ESPN Should Embrace Politics

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In 2017, standing against white supremacy and racism should be the easiest thing in the world for a TV network to do. It shouldn't be a 'brave' thing to do--it should be common sense. It should be your default position. It should be the only way you would be expected to do business in America.

Where is the upside to being unable to condemn white supremacy in America?

But ESPN won't unequivocally stand against the forces of evil unleashed by Donald Trump's presidency out of fear that some racist jackasses won't watch the sports programming on their numerous channels. Guess what, idiots--the racist demographic is probably not a winner for your advertisers, and it certainly goes against the values of everything professional sports is supposed to represent in this country. In other words, ESPN has failed. It has failed to stand for decency. It has failed to stand for the rights of minorities. It has failed to stand against the bigotry that no one in their right mind would want to embrace in the first place.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports is a chickenshit organization that doesn't understand a single Goddamned thing about the history of politics in sports:

"ESPN is about sports." It is "not a political organization." That's what ESPN president John Skipper said in a memo to staffers on Friday afternoon, after a bruising week for the sports network.

Skipper's memo came in the wake of anchor Jemele Hill's calling President Trump a "white supremacist" in a series of tweets on Monday that triggered days of news coverage, criticism, and a presidential broadside against the network. 

"We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time," Skipper acknowledged. Yes, he said, ESPN upholds certain values about tolerance and diversity. Yes, ESPN's employees are also citizens who have opinions about politics. But the network has social media policies for good reasons, Skipper said, because personal comments "will reflect on ESPN." 

"In light of recent events," he said, "we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position."

No one is arguing that ESPN has to take a stand between "democrat" or "republican." What people want to know is, will ESPN continue to ignore race relations and social issues as they intersect with the very real business of professional athletics in this country? How do you ignore the fact that the police are killing African-American males (and females) on a regular basis and not cover incidents where pro athletes have had run-ins with the cops? How do you ignore the fact that pro athletes are protesting the way their communities are being treated? How do you walk away from the fact that Jemele Hill is absolutely correct--the President of the United States is a real, actual, verified white supremacist?

How the fuck does that work?

ESPN isn't being asked to pick a brand of politics. It's being asked to take a stand on right and wrong. This is a no-brainer--white supremacy is wrong, and a network that claims that it is a "journalistic organization" should know better. How can ESPN be allowed to straddle "both sides" of an issue that anyone with a conscience knows has but one side, and that's the side where you stand up to white supremacy and kick it's fucking ass down the fucking block like the bitch that it is. How can ESPN make millions showcasing professional sports and not acknowledge that there's a side where you'll find justice and dignity and on the other you'll find cosplaying twits and real, actual Nazis?

I mean, Jesus H. Fucking Christ. We're still not on the same sheet of music yet? If you're on the side of the racists, why are you even in business, you assholes.

How are things over on Trump's side of the issue? Well, okay then.

When Jackie Robinson entered the big leagues, it was a huge controversy. ESPN is basically acting like Robinson's accomplishments and the integration of one of our major sports would be okay to talk about in the 1940s but way, way too much to talk about in 2017. How would they have handled Robinson back in the day? And, bear in mind, Robinson came up in 1947. That was seventy years ago. Why are we even talking about this? I don't get it, I really don't. I shouldn't even have to write about this, but our values and our discourse are so screwed up right now, it's painful. ESPN has run away from current events in the hopes that this will save their business model from recrimination from racists. Guess what, jackasses? Current events come at you fast. Embrace them, and you might survive. Stick your head in the sand, and you're automatically on the wrong side of history.

I mean, if ESPN was around in 1947, I can guarantee you that you would have never read or heard about any of this on ESPN in the right historical context:

In response to Rickey’s announcement that Robinson was joining the Dodgers, the other 15 owners voted against the move, officially making the majors a whites-only society after years of posturing to the contrary. But Rickey had a lone yet powerful ally who overruled the owners: Baseball’s new commissioner, Happy Chandler. Landis’ replacement sided with Rickey because, among other reasons, he said doing otherwise would have made it difficult to explain his decision when he met his “maker.” 

Next, Robinson had to survive his own teammates. Alabama-born Dixie Walker, a Brooklyn fan favorite, began circulating a petition among the players to have Robinson removed from the roster. Some of the southern-born Dodgers signed on, but when manager Leo Durocher heard about the movement, he lit into Walker in front of the team. The petition died and Walker asked to be traded; the Dodgers eventually obligedWalker, the Dodgers’ most productive hitter through the mid-1940s, would finish out 1947 in Brooklyn before being dealt to Pittsburgh.

The addition of Robinson—and the brutal reception he received from the rest of the league—simply galvanized the Dodgers into a tighter and stronger unit.Having defeated the owners and having won his teammates over, Robinson’s last hurdle toward major league acceptance—gaining the respect of opposing players—would be the most vicious of all. 

The Chicago Cubs privately voted to boycott playing against Robinson and the Dodgers, but went out on the field anyway—knocking Robinson down whenever he came to the plate. The St. Louis Cardinals made a bigger splash when the media got word that they were ready to oppose playing against Brooklyn. True or not (and Cardinals players denied it), the strike threat forced National League president Ford Frick to throw down the gauntlet, announcing that any player who refused to play against Robinson would receive a lifetime ban from the game. 

Teams that chose not to boycott Robinson gave him serious hell. The worst offenders were the Phillies and their manager, Ben Chapman, a Tennessee manager who led his players on a mortifying, non-stop tirade of racial slurs. As if that wasn’t enough, some Phillies pantomimed as snipers, aiming their bats at Robinson as if they were rifles. It all reached near traumatizing proportions for Robinson, and it stunned even Dodgers players who were borderline on whether he should belong or not. 

In Cincinnati—where more baiting, epithets and death threats were all being aimed at Robinson—the Dodgers had seen enough. Kentucky-born shortstop Pee Wee Reese, an emerging Brooklyn star on his own, finally answered the continued heckling by going over to Robinson, putting an arm around his shoulder, and loudly announcing to the Reds: “This is the guy, and we’re gonna win with him.”

I think the default position for ESPN is always "what can we get away with, and what's the least we can do to cover the society in which we play sports?" Fucking cowards.