While working at the world’s largest PR agency, Ernestine Sclafani‘s client was called to the set of Cold Pizza, an ESPN show hosted by a broadcaster named Skip Bayless. It was clearly a haphazard turn of events that allowed the couple to meet: Bayless had, in a rare moment, forgotten his notes for a portion of the program. In a mad scramble to his dressing room to retrieve his debate prep during commercial break, he ran into his future wife.
“He literally ran past the door of the green room, where we caught each other’s eyes,” Ernestine writes in her new book BALLS: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive When You Live with a Sports-Obsessed Guy. “I guess I gave him a look of familiarity because he stopped and said, ‘Do I know you?’ …He later confided that he wasn’t sure what to say—he gets possessed during his show, just lost in how to win the next live TV debate. So now neither of us was thinking clearly.”
Bayless writes of the account: “I left my notes for our final segment in my dressing room. I had never done that, and I haven’t done that since. As I literally ran down the hall during a commercial break, I glanced sideways into the green room and caught the gaze of a woman I’d never seen before… We chatted awkwardly for maybe 45 seconds, and she gave me her card. You might call it love at first spark. There was just something startling to me about the way we instantly clicked.”
The couple didn’t marry until 11 years later, even enjoying a prolonged engagement from 2010 to 2016. However, just in time for football season to kick off, Ernestine has published a book about overcoming the challenges of being in a relationship with someone who’s fixated on sports… non-stop. (After all, Skip Bayless’s career is just that.) “My husband, love him or hate him, has become the most powerful voice in sports media,” she writes in the first few pages. “The astounding irony is that while thousands of guys of all team colors and ages would crawl to Los Angeles to get to watch one game with my husband, I’ve learned to force myself to watch tons of games with him, just so we can spend some ‘couple time’ together.”
In an effort to divulge some of her relationship advice, as well as provide an inside look at the couple’s love story, Ernestine details everything from how they first met all the way to how to tackle real-life sports-related issues that have filtered into her marriage. Read on for never-before-known details about Skip Bayless and his wife, Ernestine.
After the couple’s initial encounter, it took a few phone calls and one open Friday night for the pair to finally enjoy their first date together. Ernestine, at age 43, simply wondered why Skip was single, considering his high-profile success and seemingly good looks.
“I later found out Skip had left a long-term relationship when he moved from San Francisco to New York a year earlier. He was so driven to make his new morning show a success that he hadn’t had a single date in an entire year. He had to be up by 3 a.m. every weekday morning—a social-life killer—and he was also writing columns for ESPN.com in the afternoons. So he was happily living in his sports bubble and not looking to meet anyone—especially a woman who never watched sports,” she writes. “But . . . that night he did send me an email saying it was nice meeting me and apologizing for having to run so quickly.”
From Skip’s perspective, Ernestine was a refreshing alternative. “It was clear from the start Ernestine knew next to nothing about sports, which I did NOT consider a deal-breaker,” Skip writes in the book. “We could’ve talked for four hours—or six or eight—about movies and TV shows and music. We found we both love Woody Allen movies. She crazy-loves I Love Lucy. I couldn’t match that, but Lucy was always my favorite childhood sitcom. Even though she’s more than 10 years younger than me, I was surprised to find her favorite music is ’60s rock and roll. Mine too! This was meant to be. Yet when I called my mother in Oklahoma City to tell her I was going out on a date with a woman from New York City whose mother was Jewish and whose father was Italian, my mother’s reaction was, ‘Really?’ Really. Football season was just starting when we met.”
Somehow she accepted it gracefully and the rest was history.
In 2010, the ESPN personality proposed on an Oklahoma City-bound plane from Newark. “It was July, and we were taking our annual visit to his hometown to spend a week visiting friends and family. He said, ‘I have something important to say …we’ve been together for five years, and I love you, and there’s nobody else in this entire world I would like to spend the rest of my life with,’” Ernestine tells The Knot. “If you feel the same way about me, then why don’t we get engaged?”
