Leave it to ESPN’s First Take to get me riled up over a seemingly innocuous topic.
The titular morning debate show was at it again, turning meaningless sports arguments into an artform, as always. This time around, the much-hated Skip Bayless, the recently-in-hot-water Stephen A. Smith, and guest Shannon Sharpe decided to spend a segment late in the show on the banal topic of the Dallas Cowboys:
Still holding onto the moniker “America’s Team”, should the Cowboys – they of the “one playoff win since 1997” variety – continue to be considered as such?
As I watched this, I just figured that this was typical “debate” fodder that First Take continues to bring to the masses who choose to eat this stuff up – myself included. And, ever the Cowboys apologist (at least, by most viewers’ standards), Bayless literally shouted to the heavens that the Cowboys still deserved to be called “America’s Team”. His reasoning?
They are the most watchable, talkable, fascinating, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-accident-that-is-waiting-to-happen [team] […] They are the most loved team, they are the most hated team. Everybody watches Dallas because everybody wants to see the car wreck that they could be. Everybody wants to see them fail, some people want to see them win […] My definition of “America’s Team” is the team you’re going to watch, and trust me – you will watch every snap.
Essentially, Bayless insists that the Cowboys’ Reality Show-like watchability is the only reason you need for them to keep the moniker. He considers popularity as the driving force behind his definition.
On the other hand, Smith countered by calling America, for good reason, “a nation that is considered one of, if not the greatest, in the world … It’s not about popularity, it’s about efficiency, it’s about production.”
By this definition, he considers the Team of the 2000s – the New England Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls and a consistent winner over the last 15 years – “America’s Team.”
From there, they continued shouting the exact same points at each other, thinking that they would somehow “win” this debate by being the louder competitor.
Chalk this up to a slow news day – you know, besides the death of Robin Williams, the ongoing investigation of Tony Stewart in the death of a fellow Sprint Car driver, and a take-your-pick of the dozens of unfolding storylines in Major League Baseball. But, hey, it’s First Take, so, you know, what do you expect?
In any case, I feel like, against my better judgment and sanity as a sportswriter, I should throw my hat in the ring on this.
Obviously, the definition of “America’s Team” has been, shall we say, evolving ever since the Cowboys first embraced the moniker in 1978. But, personally, I’d like to think the name refers to the embodiment of organizational excellence, rather than a team’s universal popularity. I mean, you can take a look at the moniker’s origins – it was first dubbed in the midst of the Cowboys’ 20-year consecutive winning seasons streak. They were the definition of a winner – much like the Patriots of the 2000s.
Sounds like Stephen A.’s definition, doesn’t it?
Now, people can argue for Skip’s ludicrous definition – say, like this SportsGrid article, which acknowledges the pointlessness of the conversation, while simultaneously calling the moniker a curse more than a gift. And, hey – Skip’s definition makes a lot more sense when you consider its sad underpinnings: a society that covets popularity, sensationalism and the “Reality TV” culture more than anything else.
Insulting? Sure. But if you see Americana as having fallen so far, then, surprise – you’re likely to agree with Skip.
However, I refuse to be so cynical. America is supposed to represent the pinnacle of success – a world power that always strives to be better than it is. Through feast and famine, we find ways to overcome and succeed – that is what America’s Team should say about us all.
Sorry, Cowboys – at least you kind of represent America. Maybe not it’s best aspects, but at least it’s something.