It’s no secret that ESPN has seemed to wade deeper into the world of politics in recent years, with some people claiming that the sports giant has an extreme liberal bias.
Whether it was former anchor Jemele Hill making disparaging comments about President Donald Trump, or former employee Britt McHenry essentially claiming that the network tried to stop her from voicing her conservative beliefs — even on Twitter — it often seems as though the network leans heavily left.
But according to the newly named network president, ESPN is not a political organization, and thus should not act like one.
Addressing more than 600 employees in Bristol, Connecticut, on Wednesday, Jimmy Pitaro detailed what he sees as ESPN’s role in the intersection between sports and politics.
“I do not believe that we are a political organization,” he said in response to an employee question about perceived liberal bias at the network. “I know that a lot of conversation has happened within this company in the past year and I believe that we netted out in the right place, which is we are a sports media company.”
“Of course, there is going to continue to be an intersection of between sports and politics and we’re going to continue to cover that. We’re going to cover it fairly and honestly. But we are focused on serving the sports fan,” he added.
As noted by Awful Announcing, what Pitaro said does not represent any new policy.
In fact, ESPN’s latest social media guidelines, released in November, state that employees involved in straight news reporting “should refrain in any public-facing forum from taking positions on political or social issues, candidates or office holders.”
Even employees who serve as commentators for the network are supposed to stick to “current issue(s) impacting sports, unless otherwise approved by senior editorial management.”
Moreover, “communication with producers and editors must take place prior to commentary on any political or social issues.”
But ESPN has come under fire in recent months, particularly after the network refused to punish Hill, who was a co-anchor on “SportsCenter” at the time, for writing in a September tweet that Trump was a “white supremacist.”
Hill later apologized for what she had tweeted about the president, admitting that she “painted ESPN in an unfair light,” as reported by CNN.
In a statement, ESPN noted that “Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN.”
Though she was not punished at the time, Hill was suspended for two weeks after she took to social media again to suggest that advertisers boycott Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones due to comments he made stating that any player who “disrespects the flag” wouldn’t play.
Hill “previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet,” ESPN said in a statement. “In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision.”
Hill no longer serves as a “SportsCenter” anchor. Instead she now runs the ESPN site “The Undefeated.”
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