For many years now, sports network ESPN has been developing a reputation, mostly on the political right, for being decidedly “left.” While the company refuses this designation with vehemence, that hasn’t stopped radio pundits and internet personalities from encouraging monikers like “MSESPN” which is code for “left-leaning.”
That’s a problem for a network whose base decidedly leans right. Lots of folks love sports, but there’s no doubt that, especially with cash cows like college football and the NFL, the majority of the fanbase either doesn’t want to hear politics at all during sports, or they want their politics with a red hue.
That’s the context into which a bombshell statement was made, that thrust the feelings of fans and the defenses offered by the network into the harsh glare of public scrutiny.
As is the fashion these days, the hullabaloo began with a Twitter war. ESPN host, and “outspoken” media personality Jemele Hill called President Trump “unqualified for the Presidency, implying he was a white supremacist.
The White House press team returned fire, calling for ESPN host Jemele Hill to be fired due to her criticism of the President. Mr. Trump added that ESPN should apologize for the “untruth” offered by Hill.
Now, instead of being a brand open for jovial ridicule by sports fans on the right, ESPN was wearing a target for serious scorn. The network responded by compelling Hill to apologize for putting the entire network in an “unfair light” due to her personal comments.
A nice spin, but ultimately a move that just thrust ESPN deeper into the fight. Now, personalities on both the right and the left are haranguing ESPN. The right says the network needs to keep its people on a tighter leash, keep politics out of sports. The left thinks ESPN should be ashamed for “kowtowing” to a political “side” instead of sticking up for its employees.
At this point, though, it is the right complaining the loudest. Some are calling up narratives about the firings of Curt Schilling and Rush Limbaugh for making comments deemed politically insensitive. That Hill still has a job, they say, proves ESPN is biased.
That’s not to say they’re getting a pass from the political left, which has routinely criticized the network for “protecting” its advertisers from public outcry related to various political issues.
For ESPN, though, it would be best if all of this would just go away. They may be best served by simply stating their employees are allowed to express private opinions, but they do not reflect those of the network. Then, sing along with the recently re-hired Hank Williams, Jr. that we’re “ready for some football.”
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.