By: Tyler Mauriello
Many sports fanatics want to tune into a sports network that is fair, balanced, and shows highlights of their favorite teams. This is normally a welcome distraction from otherwise inescapable political coverage on most media outlets. This was the case for ESPN, known as The Worldwide Leader of Sports, but lately they’re even becoming more political, which is likely a leading factor in their recent declines in ratings and viewership. Some viewers have expressed disgust with ESPN’s liberal politics, whether it is giving Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Award for courage, endorsing the Black Lives Matter Movement at the ESPYs, or ESPN anchors sympathizing with Colin Kaepernick, a former Quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, for kneeling during the National Anthem. Similarly, former baseball analyst Curt Schilling, who has spoken out against liberal views, was fired from ESPN after giving his political views on twitter back in August of 2015. A lot of people, including myself, now think that liberalism is a requisite to being part of ESPN organization. But on the other hand, there are a lot of liberal elites on ESPN recently who have expressed their opinions on politics and race and have not suffered the consequences.
Former MLB Analyst Curt Schilling is a six-time All-Star who is known for pitching in the 2004 American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees with a bloody sock from his ankle procedure. When Schilling retired, he officially joined ESPN in 2009 to become a broadcaster for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball program. But in April of 2016, Schilling was fired by ESPN for sharing a picture on facebook about the North Carolina Law that states transgender people must use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their assigned sex at birth. About a week after being fired from the organization, Schilling joined WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” to fire back at ESPN’s President, John Skipper, as well as other correspondents, for calling him racist. He fired back by saying, “to be in a place where people actually believe I’m a racist or I’m transphobic says to me something has gone horribly wrong somewhere.” He added during the show, “let’s make one thing clear right upfront: if you get off by anything in this post, that’s your fault” to explain that that he replied to the post on facebook and did not post it himself on there. The part that I do agree with ESPN on Curt Schilling’s firing is that they have told him to stop commenting on the political issues in this country, including the election, and to instead maintain focus on covering Major League Baseball. While he was at the network, he went on a Kansas Radio Station where he suggested that Hillary Clinton should be buried under a jail somewhere because he thought that “she gave classified information on hundreds, if not thousands, of emails on a public server.” Over the past few years, Curt Schilling is not the only ESPN commentator to speak out politically, but Bomani Jones, Israel Gutierrez, Jemele Hill, and Dan Le Batard have spoken out on certain political issues as well. Just this past year, Bomani Jones spoke out against the City of Boston alleging that their people are racist. It started on a Tuesday Night this past December when the Utah Jazz were playing against the Boston Celtics in a professional basketball game at TD Garden. Celtics fans began to cheer when the announcer called Jazz player Gordon Hayward’s name, who is white, and had been linked to the Celtics for a couple of years because he was one of their free agent targets and because Brad Stevens, the Celtics coach, was with Gordon Hayward in college at Butler University. The next day, Bomani Jones went his radio show, “The Right Time,” which can be heard on ESPN Radio, and turned the issue of Boston sports fans cheering for Gordon Hayward into a race issue, alleging fans prefer him because he is white. This erroneously implies that Boston fans cheered for Gordon Hayward because of the color of his skin instead of the unique talent he has as a basketball player. Bomani Jones was then criticized, especially by the Boston Media, and by fans for not apologizing for his comments. Local media and fans also criticized ESPN for not disciplining Jones.
Radio shows in Boston have tried to get someone in higher management to defend this action and Bomani Jones himself, but as we know, ESPN does not have decency to have a discussion about it because management has politely decline to come on any radio show that is affiliated to WEEI. For example, Kirk Minihane, one of the hosts of the morning show on WEEI, had to call into the Bomani Jones’ show using a different name to get him to talk about what he said. Not as a surprise, he hung up on him and stated that he did not want to talk about the issue anymore even though he criticizes Boston again just a few days later. Israel Gutierrez, another commentator on ESPN offered similar analysis to the city of Boston during this situation, saying, “it’s Boston. They are famous for having Larry Bird on their team. Gordon Hayward looks more like Larry Bird than other players in the league. So maybe there’s that Boston connection there.”
Charles Barkley went on the Dan Le Batard’s Radio Show last year and came out did not hold back on what he had to say, according to Sean Brace, for calling ESPN “race-baiters.” The topic was about the criticism on African American Quarterbacks in the National Football League conversation started by Barkley saying, “they have fools that work for ESPN who want to make everything about race and I stand by that. Just because, first of all, the easiest way to have a conversation on a radio show is to bring up race, because race is a serious issue. But you got clowns on ESPN like yourself who want to make the Super Bowl about black, white, good guy against bad guy. ESPN is famous for race-baiting.” But Jemele Hill, another ESPN commentator, also brought up Boston as being a racist city in her podcast. She goes on to talk about how every city in the United States is involved in racism, then she says “it’s not a racist city, but there is racism in the city,” so therefore, like 1+1=2… They resent them somehow being the gold standard of racism in a major American city.” Her comments really stood out to me because at first she took back her comments about Boston being racist, but after she says that people in the city are racist, which clearly doesn’t mean that the entire city is racist like she originally claimed.
Other criticism that ESPN rightly receives is for how their higher management wants their workers to sympathize with and reward athletes whose views are agreeable to the organization’s, including the Black Lives Matter Movement, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem, and more. This past summer of 2016, ESPN hosts a sports award show called “The ESPY’s”. It is a show that condemns all athletes who have helped people in their community especially children by taking time out of their day to spend with others. But in 2016, the show started out differently when NBA superstars Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul made a speech about people needing to step up their protests against police brutality. Debating about police brutality is one thing but to make a political statement even if it was the other side making their case, it should be show about sports.
Likely because of all these examples, ESPN lost 621,000 subscribers in February of 2017, the worst amount in a one month history. Back in November, Jim Brady, the channel’s public editor, acknowledged that some of the viewers not watching the network could be related to political issues and the programming of the Presidential Election. According to Nielsen Statistics, ESPN has lost 1.18 million subscribers in the last two months and in the whole year of 2016, ESPN had lost two million viewers. Out of 1.18 million people who are not subscribers anymore, 600,000 people did not want to continue it because the show as become more political. And in even in the last two years, according to Nielsen Statistics, ESPN has been losing subscribers at a fair rate, that is 300,000 people per month. According to Joe Depaolo of mediate.com, “for the first time since it launched in August 2013, Fox Sports 1 drew higher ratings than ESPN for over an entire week. Sports TV Ratings reported that not only did FS1 beat the sports media market, it dominated them by a margin of 1.5 million total viewers in primetime, and nearly 400,000 in the advertiser covered ages 18-49”. Clearly FS1 is competing with ESPN with “Undisputed” similar to First Take, and radio commentary throughout the day and viewers who did not continue their subscriptions with ESPN, want to see a focus on more sports talk while being fair and balance with politics.
Inconclusion, viewers are tired of politics and they just want to listen people give their sports opinion so they tune into other sports networks including Fox Sports 1 or just go Bleacher Report to follow their favorite teams. Most sports fanatics want to tune into highlights of exciting games from previous nights and to preview each game that they are covering.
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-Travis, C. (2016, October 29). ESPN Loses 621,000 Subscribers; Worst Month in Company History. Retrieved March 08, 2017, from http://www.outkickthecoverage.com/espn-loses-621-000-subscribers-worst-month-in-company-history-102916
-Brace, S. (2016, January 29). Charles Barkley: ESPN Is Famous for Race-Baiting. Retrieved March 08, 2017, from http://phillyinfluencer.com/2016/01/charles-barkley-espn-is-famous-for-race-baiting
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