Skip Bayless and Dak Prescott: A Tale of Mental Health in Sports

Content warning: Mentions of suicide

Viewers of Fox Sports’ “Undisputed” know what to expect from co-hosts Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe: lengthy, polarizing sports commentary. Still, many were shocked by Bayless’s criticism of Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott for opening up about his depression following the suicide of his older brother.

On Sep. 10, Bayless expressed doubt over Prescott’s ability to lead the Dallas Cowboys and suggested that such matters be kept private. Shows such as “Undisputed” and ESPN’s “First Take are well-known for their “hot takes,” but Bayless’s comments have led many to question their strategy of aggressively pursuing viewership through potentially manufactured controversy.

In an interview with journalist Graham Bensinger, Prescott revealed that “all throughout this quarantine and this offseason I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before. Anxiety for the main one and then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression.” 

In response, Bayless stated, “[As an NFL quarterback people] are all looking to you to be their CEO, to be in charge of the football team. Because of all that I don’t have sympathy for [Prescott] going public with ‘I got depressed.’” 

Bayless went on to cite the competitive nature of football as a reason for Prescott to keep his struggles private: “Look, he’s the quarterback of ‘America’s Team,’ and you know and I know, the sport you play is dog-eat-dog. […] If you reveal publicly any little weakness it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you.”

Viewers quickly took to social media to denounce Bayless’s inappropriate comments. One Twitter user wrote: “Skip Bayless is obviously in his line of work for clicks and attention. We all know that. But what he said about Dak Prescott is so awful and void of any shred of compassion.”

After the Cowboys’s 40-39 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sep. 20, Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst approached Prescott: “Hey, I’ve got a lot of respect for what you did, came out and talked about. […] Respect the hell out of you for talking about it, man.” The two plan on working together in suicide prevention in the upcoming offseason, ESPN reported. Hurst himself has been open about his suicide attempts and struggles with depression.

Addressing the backlash over his comments on Sep. 11, Bayless doubled down: “And this is the final point, one I’m told was misconstrued by many: The only Dak depression I addressed on yesterday’s show was from an interview he taped with Graham Bensinger. Dak said that depression happened soon after the pandemic hit, early in the quarantine.” 

According to Front Office Sports, Bayless is close to finalizing a contract extension with Fox Sports, putting to rest any speculation of his termination. While the Prescott controversy has complicated negotiations, he is expected to receive a slight raise on his $6 million salary.

Prescott remains focused on his goal of raising awareness of mental health issues. Citing his brother’s death, he summarized the importance of his work: “[Jace] had a lot of burdens on him. He had a lot of tough things. It has shown me how vulnerable we have to be as humans, how open we have to be, because our adversity, our struggles, what we go through, is always too much for ourselves. Maybe too much for even one or two people, but never too much for a community.”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).