dan le batard

It’s Time for ESPN Employees to Stand Against the ‘No Politics’ Policy

The network's 'no politics' policy is cowardly and absolutely unnecessary in today's climate.
July 30, 2019
9 mins read

Sports. Politics. These two things seem like opposites, don’t they? Like topics that shouldn’t cross paths. I mean, you hear it all the time. “Stick to sports.” “Shut up and dribble.” This has been emphasized more in recent years due to athletes who are willing to take a stand — figuratively speaking, of course. But what people don’t realize is that sports and politics have always been connected and always will be. And, thanks to Dan Le Batard, there are more calls for ESPN to stop ignoring this.

On Thursday, July 18, during his morning radio show “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” Le Batard went on a rant condemning the racism of President Trump and the “send her back” chants towards congresswoman Ilhan Omar, stating that Trump instigated a “racial division in this country,” and that if you’re not calling the chant “abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric, you’re complicit.”

He also called out his employer, ESPN, for its “no politics” stance saying, “We here at ESPN don’t have the stomach for the fight… we don’t talk about what is happening unless there is a weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through.”

After Le Batard’s comments, ESPN sent out an email reminding all employees about their “no politics” policy unless it relates to sports. This policy came from ESPN president James Pitaro who took over from John Skipper in early 2018. ESPN was considered too political and too liberal under Skipper, even receiving criticism from the president himself about it.

This new policy is what ultimately led to Jemele Hill leaving ESPN last year after some controversial tweets where she called Trump a “white supremacist,” as well as saying people should boycott Dallas Cowboys advertisers if they disagree with owner Jerry Jones.

Since Hill’s departure, ESPN reporters and personalities have been largely silent when it comes to anything considered political, a practice that was pointed out by Le Batard.

Which is what viewers want, according to Pitaro. He told the Los Angeles Times that their data says that viewers do not want ESPN to cover politics. Which makes a lot of sense. People turn on ESPN to watch sports, not politics.

But the issue that Le Batard was talking about isn’t politics. It’s social justice.

This isn’t about a law that was passed or what’s best for the economy. This is our president being blatantly and utterly racist. He claims to “not have a racist bone in his body” but telling four congresswomen — all of whom are American citizens — to “go back” to their country is racist. These tweets are just the latest example of Trump’s long history of racism.

And the American citizens chanting “send her back” are wrong and embarrassing for this country. This is not up for debate. Treating people poorly because of their race or where they are from is just wrong. It shouldn’t have to be said, but clearly, at this point, it does.

So, this isn’t about politics. It’s about taking a stand for what is right and calling out injustices, which can’t happen if people like Le Batard are silenced.

By restricting its broadcasters and journalists, ESPN is eliminating a platform to point out oppression. It’s violating freedom of the press and showing complacency. Not letting their employees speak out implies ESPN is either okay with the racism and injustice that has occurred, or they “don’t have the stomach for the fight,” as Le Batard put it.

I’m not saying politics or social injustice should be talked about all the time on ESPN, because the network is obviously about sports and that should remain their primary focus. But when significant events like the ones described above occur, ESPN employees should be allowed to speak out against it without worrying about the repercussions.

Le Batard should be allowed to take five minutes out of his radio show to condemn the actions of the chanters at Trump’s rally. And Jemele Hill should be allowed to tweet her thoughts on the racist acts of the President.

It isn’t Donald Trump’s job to comment on sports, but that doesn’t stop him from criticizing athletes and ESPN and their employees. So why can’t Hill and Le Batard express their opinions?

This “no politics” policy at ESPN is also ignoring a long history of the intersection of sports and social justice. For as long as sports have been around, politics have been a part of them.

In 1967, Muhammad Ali protested the Vietnam war.

In 1968, Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal podium in a black power salute.

In 1996, Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to participate in the national anthem before NBA basketball games.

And of course, there are great examples of this in recent memory, from Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem to NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts.

Sports, politics and social justice issues have been and always will be connected because sports provide a great platform where people like Le Batard can speak out against injustices, call out the BS and be heard.

Unfortunately, it does not seem ESPN will be changing their stance anytime soon, as the email they sent to employees mentioned above proves. It will be interesting to see going forward what ESPN and their employees will do.

Will this completely discourage any ESPN personalities from saying anything political? If they do, how will ESPN handle it and where will they draw the line? And how should ESPN employees “handle moments that do transcend politics, such as the chant at the rally?” asked “First Take” host Stephen A. Smith in an email to Pitaro.

We may know sooner than you think, as Smith recently tweeted about people throwing buckets of water at New York police officers. While very different than the Le Batard situation, police brutality and the treatment of officers has become a political issue, and some wonder what, if anything, ESPN will do about it.

As for Le Batard, he will be remaining at ESPN on both his radio show and his TV show, “Highly Questionable.” He had a meeting with ESPN President Pitaro about the incident this past Thursday, July 25. USA Today said they had a “positive conversation that put both parties in alignmentand the Washington Post said that if Le Batard “feels the need to address a political issue in the future, he will check with higher-ups.”

But until ESPN changes their “no politics” policy, it’s good to know there are those there willing to take a stand.

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