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January 23, 2023

If you’ve watched enough of Fox Sports 1’s weekday debate show, “Undisputed,” you know it’s pretty much unwatchable.

Professional troll Skip Bayless and his TV nemesis Shannon Sharpe take a topic — usually the state of the Dallas Cowboys or the play of LeBron James — and beat it into the ground day after day after day.

But just when you think you can ignore the show, one of the co-hosts says or does something that goes outside the lines of good taste or decent behavior. For example, Bayless recently chose to tweet about how the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills were going to make up their game while we still didn’t know the condition of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who had a cardiac arrest on the field and needed CPR.

Not to be outdone, Sharpe crossed his own line Friday night when he nearly got in a physical altercation while sitting in the front row of an NBA game in Los Angeles. It gets worse. He was arguing with a player in the game.

Sharpe, who is 54 and a Pro Football Hall of Famer, was talking trash to a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, and it ended up with an unsettling scene of Sharpe and Memphis players being separated. (Here’s the video.) Here’s another video of Sharpe getting into a heated exchange with the father of one of the Memphis players. (The two eventually hugged it out.)

But Sharpe bragged about it all to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, saying, “They didn’t want this smoke, Dave.”

This is totally unacceptable. The NBA shouldn’t have it and Fox Sports 1 definitely shouldn’t have it. If this were any non-famous spectator, if this were you or me, they would be ejected from the game and, possibly, banned for life. Imagine if a brawl had broken out in the crowd, and the damage that could have been done. How is Fox Sports 1 not embarrassed by one of their so-called “stars” acting this way?

Veteran sportswriter Jeff Pearlman tweeted, “Watching this is beyond mortifying. Again, you’re @ShannonSharpe. You’re FIFTY FOUR. At a basketball game. Challenging the players to fight? Seriously? It’s pathetic.”

Sadly, LeBron James backed Sharpe. James said, “That’s my guy. I’ll always have his back, and he’s got mine. He can talk with the best of them, that’s for sure.”

For James to take the side of a spectator in a dustup with another NBA player is troubling.

But how’s this for irony? It was November 2021 when James had two fans ejected from a game in Indianapolis because of their trash-talking and guess who came to his defense and criticized the fans?

Yep, Sharpe, who said on “Undisputed”:

“You know what these seats cost, Skip, Sitting courtside. … They know right from wrong. But somehow, and it’s been like this for a very long time, people think because they pay money — and we see this in restaurants, you think you can talk to your server any kind of way. You think because you’re paying an enormous amount of money, and the athletes are there to entertain you, you can say, you can do whatever you want. ‘It is well within my rights because I paid $5,000 or I paid an exorbitant amount of money for this ticket.’

“And I agree with LeBron. Skip, boo me. It’s a badge of honor if I’m in a visiting arena and I get booed. But you cannot say certain things like what they be saying and think that it’s OK. What has transpired is that America has become more comfortable with saying things to people. They using the term ‘snowflake.’ ‘Oh, you soft.’ Nah, brah. Give me my respect. That’s all I ask.

“I’m a firm believer, you don’t have to respect me but I’ll be damned if I’ll let you disrespect me. I’m glad LeBron handled it that way. Get them out of the arena. They crossed the line.”

What would 2021 Sharpe say about the Sharpe who attended Friday night’s Lakers game?

Sharpe has not commented further on the incident since it happened. No doubt he is saving it for this morning’s “Undisputed.” It might be the only reason to ever watch the show.

Update: On Monday morning’s “Undisputed,” Sharpe gave a rather lengthy and what certainly looked and sounded like a sincere apology for behavior on Friday night. Here’s the video of that apology. Give Sharpe credit, he owned up to what he did, took full responsibility and apologized.

Disturbing tweet/story of the day

Law enforcement personnel gather outside a ballroom dance club in Monterey Park, Calif. on Sunday, a day after a mass shooting took place at the dance club following a Lunar New Year celebration. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Washington Post’s John Woodrow Cox, who often covers gun violence and its impact on children, tweeted this on Sunday:

“We’d planned to publish a story this morning about a 6-year-old who shot his teacher, but didn’t, because someone else shot two dozen people last night. I can’t recall how many times I’ve still been immersed in the coverage of one awful shooting when another one happened.”

Sadly, that’s how mass shootings feel in this country. Just when we are trying to come to grips with one, there is another. The latest came Saturday night in Monterey Park, California, where a gunman killed 10 people at a ballroom dance studio during Lunar New Year celebrations. At least 10 others were injured.

According to The Associated Press’ Andrew Dalton and Jae C. Hong, this was the nation’s fifth mass killing this month, and the deadliest since May 24 of last year when 21 were killed in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting. The Los Angeles Times called it “one of California’s worst in recent memory.”

I’ll have more about the shooting in the newsletter in the days to come.

