this without considerable risk. First off, this is ESPN, where keeping criticism in-house is a matter of public policy. (Bill Simmons was suspended from Twitter for three days last year -- as much as being told to stop providing free content to a third-party platform for 72 hours counts as a "suspension" -- for criticizing First Take.) Whenever ESPN is involved in some sort of controversy, it's sort of amazing how many ESPN employees -- who ordinarily can't stop chattering on Twitter all day about anything -- immediately go mum for their own professional well-being. Even after Beadle spoke up, most ESPN writers didn't let out a peep, at least about Smith. (Jane McManus of espnW had written a despairing piece about the NFL's domestic violence problem.) That Beadle would call out a colleague took guts, and legitimate outrage.
But the wrath of suits is nothing compared to what Beadle exposed herself to online. She has always enjoyed mocking people on Twitter (particularly for their poor grammar), but the bile that regularly comes her way as a woman working in sports media is real, and unceasing. It's par for the course for female sports journalists, as any of them can tell you: If you're on air, you can count on people telling you you're ugly or fat or stupid, or you slept your way to your job, or nice-report-on-Johnny-Manziel-now-show-us-your-boobs, and you can count on this every time you do anything. Beadle, an avid Twitterer, knew this as well as anyone, which meant she knew responses like this, and this, and this, and dozens more like them, were coming. It's one thing to know that you're in the right, and that those who are attacking you are scared, angry little cretins. It's quite another to actually have to read all those people saying horrific things to you. Even when you're on the side of the just, every one of them has to take a little piece out of you.
This is not an academic issue either, specifically for Beadle, who has dealt with an actual stalking case. And it's not just an online one either, or one that doesn't involve any female sports reporter's daily life. Beadle and Erin Andrews might not get along personally, but certainly any woman in sports can relate to the disgust, and the sad familiarity, when a radio personality says about Andrews that "if [she] weighed 15 pounds more she would be a waitress at Perkins.'" (And this was in the guy's apology.) Beadle and other women are walking around daily in a hostile environment. To take that heat, to take more heat, for the sake of standing up for women everywhere, for what is right, knowing full well what's coming… that's truly impressive. That took more courage than it might appear.
Listen, Stephen A. Smith probably isn't going to get fired (his move to SiriusXM radio from ESPN Radio is oddly timed, but likely unrelated), and First Take isn't going to go away. Standing up on Twitter isn't going to save the world. But the next time some guy in sports media has the same thought that Smith did -- and it's a sentiment that's far too common -- he's going to stop for a second. As it is, a lot more people, men and women, are talking about sports' inextricable connection to domestic violence today than were on Friday morning because of Beadle. She did something important, and brave, and it grew into something larger, something good. It was difficult not to be proud of the ole' f---face.
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