ESPN reminds staffers to stick to sports, not talk politics after star rips Trump on-air
ESPN admits its fans don’t want politics
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ESPN honchos reminded staffers on Friday that on-air talent should avoid stories considered “pure politics” after Dan Le Batard slammed President Trump and his own "cowardly" network for not allowing employees to speak out.
Le Batard, whose parents are exiles from Cuba, called Wednesday’s Trump rally "deeply offensive" because the crowd targeted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, with chants of “send her back.”
ESPN allows its personalities to discuss politics when they cross with sports, such as players skipping White House visits and athletes kneeling during the national anthem. Employees, including Le Batard himself, were notified that the policy hasn’t changed and strictly political stories don’t have a place at the iconic sports network under current leadership.
Ironically, employees were reminded about the policy because Le Batard ripped it on his ESPN platform.
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"This felt un-American what happened last night … It's not the America that my parents aimed to get for us, for exiles, for brown people," Le Batard said Thursday on his ESPN radio show that is also broadcasted on television. "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 and you saw what happened after that and then here, all of a sudden, 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 outspoken Le Batard said the president was "so wrong" for trying to "divide the masses." He argued that the subject isn't about "politics" but rather "race" and continued to hammer the sports network for avoiding it.
"We don't talk about what is happening unless there's some sort of weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through when sports has always been the place where this stuff changes," Le Batard said.
"Man, Muhammad Ali was fighting for this stuff in the sixties! Bill Russell and Jim Brown are really old! Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is old! These people who were fighting, the most powerful among us in sports who were fighting in the Civil Rights era for things — atrocities happening to black people that we're still paying for now in a country where it was our greatest sin, what has happened to minorities in this country.”
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The ESPN host continued, "This is deeply offensive to me as somebody whose parents have made all the sacrifices to get to this country. ’Send her back,' how are you any more American than her? You're more privileged, you're whiter, you're richer, people don't know whether your money is real or not. You've had every privilege afforded to you, every privilege! And now, what you do with that power? You go after brown people and black people and minorities? And around here, we won't talk about it? We won't talk about it unless Russell Wilson is saying something about it on his Instagram. Then we have the power to run with it."
ESPN declined to comment when reached out by Fox News.
"Weak-ass shield. It is antithetical to what we should be," Le Batard added. "And if you're not calling it abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric, you're complicit."
Le Batard is among the most respected sports journalists in media and is often openly tempted to dive into issues surrounding race and gender on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” but the show has a less-than-serious supporting cast that often stops its namesake from diving too deep. Keeping up with the light-hearted nature of the show, the camera focused on producer Billy Gil awkwardly listening to much of Le Batard’s reaction to the Trump rally as opposed to showing Le Batard himself.
ESPN became increasingly liberal under former ESPN President John Skipper, a close friend of Le Batard who left the network in 2017 when a drug dealer attempted to extort him by using his cocaine habit against him. Skipper’s replacement, Jimmy Pitaro, quickly declared that he wants less politics on his airwaves and he shook things up as a result.
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Le Batard was referring to now-former ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, who famously called Trump a white supremacist back in 2017. Her role was reduced shortly thereafter and she parted ways with the company in 2018.
Under Skipper, the network was accused of spending too much time covering Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protests and the network was criticized for awarding the Arthur Ashe Courage Award to Caitlyn Jenner. Far-left voices were rewarded with high-profile gigs, while conservative personalities such as Curt Schilling were silenced (Schilling was fired in 2016 after sharing a Facebook post regarding the North Carolina law that banned transgender people from using specific bathrooms).
With the exception of a few isolated incidents, including Thursday’s Le Batard comments, ESPN has remained largely apolitical under Pitaro.
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.
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