Controversial story

The University of Georgia recently won the college football national championship, but then tragedy struck less than a week later as the team celebrated the title. Four connected with the program — two players and two athletic department employees — were involved in a single-car accident. Two were killed and the other two were injured.

On Sunday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a story with the headline “Strip club visit raises questions about fatal UGA crash.” The story starts with: “A late-night visit to a strip club preceded a car crash that killed a University of Georgia football player and an employee of the school’s football program, raising questions about boundaries between the program’s staff and its athletes.”

The AJC received plenty of backlash, particularly on social media. AJC managing editor Leroy Chapman Jr. wrote a companion piece to the story in “Why we’re writing this story.”

Chapman pointed out the facts of the story: A university employee, Chandler LeCroy, was driving the rented vehicle. (A crash report from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department said the driver exceeded the 40 mph speed limit.) LeCroy was killed in the crash. Chapman wrote, “Why the four occupants of the SUV wound up together that night is important to understand. Those facts will determine who is ultimately accountable and what role the university’s decisions and policies might have played. The university is responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of student athletes.”

Investigating what happened that night is certainly a story worth pursuing. But it doesn’t mean a story must be written. As far as we know so far, the four hanging out together — no matter where it was — was not illegal and doesn’t necessarily suggest it was a reason for the accident. Devin Willock, a player who was killed, was the youngest of the group. He was 20. LeCroy was 24. The other two passengers were 21 and 26.

This tweet from a Georgia fan makes a really smart point: “This is a public interest story in a multitude of ways, from the deaths of young people to questions around what exactly happened. The AJC *should* investigate this. But it’s nothing short of shameful to write that headline and hide the article behind a paywall.”

He adds, “By writing that headline, you’re (in)directly implying that crash happened because some kids were partying in Athens and went to the downtown strip club. In short, whether you meant to or not, you’re saying the strip club visit is tied to the crash; as a punishment or a cause.”

Dungy’s response

NBC Sports NFL analyst Tony Dungy, shown here last October. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)

Last week, NBC football analyst and Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy tweeted then deleted a debunked conspiracy theory about schools putting litter boxes in schools for kids who identify as cats. To repeat: That is not true. After Dungy was rightly scolded online for his irresponsible tweet, he took it down, but without explanation.

On Saturday, Dungy tweeted, “This past week I posted a tweet that I subsequently deleted. I issued an apology but not everyone saw it. So I am reposting my apology here. As a Christian I want to be a force for love to everyone. A force for healing and reconciliation-not for animosity.”

Here is the apology: “I saw a tweet yesterday and I responded to it in the wrong way. As a Christian I should speak in love and in ways that are caring and helpful. I failed to do that and I am deeply sorry.”

Good that Dungy apologized, but he never did address what was actually wrong with this tweet: that it is just not true.

Video of the day

Aubrey Plaza hosted “Saturday Night Live” and reminded everyone that she was recently voted the most famous person from Delaware. And someone she beat out had something to say about it in this video.

Speaking of Plaza, The Atlantic’s Amanda Wicks with “Aubrey Plaza gave SNL permission to get weird.”

Sad news

Gwen Knapp, a respected sports reporter and columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer and San Francisco Chronicle and, most recently, an editor in The New York Times’ sports department, died on Friday. She was 61. Her sister, Susan Knapp McClements, said the cause was lymphoma.

Knapp, who spent more than 30 years as a sportswriter, became a sports columnist in 1995 and was one of only a few female sports columnists at a major metropolitan newspaper at the time.

The New York Times’ Kevin Draper wrote, “Ms. Knapp was particularly well known among sports fans in the Bay Area for her focus on subjects like racism, sexism and drugs. Her columns drew the ire of some of the biggest names in sports, like the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and the baseball star Barry Bonds. As early as 2001, before Armstrong’s third of seven consecutive Tour de France victories and well before most other American journalists, Ms. Knapp raised doubts about the validity of his performances.”

Draper noted that Armstrong wrote the Chronicle to complain about Knapp, while denying he ever took performance-enhancing drugs. Years later, he did admit he took banned substances in his nine Tour de France victories.

Ray Ratto, a longtime columnist in the Bay Area who knew Knapp well, wrote for Defector: “Gwen Knapp Paid Attention To The Things That Matter.”

Ratto wrote, “… you could take her talent for granted because she could mesmerize you with her mastery of the shambolic. She began every day well-ordered and ready to face the joys of the day, but by sunset or game’s end she transformed herself into a whirlwind of whirlwinds. Her hair, which was her primary instrument of stress relief, looked by writing time as though a family of badgers had rented it out as a boxing gym. She never failed to deliver the right column for the right reason, but she could make the drive there a hilarious adventure.”

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

Clarification: This story has been updated to say Atlanta Journal-Constitution managing editor Leroy Chapman Jr. wrote a companion piece to go along with a story about the accident involving four people associated with the University of Georgia football program. The Chapman piece was not in response to criticism from readers. The original item newsletter item was unclear on that point.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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