To hot take, or not to hot take. That is the question. If it ever seems like you’re drowning in a sea of hot takes when you flip on the radio, it’s probably because you are. Hot takes, opinions whose primary purpose is to attract attention, have become the norm. It’s easy to say something outlandish or completely against the grain to stand out. But what about the flip side? Can hosts get noticed in today’s climate by saying things that are measured and reasonable?
There are two examples of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady that come to mind. Now make sure you’re sitting down for this; Brady won another Super Bowl. I know. Shocking. But if we take the hot tub time machine back to early October, it shows us something interesting. Brady mistakenly forgot what down it was in a Week 5 loss against the Chicago Bears. He held up four fingers with a bewildered look on his face as Tampa failed to convert and lost the game 20-19.
It was overreaction city the next day on sports radio. Many hosts said that Tampa lacked the discipline and attention to detail that Bill Belichick and the Patriots are known for. Some said that Brady’s mistake would’ve never happened in New England; as if mental errors — like Brian Hoyer taking a sack before halftime against the Chiefs the week prior — never occurred there. Many comments were a mixture of knee-jerk and prisoner of the moment with a side of hot take.
Would a measured approach have worked? Of course, but it has to be done right. It never would have stood out to say, “Look, let’s settle down. Brady and Tampa will be fine.”
Yawn. That’s like a dry steak with no seasoning; just another boring take without any stank on it.
The reasonable stance still needs to include some flare. It would’ve been interesting to say, “Tampa losing to the Bears isn’t different than New England, it’s the spitting image of New England. Remember when the Patriots got blown out by the Chiefs 41-14 years ago? After the game Trent Dilfer said, ‘The New England Patriots — let’s face it — they’re not good anymore.’ They won the Super Bowl that same season. This is just another example of people thinking that Brady’s team doesn’t have what it takes when it actually does.”
Another hot take occurred just before the Super Bowl. FS1 host Nick Wright gave the edge in Super Bowl experience to Patrick Mahomes over Brady. Wright made a valiant effort by arguing that Mahomes had the more relevant experience because he played in the Super Bowl the previous season with the same head coach, coordinator, and teammates. However, that argument is more about continuity than experience.
Does the flip side stand out? Is there buzz on social media or a conversation generated by saying Brady has more Super Bowl experience than Mahomes? Of course not. Not unless you push the boundaries by saying something like, “This is Brady’s tenth Super Bowl appearance. Who in their right mind would say Mahomes has more experience? Look, critics just talk themselves into believing things about Brady because they dislike the guy. There isn’t an athlete in sports history that critics have been more wrong about for on-field performance than Tom Brady.”
Now we’ve got a conversation. It’s all about finding the tension by making reasonable statements that other people will argue against. There is no value in sounding like a Magic Johnson tweet.
If a host is Captain Obvious, there is nowhere for a conversation to go. You’ve heard the saying a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m talking about the exact opposite. Flip that around. Present opinions like a sheep in wolf’s clothing, meaning an exterior with some edge that grabs your attention, but an interior that’s reasonable and calculated. You want the tame sheep comment — Tom Brady is disliked — to have some wolf fangs and claws; he’s the most disliked athlete for on-field performance.
Our opinions will vary on what qualifies as a hot take or not. What I might think is outlandish, you might think is a legitimate argument. It’s really about estimating what the masses will think. You’ve got yourself a hot take if most people say, “Whaaaat? Wow, dude, that’s really out there.” You’re avoiding a hot take if the typical reaction is, “Hmm, interesting. I don’t know if I completely buy it, but that isn’t absurd.”
We’re wise enough to understand which comments are bold and which are utterly ridiculous. It’s like the girl who wears revealing clothes; she knows what she’s doing. She didn’t just blindly stumble into that skimpy outfit. It can be tempting to fire off a hot take for dramatic effect, but why resort to that if it showcases more talent to push the boundaries of a reasonable opinion? You’ll still get noticed while also being more respected. Any Joe Blow can resort to a hot take. A true talent finds other ways to stand out.
A lot of sports talk these days is what I call headline radio. Hosts act as if they’re writing a headline for an online column and will resort to anything in a last-ditch effort for clicks. There is something unappealing about a desperate person. If someone runs up to you and desperately asks you out on a date, it’s a turn off. It works the same way with a host that’s desperately trying to gain attention. Hot take artists lose in the long run because deep down their approach isn’t respected. They also lose because their approach has now become commonplace. In a world of hot takes, the new hot take is not having one.