The story may be told — possibly sooner rather than later — as to what happened between Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless that led to Sharpe reportedly departing their FS1 show "Undisputed."
There's speculation, of course. Maybe things started to unravel last December when Bayless took a deeply personal shot at Sharpe during a discussion about Tom Brady's poor play, saying Brady was "way better" as a player than Sharpe, who was just the eighth tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It may not have helped when Bayless stood by what many considered a callous tweet just a couple of weeks later, in the moments after Buffalo's Damar Hamlin had to be resuscitated on-field during a Monday night game.
Regardless of the why or how, it feels like Sharpe's departure will create a void in the sports talk space.
Full disclosure: I pretty much loathe the sports "debate" shows that have become standard fare. What may have been organic when Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser began "Pardon the Interruption" over 20 years ago on ESPN — two friends and Washington Post sports columnists, one white and one Black, taking their inter-newsroom sports debates to television — has metastasized into a cadre of formulaic productions that require one Black man and one white man out-screaming each other over topics big and small and sometimes contrived.
And while I wasn't at all a regular "Undisputed" viewer, when clips of the show came across social media, I was more often than not impressed by Sharpe, particularly his stance on issues of race and social justice.
He was passionate. But he wasn't just ranting: he knew history and conveyed it.
There was the time in 2020 when Drew Brees appeared on Yahoo Finance and said he would never respect anyone who disrespected the American flag by kneeling during the national anthem a la Colin Kaepernick, citing his grandfathers who fought in World War II. Brees twisted the intent of kneeling nearly four years after Kaepernick and others had clearly stated the intent of the gesture, and he was ignorant of history. Sharpe, saying he wasn't surprised by Brees' comments, gave a dissertation on the fallacy of his words.
"They [Black men] were fighting in a foreign land for a freedom that when they came home they did not enjoy like Drew Brees' grandfathers did," Sharpe noted. "Did Drew know that Black men, when they came home that were caught in their military uniforms a lot of times were beaten, jailed or even killed?
"Does he realize that every war that's ever been fought in American history, Black men have fought in that war?"
Later that same year, Sharpe highlighted the difficulties of being Black in America and "the talk" that Black families have with their children.
"I've been thinking an awful a lot about this," Sharpe said. "Black skin is a weapon. If you view my Black skin as a weapon, you will never see me as being unarmed, because I'm always Black. If you view my Black skin as a threat, you'll never see me as non-threatening. And therein lies the problem: because of how you view me."
In 2017, he called out Green Bay Packers fans and others who wouldn't link arms in a show of support for freedom, equality and tolerance when the NFL did the absolute minimum after President Donald Trump called any player who kneeled a "son of a bitch."
"What it comes down to, what the Packers fans and a lot of people across America: they don't give a damn about this [racial justice] issue. Let's make that abundantly clear," Sharpe said.
In an increasingly polarized environment, in a space where some sports fans wail that they don't want politics with their football, Sharpe could explain why they are inextricably linked, and why it's wrong to care about Black men and women only when they're entertaining you.
In more recent years, major sports media outlets have featured their Black on-air talent speaking forcefully and detailing what it's really like for them. How they feel about racism and police brutality, and what they've encountered, the zeroes on their paychecks offering no protection against profiling or abuse. It took the brutal murder of George Floyd for this to happen, but you take small victories where you can, I suppose.
Do they have the green light to share all of their feelings? That's unclear.
We don't know yet what is in the offing for Sharpe. He has his popular "Club Shay Shay" podcast, but that is interviews with celebrities. In watching several clips, he doesn't discuss race, certainly not in the same way he did on "Undisputed." Talking about race with Black guests isn't going to be the same conversation as the ones he had with Bayless and FS1's viewers anyway; there's shared experiences and things that just don't have to be said or explained.
If Sharpe was ever holding back on "Undisputed," it was hard to tell. He offered a lot. Lessons and history, a glimpse at what it's like to walk in his shoes. Undoubtedly, not every viewer wanted to hear it, but he had the platform and he used it.