ESPN host Dan Le Batard’s criticism of his own network’s “stick-to-sports” policy in light of the racist “send her back” chants at President Trump’s re-election rally caused some headaches at the sports media giant.
After the host took the day off from his own namesake radio show Monday, speculation over Le Batard’s fate at the network swirled as he reportedly couldn’t reach an agreement with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro last weekend regarding the network’s policy of banning political commentary.
A new Washington Post report Friday offers more insight on what happened as the Le Batard controversy unfolded.
Pitaro reportedly met with Le Batard in New York Thursday and confirmed that the host will continue his employment at the network. However, a source told WaPo that if Le Batard feels the need to address a political issue in the future, he will “check with higher-ups.”
Although Pitaro declined to directly address Le Batard’s comments or how the company is handling them, he said that he remains attuned to what the network’s viewers want.
Pitaro, who has become synonymous with ESPN’s “stick-to-sports” policy upon taking the helm as its president last year, justified the nonpartisan policy by citing Trump’s feud with the NFL dying down.
“Right or wrong, fair or unfair, perceptions become reality,” Pitaro said.
When Le Batard tore into the network last week, it raised questions from others inside the company. Despite expressing support for the no-politics policy, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith emailed Pitaro seeking guidance on how to handle moments such as the racist “send her back” chants at Trump’s rally. According to WaPo, Smith said in his email to Pitaro that politics would become a bigger story during an election year in which athletes are compelled to be vocal, and wondered what those athletes might think of ESPN. Smith caused a stir himself on Thursday when he tweeted about an incident in New York City where people were throwing water at police officers, which he said was “flat-out inexcusable.”
When pressed on ESPN talent also potentially feeling compelled to weigh in during political moments, Pitaro said he was sensitive to those scenarios.
“Of course I am, and I have my own views,” Pitaro said. “But I also recognize that when I or one of our on-air personalities speak publicly that that is received as the opinions of ESPN, and that can’t be. We look at what our fans are telling us.”
Pitaro seemed to dismiss the idea of sports and political news coverage inevitably bleeding into each other.
“What we’ve said from day one is that we’re the place of record, we are covering the intersection of sports and politics,” Pitaro said. “That hasn’t changed. Why is it impossible to make the distinction between sports news and non-sports news?”
Read the Washington Post’s report here.