Everything is political these days.
Not even sports can act as an escape from the constant campaign chattering across the airwaves. The prime example of politics bleeding into sports is ESPN.
ESPN has become a platform to allow those outspoken and politically charged moments to be intertwined with sports, rather than remain separate.
While once a respected sports broadcast channel, ESPN is now on the verge of becoming that annoying relative at the dinner table who just won’t quit yakking about politics — no matter the situation.
The way ESPN has run itself recently, one would think the “P” stands for politics — specifically, left-wing politics — instead of “programming.”
This summer’s ESPY award show, which is essentially the Oscars for sports, proved to be one of the most divisive sports broadcasts in recent memory when athletic superstars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony opened the awards show talking about recent controversial police shootings involving African-Americans.
“We stand before you as fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, and in my case, as an African-American man and the nephew of a police officer, who is one of the hundreds of thousands of great officers serving this country,” said Paul.
“But Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile — this is also our reality.”
Joe Biden was even given a cameo later in the program, and there was an emotional push for gun control by the mother of a victim to gun violence.
While it’s nothing new for athletes to be outspoken or politically charged, ESPN has become a platform to allow those outspoken and politically charged moments to be intertwined with sports, rather than remain separate. The ESPYs opening, which was out of character and notably odd for the show, is only the tip of the iceberg.
There was Caitlyn Jenner’s winning of an ESPY, The Arthur Ashe Award for Courage, the year before. While many felt the transgender star was undeserving compared to others, Jenner received the award anyway.
“It strikes me that awarding the Arthur Ashe Award to Caitlyn Jenner is just a crass exploitation play — it’s a tabloid play,” said Bob Costas at the time. It was obvious to many like Costas that the motivation behind the award was political. It was a pro-transgender move for sports and the network, rather than a recognition of someone deserving of the honor previously awarded to folks like Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali.
The channel also uncharacteristically gave up on sports broadcasting for one night earlier this year when they chose to air a Barack Obama town hall pushing for gun control.
ESPN could simply be trying to compete in these current days of endless media options. Competing with social media, political channels, and the web, the network may simply feel a need to branch out, to cover all the topics their viewers could find elsewhere.
But not all the time.
Curt Schilling, a former pitcher and former sports commentator for ESPN, was fired by the network for reposting a meme criticizing shared bathroom laws. The longtime conservative had some not so nice things to say about his former employer and its bias after being canned.
In an interview with Sirius XM’s “Breitbart News Patriot Forum,” Schilling touched on the left-leaning bias of ESPN, saying, “It was apparent to me early on that if you wanted to go off topic as a sportsperson, you had to go off topic left or you were going to get into trouble.”
Schilling revealed other employees would support his more conservative stances revealed on air, but did so in secret for fear of being targeted by their employer.
ESPN hasn’t necessarily always been this way.
They fired Keith Olbermann presumably for his constant political commentating and once nixed a Barack Obama interview with Bill Simmons in the middle of an election season. These days, however, they seem to tolerate maddening liberal comments from hosts and coverage of political topics, sometimes more often than the sports that are supposed to be the topic of discussion.
Sports should be one of the final escapes for Americans looking for a break from the 24-hour news cycle surrounding politics.
From Colin Kaepernick to ESPN, it seems there’s no escaping a left vs. right debate, not even in the trenches of sportsmanship. But we don’t tune into our favorite sports to be divided and to think about politics. Many of us do enough of that as it is. We tune into sports because it’s a chance to come together. It would be nice if ESPN would realize that.