Okay, let’s take an unconventional, unvarnished look at this Dan Le Batard-ESPN diplomatic divide that popped out of the Bristol jack-in-the-box bin when I was on vacation.*
* By the way, it is wholly possible that my next column hiatus will be forever; I can’t take it anymore. Sports Nation is perpetually on the edge of a cliff, and America is on tilt. So, frankly, I’m thinking about a one-way ticket to paradise in 2020. I’m not sure where paradise is, but I’m hoping Amtrak can get me there, because I may not get into a car or a plane for the rest of my natural life.
But I digress.
So Le Batard is unhappy that ESPN’s no-politics policy prohibits its on-air chatterboxes from delving into real issues beyond sports.
In response to the “Send her back!” chants directed at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) at a Donald Trump rally in North Carolina, Le Batard – on his ESPN Radio show – said, “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.”
For argument’s sake, let me play devil’s advocate – the devil, of course, being ESPN – on this one.
We’ll start by giving you a hypothetical example focusing on one of ESPN’s Disney relations, the Disney Channel.
Imagine the Disney Channel decided that, between daily episodes of “Raven’s Home” and “Andi Mack,” it wanted some telegenic host to talk amiably about the Disney schedule. But let’s say that person decided to go off-script, and every once in a while, rather than discussing Mickey Mouse and Snow White, weighed in on Brexit, boxing and the border wall.
Something tells me this individual would no longer have a parking spot anywhere near the happiest place on Earth.
The Disney brand is all about magical kingdoms, fairytale stories and a fantasy world of delight. Its powers that be don’t want a reality check on, say, economic woes, and Disney-bound viewers are not looking for updates on protests in Hong Kong.
Disney, understandably, would have no interest in one of its spokespersons exercising freedom of speech in any way that interrupts the flow of business.
Which brings us to ESPN.
Like Le Batard, I am also an ESPN talker of sorts. I might not like the company’s head-in-the-turf stance on the crashing planetary disorder around us, but in the cable network’s attempt to maximize profits – a centuries-old American tradition – it has decided to build a sports video palace in which most of the real world does not penetrate.
Thus, I am aware that, between the turn and river cards at the World Series of Poker Main Event, the suits don’t want me pontificating on our unrelenting history of racial injustice or the lack of clean drinking water in Flint, Mich., or the fact that the production trailer I’m sitting in is unconscionably hot due to climate change.
Would I like ESPN to sometimes embrace the world beyond stadiums and arenas? Yes. But I haven’t even met new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro to tell him this, partly because I fear he’d simply fire me upon first sight.
Besides, if ESPN opened that door, when would it ever close? If Le Batard’s shorts are all bunched up about fracking, maybe Bomani Jones will disagree on “High Noon,” then Woody Paige chimes in on “Around the Horn” before, God forbid, Stephen A. Smith blows a gasket about the entire natural gas industry on “First Take.”
And suddenly ESPN is Fox News or MSNBC, and there won’t be any time for Adam Schefter to report that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ provisional fifth-round pick in 2024 might be traded to the Los Angeles Rams for a case of iPad chargers.
So my advice to Le Batard is: If you must, join Victor Laszlo for late-night resistance meetings, but, in general, you’ve got to zip it on-air when it comes to immigration reform.
P.S. For what it’s worth, I might’ve voted for Eugene V. Debs in 1908.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Cleveland Browns Coach Freddie Kitchens says he will immediately fire anyone in the organization who serves as an anonymous source. How is he going to find them? (Scott Levy; Columbus, Ohio)
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A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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