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Volume 27 No. 32
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ESPN Data: Majority Of Viewers Want Politics Out Of Sports

Le Batard skipped his radio show on Monday in the fallout from his political comments last week
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

An ESPN poll taken last month shows that 74% of fans prefer not to hear about politics on any of its platforms. That preference had bi-partisan support -- 69% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans said they do not want to hear politics on ESPN. Perhaps more importantly, 85% of what ESPN calls "avid fans" said they don’t want politics on ESPN. One anonymous comment collected from a focus group conveys what the network feels best illustrates a common view -- people come to ESPN to get a break from the political news cycle. The comment: "There are so many places where I get news about politics, and I don't need it on ESPN. When you introduce that element of broad politics, it ruins having a diversion." ESPN released the data on the eve of Dan Le Batard's reported meeting with ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro to discuss his future following his comments last week on radio about President Trump (John Ourand, SBJ Media). The NEW YORKER's Louisa Thomas writes the idea that "sports can be a unifying force in American life" is an "old one, and true." Many of the fans Pitaro referred to when describing ESPN's no-politics policy "sincerely view sports as an escape, and want sports to be walled off from the rest of the world." Thomas: "But they never have been" (NEWYORKER.com, 7/25).

FIRST REAL TEST OF TENURE: Author Jim Miller noted Pitaro had "two big agenda items" when he took over the net last year -- repairing the "fractured relationship with the NFL" and getting politics "the hell out of there." Miller: "This is in many ways, one could argue, the first example of that policy being tested." He added on the "Sports Media with Richard Deitsch" podcast there is a "kind of amazement that nothing has been said publicly" by ESPN on its handling of Le Batard's comments. Miller said, "What we may be seeing is Jimmy Pitaro saying for the Pitaro era, he is going to keep punishments private. ... If that's the case, he then needs to come out and say, 'This is a violation of our policy, I want every employee to remember that, and I'm going to deal with this punishment privately.'" NFL Network's Jim Trotter said from a "business standpoint, I understand what (Pitaro) is trying to accomplish." However, from a "human standpoint, he misses the mark." Trotter: "It's sad that it feels that the only one color we place above all is green, and that's what it sounds like he's doing." Trotter said Le Batard "has enough clout to say what he said," but "most folks at ESPN are not going to say what he said, and I understand that because we all have bills to pay." More Trotter: "I believe that many in the business, particularly once they get to the level of ESPN or elsewhere, are smart enough to understand what they can and they can't say in terms of being inflammatory or being authentic" ("Sports Media with Richard Deitsch," THEATHLETIC.com, 7/24).

AVOIDING POLITICS OR ONE POLITICIAN? In L.A., Arash Markazi writes ESPN "doesn't have a political problem as much as it has a Trump problem." If Le Batard "wanted to talk" about Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or health care, "chances are no one would care." However, ESPN "wants to stay as far away from Trump as possible, even when the president shoehorns himself into sports stories in a way that can't be ignored" (L.A. TIMES, 7/25). SI.com's Jimmy Traina on Twitter writes, "It's not 'politics' that’s the issue. It’s trump and only trump. ESPN has never covered abortion, health care, college tuition, global [warming]. But personalities have called out trump for being an awful person" (TWITTER.com, 7/25).