Mike Francesa and sports personalities of his ilk have gone out of style. That style being sincerity.
For all of his faults and imperfections, Francesa can never be accused of being a phony. Each and every one of his takes on sports is earnest and genuine. This is how it has always been with Francesa and how it will always be. Unfortunately, for those who enjoy this aspect of the “numbah one” sports-talk radio host in New York, extremely few of Francesa’s kind remain in the hot-takery sports-talk world of today.
When the shift in stylings of sports coverage exactly occurred is difficult to pinpoint, but a plausible turning-point was the rise in prominence of the ESPN program, First Take. Spearheaded by hosts Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith, First Take thrived off of a shift towards debate-style programming in which the most bombastic opinions on sports are not only encouraged, but seemingly required.
Bayless’ relentless aversion to LeBron James, or his undying support of the Dallas Cowboys are just two of numerous examples of sports-talk figures adhering to a scripted storyline of hot takes utilized to generate viewership.
A shift towards debate is by no means limited to athletic examination. It has occurred across many other forums, most notably of which is politics. Additionally, Bayless, Smith, and those in charge at ESPN are no longer the only culprits behind this approach. ESPN’s main “competitor,” (if you want to call them that) FOX Sports, has not been coy with their blueprint as they want to “embrace debate” within the sports media world.
They have poached notable ESPN personalities such as Bayless, Colin Cowherd and others in order to fulfill this ordinance. The network has continued to struggle, but rather than reversing course has instead recently pledged to double-down on its formatting, facilitating the debate-style sports-talk archetype to continue full-speed ahead.
Francesa almost cries when Chris Russo's father calls him after Mike and the Mad Dog split up. pic.twitter.com/VvJewFvNNp
— Sports Funhouse (@SportsFunhouse) July 12, 2017
Long before the combative duos of Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, Bayless and Smith, or Clay Travis and the Social Justice Warriors, there was Francesa and Chris Russo.
Mike and the Mad Dog.
As all media is, Mike and the Mad Dog was ratings-driven, just like any of these debate shows. But ratings were not sought by unbased hot takes. Francesa and Russo acquired fame through authenticity in their contrasting and congruent opinions. When they agreed on a talking-point they meant it. And when they differed in their debates, the authenticity remained.
In 2008 the duo split and Francesa was left to cover twice the amount of airtime on his own. In the decade since, his stardom has only grown. Twitter accounts with tens of thousands of followers are devoted to Francesa-isms. An annual get-together called “Francesacon” is held in the radio host’s honor which he himself attends. And now ESPN is taking on the Mike and the Mad Dog mythos in their famed 30 for 30 documentary series which will test the duo’s legacy on a national stage.
Francesa may occasionally get caught in the apparent exaggeration of his depth of knowledge of hockey or the 64-team NCAA basketball field, but he is only half-god, half mortal, not fully divine.
His opinion may flip-flop, but that is what makes him great! It is what makes him human like all of us. Bayless will go to bat for his Cowboys no matter what, twist the narrative any which way to his benefit because that is what his character is scripted to do. But this is not what a real person does. It is not what you and I do. It is not what Francesa does.
A Jet fan will rip his team to shreds when they’re trash, and back them when things are going well. Debate-style personifications are adamant in their narrative because it is what they are paid to be. Phony.
Francesa will even admit when he is wrong.
Remember where you were on this day… Mike Francesa admits that the callers were right, and he was wrong. Yes, Chris Carter is terrible. pic.twitter.com/qfCh5uItr0
— Sports Funhouse (@SportsFunhouse) June 21, 2017
He may be incorrect WAY more often than he will own up to it, but a single admission alone makes him real. Any hesitation to do so is not his attempt to stay in some pre-set role. It comes from a place of hubris, one that any one of us would acquire after nearly 30 years atop the sports-radio world. Even so, what is more human-like or relatable than arrogance?
He is not perfect. Some of his opinions are outdated and some of his analysis *is* wrong, but Francesa has always been genuine. And in a sports world… in an entire world filled with caricatures and artificial personalities, it is this that I will miss about Mike the most.