For ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, Thursday’s episode of “The Dan Le Batard Show” must have felt like a nightmare. The work he’s done to depoliticize the network since taking the reins in March 2018 was put to the ultimate test: A prominent host took aim not only at President Donald Trump but also at ESPN’s current policy of staying apolitical.
“What happened last night, this felt un-American,” Dan Le Batard said in reference to a recent Trump rally where chants of “send her back” broke out while the president railed against Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
“There’s a racial division in this country that’s being instigated by the president, and we here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight because Jemele [Hill] did some things on Twitter,” Le Batard continued. “Nobody talks politics on anything unless they use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss these subjects.”
The whole clip uploaded a little glitchy.
Here is part 1. pic.twitter.com/xUajgIINOC
— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) July 18, 2019
Hill, you may recall, is a former ESPN host who is fond of calling Trump and his supporters “white supremacists,” among other things.
She was suspended by the network for two weeks after the “white supremacist” comment and a later statement in which she suggested fans should stop buying Dallas Cowboys merchandise after owner Jerry Jones committed the crime of threatening to bench any player who protested during the national anthem.
Don’t ask Dak, Dez & other Cowboys players to protest. A more powerful statement is if you stop watching and buying their merchandise.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
Not long after that, Hill was taken out of her on-air role and moved to an online writing position. Less than a year later, she was out at ESPN entirely.
Since Hill’s departure, the network has mostly managed to evade politics, and that’s by design.
“What we don’t want is people to tune into ESPN, or people to tune into an ESPN feed on a social platform and get pure political commentary,” Pitaro told Recode in a May interview. “We don’t believe that that’s who we are. We don’t believe that that’s why people tune into ESPN.
“We try to make as many decisions as possible based on data. And we’ve done a lot of research in this area, and our fans have told us that this is not why they tune into ESPN.”
Pitaro’s words make a lot of sense, but unfortunately for him, they are in direct contrast with the sentiment Dan Le Batard just blasted out into the world. Le Batard apparently wants the network to weigh in on political issues no matter whether they have a shred of relevance to sports. Nevermind that an abundance of media outlets already do exactly that; Le Batard thinks viewers need another one.
The big question now is how will ESPN respond to Le Batard? It’s a very delicate situation, but if handled properly ESPN could stave off any real damage.
When Le Batard didn’t appear on the first hour of Friday’s show, speculation circulated that the network had suspended him. But he was back on the air as the second hour began.
The Western Journal reached out to ESPN about Le Batard and received a simple “We decline to comment” in response.
It seems for now ESPN’s plan is to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.
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