I really prefer to steer clear of political commentary and topics with a huge political overhang here, but Dan LeBatard put such a topic front and center last week on his daily ESPN Radio program. Responding to the political rally in which President Trump’s supporters chanted “Send her back…” referring to a freshman member of the US House of representatives, LeBatard had this to say:
“It is so wrong, what the president of our country is doing trying to get reelected by dividing the masses at a time when the old white man – the old rich white man – feels oppressed, being attacked by minorities.”
“And we here at ESPN don’t have the stomach for the fight. We don’t talk about what is happening unless there is some sort of weak, cowardly sports angles we can run it through.”
That second quote refers to ESPN’s directive to employees that it is not their job to cover politics; they are an entertainment and sports network.
One bit of information you need to know as background for those comments is that Dan LeBatard’s parents came to the US as Cuban refugees more than 50 years ago. And the other thing you should know is that the reaction to his commentary bifurcated into the two “camps” that you would expect here;
- Camp 1: You are hosting a sports show not a political or social commentary show. Stick to your knitting and talk about sports; that is what your audience tuned in to hear.
- Camp 2: When a societal issue is important to you and you have a platform to make your views known, you have the right to do so and you have a responsibility to do so for the benefit of society at large.
Here is my problem:
- There is merit to the positions taken by both camps. If I tune into the Dan LeBatard Show on ESPN Radio, I do so with the intent of hearing about sports and/or some sort of wacky happening somewhere that has some tangential connection with sports. If I want to listen to social/political commentary, I can easily find it on NPR on my radio.
- In many cases where a sports commentator veers off into social/political commentary, I always ask myself what credentials that person brings to the discussion other than a live microphone. That often ends the “controversy” for me as I proceed to ignore much of what is said. However, in this case, Dan LeBatard is a first-generation American born of immigrant parents; he has background that lends credence to his feelings.
The controversy here is magnified by the ESPN policy of “sticking to sports”. As is often the case when there is an intersection between sports and sociopolitical issues, Sally Jenkins provided a very reasoned and dispassionate perspective in the Washington Post. Here is a link to her column from 20 July; I recommend that you read it in its entirety.
There is an adage that says, “In for a dime; in for a dollar.” This isn’t a poker game, but I will reference that adage and turn to one more issue where sports and politics intersect these days. In the wake of the USWNT’s World Cup win and their fight for equal pay, it did not take long for a Presidential Candidate to take up their cause. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) grabbed onto that equal pay cause and expanded it to say that there need be an examination of the pay inequity that exists between the NBA and the WNBA. Senator Klobuchar has enunciated some reasonable positions and proposals as part of her campaign to be the Democratic nominee in 2020. However, the idea that there needs to be some sort of pay equity balancing between the NBA and the WNBA is patently ridiculous when one compares the revenue generated by the two entities.
Over and above the business aspects of that debate, it should not be forgotten that the WNBA was formed by the NBA and bankrolled by the NBA through at least a decade of red ink for the WNBA. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the WNBA would not exist in the form that it does today without the “largesse” of the NBA and former Commissioner, David Stern.
There is another complicating factor in the “equal pay” contretemps ongoing between the USWNT and the US Soccer mavens. There was an extensive report in the LA Times written by Kevin Baxter about a week ago that makes the case that the “equal pay” controversy is much more complicated than it has been made out to be. At one point, Baxter points out that the women are currently paid more than the men’s team is paid under certain circumstances. Here is a link to that LA Times report; once again, I suggest that you read it to get a deeper understanding of the issues that will hopefully be resolved in mediation very soon.
Finally, I have had enough serious stuff today; so, here is a Tweet from humor writer Brad Dickson to lighten the mood a bit:
“Now that the Wallendas have walked across Times Square on a tightrope they’re planning their next, even more dangerous stunt: to check it at a resort in the Dominican Republic and stay for a full week.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………