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AvatarComments by Sam Wilkinson*

On “Pushed Over the Edge

The notion that small towns are idyllic communities worth striving for is entirely undermined by the realities of those communities for those who aren't members of the in-group.

On “On Changing The Subject

Pinky,

"He seems to be" as if you can't just ask. Again, the issue is neutering good sports coverage because of conservatives who fall to pieces encountering the realities of the politicians and the policies that they support. Le Batard's show is an excellent example: it is better when he isn't walking on eggshells around difficult issues. It is worse when he is. That ESPN thinks that Le Batard's audience simply cannot handle it if he talks about those difficult issues is ridiculous.

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That's part of the oddity here: Le Batard can be consumed via multiple streams. He can be watched, listened to over the air, or via podcast (which is what I do). I watch ESPN when there are games I am interested in; I listen to other ESPN productions.

In the modern world, is the threshold watching, or consuming?

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Aaron,

White supremacist is very clear in its meaning and that meaning very clearly applies to Trump, as well as a significant percentage of his supporters.

As for Rush Limbaugh or Clay Travis (Clay Davis is the legislator from The Wire), yes, of course their coverage would be vastly different. It would be nonstop praise of Trump, coupled with endless criticism of every athlete who does not sufficiently bend the knee to him.

ESPN is trying to hew out some sort of middle ground, wherein conservatives don't have to hear what they don't want to hear, and the conversation is neutered as a result, with the assumption being that all other sports fans will hang around too. And maybe they will. But the idea that sports and politics can be so thoroughly disconnected simply doesn't end up working, because it can't, because they are so fundamentally attached at the hip.

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George,

I genuinely admire how utterly ridiculous your last several comments have been.

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Have you read about the specifics of that study, the questions it asked, etc? And are you contending that the entirety of ESPN's modest ratings bump is solely related to its ongoing attempt to make sure that certain political opinions are only rarely on the network? Is there anything to back that claim up?

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X-Pac made tons of money. He was one of the main members of Degeneration X, during its ascendancy and WCW's post-NWO collapse. Also, sure, there were people who hated Ric Flair, but he was loved in equal measure. (I just inexplicably saw him in a series of Cumberland Farms gas station advertisements for a frozen coffee drink. This was in New England, where I'm not sure Flair was ever an enormous draw. I have digressed.)

I guess the idea here is something like Shockmaster, or, more recently, Roman Reigns pre-cancer announcement. Both were HUGELY unpopular with the audience, not because they cared about them, but because they didn't.

Point is, the implication here is that folks like Le Batard are failed gimmicks? Because that isn't the case at all. Le Batard is hugely successful, has an enormous audience, and ESPN still tries to clamp down on him, despite his successes. The fans that love him are given less of what they want, and the folks that weren't listening to him get to pocket a win but don't listen to him anyway. It's a truly bizarre strategy.

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Well, Jemele Hill was absolutely right about Trump: he is a white supremacist. The pushback about that chased her from the network, which was a capitulation to the audience that Pitaro is hoping to maintain, but it isn't like Hill is the only person who has made the criticism, even with the generally anodyne world of professional sports. Even that link points to Hill noting that as athletes have been louder about their own politics, ESPN has followed suit, and for the network to try to steer clear of such messaging is a difficult thing that, depending upon the severity of the situation, borders on the ridiculous.

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Pinky,

That you don't watch, but are still invested in this, is an oddity.

But anyway, sports are conservative by their nature, their structure, and their execution. If you need specific issues to explore, you can find plenty of ESPN talking heads opposed to paying college athletes, opposed to athletes speaking out on political issues, opposed to questioning authority figures, etc. You can also find plenty of times that ESPN bent over backward to protect institutions (most notably, the NFL) from various coverage that would not reflect kindly upon it.

But again, those are the politics that are tolerated, and continue to be tolerated, because they reflect the status quo.

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Jaybird,

There's nothing wrong with that, per se. It's what we all do. What's weird in this case though is people pursuing shows where OPINIONS ARE HAD, LOUDLY and then objecting when those opinions do not reflect their own.

