Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted ESPN made a mistake in mixing sports with politics.
Iger told The Hollywood Reporter that he and Jimmy Pitaro, who became ESPN’s president back in March, are trying to shift the network’s focus back to sports.
“There’s been a big debate about whether ESPN should be focused more on what happens on the field of sport than what happens in terms of where sports is societally or politically,” Iger said. “And Jimmy felt that the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field. And I happen to believe he was right.”
“And it’s something, by the way, that I think John Skipper had come to recognize as well. But Jimmy coming in fresh has had the ability to address it, I think, far more aggressively and effectively,” he added. “He has brought back some balance.”
This represents a change in ESPN’s stance on the topic because back in March, Pitaro denied accusations that the sports network had become too political.
“I do not believe that we are a political organization,” he said. “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 between sports and politics, and we’re going to continue to cover that,” he added. “We’re going to cover it fairly and honestly. But we are focused on serving the sports fan.”
Pitaro felt the need to address the topic because politically, ESPN has built itself a left-wing reputation in recent years — and their business has suffered because of it.
This is the same network that hired anti-Trumper Keith Olbermann (who formerly hosted a web show for GQ called “The Resistance”) while firing former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling for sharing his conservative political views. It’s the same company that employed Jemele Hill, who called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist,” and Max Kellerman, who said the Houston Astros were on the “wrong side of history” for accepting an invitation to President Trump’s White House. Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith also labeled Tiger Woods “not black” for refusing to publicly attack President Trump.
In other words, there is reason to be skeptical that any change in coverage is on its way from ESPN.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, and other outlets.