ESPN recently announced another round of layoffs, following 2015’s massive cuts. The previous set of layoffs impacted mostly off-air talent, but this round laid claim to some significant on-air personalities (Jason Stark being the most notable, at least to me).
As a sports fan, I’ve watched ESPN on and off for the past few decades. But I’ve never been a huge ESPN viewer, as its tastes don’t really correspond to mine. I’m a hardcore baseball fan and I enjoy watching basketball and golf casually, but I have little interest in football, either NFL or college (and I don’t really pay attention to hockey or soccer – sorry, Canada and Europe). ESPN, on the other hand, is basically NFL Network, Bristol Campus. Further, its baseball coverage is usually poor, with commentary ranging from “Baseball will soon die because of X” to “Baseball will soon die because of Y.” When ESPN isn’t lamenting the imminent fall of Major League Baseball, it is treating baseball fans as if they are neanderthals who need to get into the 21st century, while somehow still ignoring most modern statistics (an impressive feat of schizophrenia, to be sure).
But another big reason I mostly ignore ESPN is its growing politicization; specifically, its growing leftist politicization. In the past few years, ESPN has:
- Awarded Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner with its “Courage Award” because he decided he wanted to act like a woman.
- Treated Michael Sam – the first openly gay NFL player – like he was the second coming of Jackie Robinson, even though he was a below-average talent with an above-average ego.
- Wouldn’t shut up about Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand for the National Anthem, and presented the story in more breathless tones than Walter Cronkite covering the moon landing.
- Suspended Curt Schilling for acknowledging the obvious reality that radical Muslims are dangerous, and then fired him for acknowledging the even more obvious reality that men are men and women are women.
Now these layoffs are not simply the result of ESPN’s growing leftism; they are caused by a host of issues. The Four Letter Network has lost millions of subscribers in recent years while spending prolifically on rights fees for NFL and other games. Many of those lost subscribers are due both to cord-cutters as well as people having more and more options for their sports and entertainment viewing.
But the network’s growing politicization has also had an impact. In a recent study, Deep Root Analytics found that the typical viewer of ESPN in my hometown of Cincinnati was far less conservative in 2016 than 2015. In other words, as ESPN was hemorrhaging viewers, it was predominantly conservatives that were leaving the ranks. Although some (liberal) analysts don’t want to admit it (I’m looking at you, Deadspin), the fact remains that the growing leftist politicization of ESPN isn’t helping it to gain viewers.
Removing the “E” from ESPN
Ultimately, ESPN has forgotten the most important truth about sports: it’s entertainment. ESPN should know this; after all, their initials stand for “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” (it’s the first word, people!). Most people don’t watch sports to get cultural commentary or in-your-face politics. In fact, they watch sports for the exact opposite reason: to escape from reality for a little while. After 9/11, Major League Baseball briefly suspended games as we recovered from those terrible attacks. But one of the reasons baseball started back up within a week was so that people could have a little time in their day to relax and just not think about those events.
Yes, I realize that sports and culture are not completely separate. After all, Jackie Robinson didn’t just impact baseball, he impacted America. But the idea that sports is primarily a cultural-change engine, rather than a part of our culture allows us to escape from the daily grind of life, is only true in the politics-obsessed Left, who want to remake the culture in the image of their fevered imagination, and will stop at nothing to make it happen, including ruining our escapist entertainment (see: Hollywood).
In a world in which we are hammered 24/7 with political commentary, it’s nice to have a little time each day away from it. But ESPN doesn’t want to give us that reprieve – it wants to hammer home its leftist cultural message even while we are trying to relax. Is it any wonder that so many who simply want an escape are now escaping from ESPN?