Former First Take host Skip didn’t have a ring on hand for his in-flight proposal, but his new fiancee knew exactly what she wanted. “As soon as we returned from Oklahoma City, we went to my favorite jeweler on 48th Street in the jewelry district in New York City. We sat with the owner and I sketched out the ring I could see in my head,” she recalls. “It was a platinum art deco inspired, vintage feeling, emerald cut diamond with tiny little diamonds surrounding the main diamond. I wanted a ring that looked as if Ginger Rogers would have worn it back in the 1940’s while dancing with Fred Astaire! I am a huge old movie buff, and the art deco period is my favorite era. He ended up making me the most gorgeous ring ever, and to this day people continue to stop me wherever I am, and they ask the history of the ring.”
For the next six years, the couple was engaged. “Our relationship and courtship were different than most. We weren’t living together in the same city for the first ten years of our relationship. I was living and working in NYC, and he was living and working during the week in Connecticut,” she says. “We would get together in either New York or Connecticut on Friday, and leave on Sunday. It wasn’t until we decided to move to L.A. for Skip’s work that we decided to get married.”
“We decided to get married alone,” the couple tells The Knot. “We didn’t tell a soul. The judge had the bailiff serve as the best man, and the rest of his chamber were witnesses. It was a really fun and special day, just for us. Our friends and family were so supportive and happy for us when we told them what we did. They said, ‘That’s so Skip and Ernestine…always full of surprises and dancing to their own beat.’”
The couple’s secret wedding date was July 28, 2016. “Moving across the country for your partner’s work and leaving friends and family behind warrants taking the relationship to another level,” Ernestine recalls. “I needed mentally to know that we were together, as in marriage, and not just engaged. We had never lived together full time, so that was also going to be a big change and challenge in both our lives. Skip was fine with the idea of the next step and said it was a great idea.” Three days later on August 1, the couple moved to L.A. as Bayless had accepted a gig with Fox Sports.
However, the two are still toying around with the idea of having an official wedding. “We actually just celebrated 14 years of being together on August 27, 2019 (the day of our first date). We keep talking about throwing an official second wedding,” she says. “One day I am sure we will, but for now, we really like our original secret wedding. In the end, all that matters is love and respect for each other.”
While building their new love nest, the pair realized the value in one particular home item—and why all couples should consider including it on their wedding registries. “We can’t live without is a sound machine. I know most people would say that’s not a gift one would think of immediately for a registry, but it’s a couple’s best friend,” they laugh. “Especially if you live in an apartment, it is a life saver. It blocks out the neighbor’s footsteps above your head and below, and it also silences the next door neighbor’s baby who may love to cry in the middle of the night.”
So much of the couple’s relationship has been marked by one characteristic that has helped them navigate even the trickiest of situations. “The one piece of advice I pass along daily, as well as remember to do in my own relationship, is compromise,” says Ernestine. “Without give and take, you are setting yourself up for a hard road ahead. And to be totally honest, it’s not just in a marriage, but in every relationship you have一family, friends, work mates, neighbors.”
If you happen to be caught up in the heat of the moment—intent on winning a particular argument—the scribe adds that there are worthy next steps to consider. “Take a deep breath and step back, then decide if there is a compromise possible that you were not seeing immediately,” she says. “Sometimes it’s staring you in the face and you just need to check your emotions at the door and rethink the situation.”
The sportscaster also has his own set of rules for marital advice. “Skip believes in the 24 Hour Rule. No matter how big or small the problem may be, he likes to ‘sleep on it,’” his wife explains. “Waiting 24 hours allows for your temper to quiet down, and allows you to think a bit more clearly after some time has passed.”
In the book, he writes: “Ernestine and I will do just about anything to spend time with each other. These are the ways we have carved out a life together, and given my crazy sports schedule, I don’t have much life to carve. This is why she’s so special. Our relationship is far from perfect. We clash. We battle. I can get too intense and overemotional. That works on my TV show, but can be tough on her. And on us. Yet she often proudly declares, ‘They said we would never last, and we’re still together.’ Thanks to her.”
For more on Skip Bayless and his wife Ernestine Bayless’s relationship, pick up a copy of BALLS: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive When You Live with a Sports-Obsessed Guy, now available on Amazon.com.