Yesterday, ESPN First Take stars Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith peered into the cameras with glazed eyes and heavy hearts.
In the wake of the explosions at the Boston Marathon on April 15, the normally spunky, argumentative, hotheaded co-stars sat with Cari Champion deflated underneath the blazing production lights, at a loss for words.
I sat on my couch, eyes glued to the television, as the four of us pondered the meaning of sports in the midst of tragedy.
Then Bayless said something perfect: “What we do in the world of sports doesn’t mean a whole lot, but every once in awhile, maybe we can provide just a little bit of a break… maybe a little bit of escape… from the relentless reality of tragedy.”
Smith expressed his reluctance to be at the studio, but agreed with Bayless and explained that their presence was necessary, as there are those in the audience “who embrace sports as an escape from their troubles,” no matter how small or large.
So, in an attempt to provide sports fans with an outlet, the cast continued to discuss current sports news with their heads low.
And with their compassionate and earnest words, ESPN proved, once again, why they are a superlative brand.
For sports fans especially, (I believe) this episode was a necessary relief from the constant newsreel and horrific pictures circulating through the media. For many Americans, sports are not only a passion, but they’re a lifestyle. In times like these, we, sports fans, look to sports for solace.
And that is precisely what First Take provided.
After the cast transparently gave the audience true insight into their own sadness, they sported brave faces and made the reluctant transition to sports.
In my eyes, Bayless, Champion and Smith acted courageously in their attempt to momentarily divert attention away from horror and to provide sports fans with a somewhat normal experience. The team masked their own defeat to ease and comfort their supporters.
When the show came to a close the hosts reverted back to the events in Boston. Bayless even apologized to audience members who may have found it insensitive that they discussed sports. He reiterated their intent to take away some of the harsh impact of the latest evil.
But, although some sports talk took place, Boston still took center stage in the TV personalities’ tone of voice.
In addition to First Take’s approach, ESPN social media accounts suspended irrelevant sports updates (as Matthew Schwartz suggested in his post on PR News), and served as another news source for breaking updates during the bombing aftermath.
The accounts also disseminated thoughts and prayers from pro players, bringing the athletes’ sincerity and compassion to the forefront.
The city of Boston is a great sports town, Smith explained at end of the show. “We stand tall with them and we will help them recover.”
Already one of the most popular brands in the nation, ESPN’s actions in the heart of fear and high emotion were inspiring, appropriate and exemplified what it means to be a premium brand.
For those who would like to hear the episode, you can find the audio here.