Excerpted From NewsBusters: ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady on Election Eve surveyed complaints that the sports network had gone overboard with liberal pieties, frustrating long-time watchers by injecting politics onto the playing field. He agreed with conservative complaints that ESPN had shifted leftward, though the company brass and at least one outspoken lefty personality didn’t see a problem: “One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same.”
….ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing product. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some.
Newsbusters has documented that more activist liberal strain infecting ESPN Magazine.
Brady accurately observed:
For most of its history, ESPN was viewed relatively apolitically. Its core focus was — and remains today, of course — sports. Although the nature of sports meant an occasional detour into politics and culture was inevitable, there wasn’t much chatter about an overall perceived political bias. If there was any tension internally, it didn’t manifest itself publicly.
But with social media branding and the rise of debate shows that stir up strong opinionizing, ESPN has gotten more political. He summarized the problem neatly.
There have also been concrete actions that have created a perception that ESPN has chosen a political side, such as awarding Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPYS despite her not having competed athletically for decades, the company’s decision to move a golf tournament away from a club owned by presidential candidate Donald Trump and a perceived inequity in how punishments for controversial statements were meted out.
Brady talked to ESPN President John Skipper, who painted the progressive politics as noncontroversial tolerance:
Inside ESPN, however, some feel the lack of tolerance of a particular political philosophy is a problem.
“We’ve done a great job of diversity,” said longtime ESPN anchor Bob Ley. “But the one place we have miles to go is diversity of thought.”
Many ESPN employees I talked to — including liberals and conservatives, most of whom preferred to speak on background — worry that the company’s politics have become a little too obvious, empowering those who feel as if they’re in line with the company’s position and driving underground those who don’t.
“If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers,” one conservative ESPN employee said. “There’s even a fear of putting Fox News on a TV [in the office].”
He went to ESPN leftist Jemele Hill, co-host of “His and Hers,” who waved away any concerns of speech squelching.
But Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2’s His & Hers, isn’t buying that. “I would challenge those people who say they feel suppressed,” she said. “Do you fear backlash, or do you fear right and wrong?”