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Whitlock: Shannon Sharpe needs a lesson on ‘sticks and stones’ and the source of Skip Bayless’ jealousy

Op-ed
Jerritt Clark / Contributor, Allen Kee / Staff | Getty Images

The “sticks and stones” adage originated in 1862 on the pages of "The Christian Recorder," the oldest African-American newspaper in the United States.

It read: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.”

A decade later, a Scottish writer, Mrs. George Cupples, tweaked the phrase in a book, replacing the second “break” with the word “harm.”

I retell this bit of history to illustrate how far American culture has moved away from Christian values and the strength that accompanies those beliefs. Words now trigger and provoke. They justify a hyperbolic response. They power a culture that overemphasizes the perception of respect.

The culture of perceived respect is most deeply rooted among black people. Black culture demands that black people not allow anyone of any race to disrespect them. A verbal slight prompts a face-saving, over-the-top rebuke at best and violence at worst. Verbal disrespect is a hill worth dying on in a secular society.

It’s not in a culture ruled by a biblical worldview. At the root of the “sticks and stones” adage is a belief that each individual is performing for an audience of one: God. Another man’s words cannot harm me, especially if that man’s words are inconsistent with the thoughts, words, and deeds of Jesus Christ.

It is not a sign of weakness to ignore the misguided babel of your fellow man and woman. It’s a sign of strength and faith in a higher power. One hundred and sixty years ago, when black people dealt with virulent and pervasive discrimination and disrespect, we turned to God for validation and identity. Now that we are free, we constantly seek the approval of our fellow man, especially the white ones.

This is what triggered Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe yesterday when he exploded on live television during a passionate discussion with Skip Bayless.

On their Fox Sports 1 debate show, “Undisputed,” Bayless accused Sharpe of being jealous of Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady’s lengthy career. Bayless, at one point, said that Brady, the most accomplished player in NFL history, is “way better” than Sharpe, causing the former tight end to erupt in anger.

“You make it seem like I was a bum,” Sharpe screamed. “I’m in the effing Hall of Fame. I got three Super Bowls.”

“So what?” Bayless retorted.

“See what you do? You take personal shots,” Sharpe responded. “You would take a personal shot at me to say this man is better than me because I say he’s playing bad this year. … You would disrespect me to support him?”

This play-by-play does not do justice to the wild, embarrassing emotion Sharpe displayed. Twice, Sharpe blurted out howls and screeches that could best be described as the expressions of violent eroticism or maybe the wails of a wounded animal.

Skip Bayless’ words harmed Shannon Sharpe.

This would not be the case if Sharpe leaned into a biblical worldview. Sharpe would laugh off Bayless’ verbal slights because he would realize that, in a football debate, Bayless was acting out of insecurity. Bayless diminished Sharpe to elevate himself. It’s a well-worn debate tactic.

I’m about to go a layer deeper, but I need to add some context before I do. I do not believe Skip Bayless is a bigot at all. I worked at Fox Sports 1 with Sharpe and Bayless. Bayless is eccentric. He is not driven by racial animus. He’s a highly frustrated failed athlete who delights in thinking he knows more about sports than athletes and other journalists do. On the positive side, my impression of Bayless is that he derives many of his core values from his religious faith.

I mention that because the “sticks and stones” adage originated in a black Christian newspaper during slavery as a reaction to white bigotry. It was a tool for black believers to reject and ignore the belittling and condescending comments hurled at them.

The adage is a reminder to all believers that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.

Our abandonment of religious faith has left us weak and overly sensitive. Someone – black or white – intentionally or unintentionally says the wrong word to us, and we think it’s important to confront and rebuke that person. It’s not.

How many young black men have been shot and killed by other black men over a perceived lack of respect? We’re in a constant battle for external respect, when our real conflict is our internal battle for obedience to God’s will.

Secular values produce weak men – men who can be triggered and controlled by their emotions.

Yesterday, to no real surprise, social media users championed Sharpe’s response to Bayless. Twitter remains the most secular place on earth. Former NFL MVP and CBS broadcaster Rich Gannon congratulated Sharpe on showing restraint. Thousands of other users praised Sharpe for not allowing Bayless to disrespect him.

Bayless tricked Sharpe into disrespecting himself. Sharpe looked unhinged and ready to fight a 70-year-old man. A man standing on God’s truth cannot be so easily fooled. A man standing with God laughs at Skip Bayless’ trolls, realizing Skip is jealous of Stephen A. Smith’s success at ESPN.

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