Hate Skip Bayless? Meet the woman who not only loves him but also married him
Ernestine Sclafani has had dreams about Chris Bosh.
LeBron James, too.
Most of her life, she couldn’t have even picked either out of a crowd.
“I mean, I didn't know who those people were,” she said, sounding a bit incredulous at the idea an NBA star has seeped into her sleeping subconscious. “I'm the most non-sports person you'll ever meet.”
Then, she met Skip Bayless.
Sclafani and Bayless have been married for three years and together for nearly 14 years. The woman who had only ever been to a sporting event because she played clarinet in the high school marching band became the wife of one of sports talk’s biggest and loudest mouths. Bayless, the Oklahoma City native who plenty of sports fans love to hate, is the love of Sclafani's life.
“He told me he was in sports, but I had no clue,” she said via telephone from her home in Los Angeles.
“I’m being totally serious, but I just thought, ‘Oh, he’s on a sports show. He likes sports.’”
Bayless’ interest in sports is a bit more intense than “likes” — consuming is more like it.
Sclafani writes about that and much more in a soon-to-be-released book, “Balls: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive when You Live with a Sports-Obsessed Guy.” Read a few pages of it or talk to her for a few minutes, and you start to understand why this relationship has worked. There has been compromise and respect and understanding.
But Sclafani is also a spitfire.
Raised in New York City, she was the child of an Italian father and a Jewish mother. Being strong and having opinions were part of her nature and her nurture.
But the Sclafanis never paid much attention to sports. They watched National Geographic. They listened to the Boston Pops. The Yankees? The Giants? The Knicks? Not so much.
Sclafani was drawn to the arts, drawing and creating. She got into fashion, and in the 1980s, her first job was with Izod Lacoste. The brand with the little alligator was hot at the time, and lots of famous folks came through the showroom.
One day, her boss introduced her to a man named Bucky.
“Oh, hi, Bucky!” Sclafani cheerfully said.
She had no idea it was Bucky Dent, Yankees legend, Bronx hero and World Series MVP.
“He was just a guy,” Sclafani said.
She spent another decade-plus in fashion before deciding to move into public relations. She ended up working for two of the largest PR agencies in the world, Edelman and Weber Shandwick, and her clients included Eddie Bauer and Starbucks.
One day, she accompanied actor Kevin Dillon on a couple appearances. The “Entourage” star was going on Fox & Friends, then onto a new ESPN show called Cold Pizza.
Sclafani and a co-worker were sitting in Cold Pizza’s green room when a guy popped in. Sclafani thought she recognized him.
“Hi!” she said.
“Hi!” he said. “Who are you here with?”
They talked for a few minutes, but their connection was obvious. Sclafani’s co-worker made that clear as soon as the man left.
“You’re gonna marry that guy,” she told Sclafani.
“What?” Sclafani said.
“You’re gonna marry him.”
But later that day, Sclafani got an email from the guy — Skip Bayless. She realized she had seen him on a show an old boyfriend was watching; he had termed Bayless “an idiot” who “thinks he knows everything about sports.” Sclafani didn’t think Bayless seemed bad, and the more they emailed, the more she liked him.
A couple weeks later, they went for pizza.
“We’ve never been apart since,” Sclafani said. “Isn’t that crazy?”
It is when you consider the sports indoctrination Sclafani endured. She remembers early dates with Bayless when he said he had to watch a game. Sclafani would get dressed up, trying to impress him, but once the game came on, Bayless only had eyes for it.
“Oh,” Sclafani remembers thinking, “this is where this is going.”
Friends have asked how she manages to watch more games in a weekend with Bayless than they watch in a year with their husbands. For Sclafani, it comes down to wanting to spend time with Bayless. Sports is his thing, so she’s willing to watch games with him.
Still, she admits she doesn’t fully understand why Bayless is so passionate about sports – he even has superstitions when he’s watching and why some fans are so opinionated about him.
Before he moved to Fox and the couple relocated to Los Angeles, they lived in New York City. One day, Bayless went to get a haircut. Sclafani tagged along but waited in the lobby of the salon.
A couple men came out of the salon, talking about having seen Bayless.
“I can’t stand him,” one of them said.
Sclafani perked up.
“Are you talking about Skip Bayless?” she asked.
“Yeah,” the man said.
“Do you know him?”
“Then who gives you the right to talk about him? You don’t even know who he is. How would you like somebody to talk about you who doesn’t know you?”
“Well, I’m just sayin’ … ”
About that time, Bayless emerged and pulled Sclafani aside. He asked what had happened, and when she explained, his jaw nearly hit the floor.
“You’re gonna get me in a fight!” he said. “That guy is 6-foot-2!”
“I’d have brought him down,” she said.
Told you she was feisty.
Ernestine Sclafani and Skip Bayless might seem like the odd couple when it comes to his obsession with sports and her indifference toward them. But they have lots in common. Watching movies. Going for walks. Eating healthy. More than anything, though, they love being together.
“If I make the pro-con list for Skip, Skip has lots of really good qualities,” Sclafani said, “and on the other side is the sports.”
“His good qualities,” she said, “outweighed the sports stuff.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
SKIP SAYS …
Here is an excerpt from a chapter penned by Skip Bayless in wife Ernestine Sclafani’s new book, “Balls: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive when You Live with a Sports-Obsessed Guy”:
“The New York girl changed my life. Because she didn’t like sports, she actually started saving me from myself. Without her, I’d be watching sports even more – even games I didn’t need for my show. Ernestine encourage me to go to more theater in New York and to more concerts in LA. With Ernestine, I now take more long walks, during which we rarely if ever talk about sports. We always try to go to one or two movies a week and watch at least one at home on Friday or Saturday night (unless I have a crucial game to watch).
“Ernestine and I will do just about anything to spend time with each other. …
“Our relationship is far from perfect. We clash. We battle. … Yet she often proudly declares, ‘They said we would never last, and we’re still together.’
“Thanks to her.”
HOW TO BUY “BALLS”
Ernestine Sclafani’s new book “Balls: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive when You Live with a Sports-Obsessed Guy” will be available for purchase Sept. 10 on Amazon, but it can be preordered.
Cost is $9.99.