Because, again, this is not people tuning into a baseball game and encountering announcers going both barrels about Trump; these are folks tuning into OPINIONS ARE HAD, LOUDLY and objecting about what they are hearing. (Or, in one very particular case, objecting to what opinions hosts are having when they aren't hosting.)

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Pinky,

I'm certainly critical of a dumb policy that mutes voices, particularly somebody like Le Batard's. He is much more complicated a character than he is being given credit for here. That Pitaro would look at him and say, "We need a lot less of this, let's just stick to sports" is an absurdity.

This though is part of the broader phenomenon where conservative voices are given incredible opportunity to be expressed; conservatism drips out of ESPN, for example, with nobody anywhere objecting, particularly the "stick to sports!" crowd that loves politics in its sports, just so long as they're the right politics. Then an occasional bit of something else creeps in, and suddenly politics has to be quashed, but only ever in the one direction.

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That certainly is Pitaro's position, yes: that conservative viewers need to be coddled lest they hear anything that does not reflect the world back to them exactly as they would prefer it to be. His position is plainly that the only politics allowed on the network are ones protecting the current conservative status quo.

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Fun Fact: it is unclear whether Michael Jordan ever actually said "Republicans buy shoes/sneakers too."

As for the idea of "ESPN's flavor of woke" what exactly does that mean?

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Was this comment meant to be in reply to me? Because I'm not saying anybody should do things that they don't enjoy.

This though gets back to the issue discussed elsewhere in this thread: where this commentary was happening. You seem to be implying that these political comments were being made during sporting events; that is extremely rare, as compared to the things that commentators say on sports argument shows.

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It has been pointed out above, but nobody was tuning into basketball/baseball/football games and hearing anti-Trump commentary. They were tuning into sports-talk shows, then falling to pieces because the commentators weren't repeating back at them their own beliefs. And that's before we get into sports shows that we're being asked to ignore things athletes were saying and doing - protesting police brutality or refusing to visit the White House - because covering those things once again melts those doing the complaining about it.

But perhaps as a different approach, what should ESPN do when something like this happens? Cover it? Ignore it? (Hell, should the player be suspended for injecting politics into a precious, sacrosanct sporting event?)

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Yes: the Golf Channel.

There, you will find coverage of a (dying) sport beloved by the president, where the only political statements made by the anchors are in praise of Trump's golf properties, coupled with an ongoing celebration of how things were, with the occasional soupcon of objection whenever young people do things wrong.

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There is no such thing as "drops the politics from its sports coverage"; there is not talking about politics, but that is simply lending credibility and support to the status quo, which is an inherently political act. What ESPN is currently doing is trying to keep extremely delicate conservatives assuaged that when they watch sports - or listen to sports talk (in Le Batard's case) - they won't have to hear any opinions that in any way conflict with their own worldview that everything is fine.

As for the coming demographic collapse of even sports media, that is something owed to ongoing cultural change, coupled with pronounced generational conflict about how sports are consumed (and played).

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ESPN's problem isn't that it has political talkers, but rather, cord-cutting is hitting it hard. What Pitaro thinks he's doing is fixing the cord-cutting problem - surely these folks must be dropping ESPN because of the political talk? - rather than the cultural issue, which is that sports simply aren't as big a thing in people's lives as it used to be. (There is an enormous demographic calamity coming for sports in the next fifty years.)

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Your two examples are extremely different.

If you were watching a basketball game on ESPN, and the commentators spent the entire time telling you that you should be watching baseball, that would certainly be one thing. But that isn't what was happening by any stretch of the imagination.

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The particular issue that once again brought this to the foreground - Le Batard's fury at not only being attacked by Trump, but most of his staff also being attacked by Trump, and what it meant that a political movement views these sorts of attacks as good and right - was specific to the show. His show is, as they describe it, "unapologetically Miami" which means it is far more culturally diverse than what Trump's fans, and ESPN's critics, would prefer. Pitaro isn't being attacked by the president; Pitaro is running cover for Trump. Le Batard isn't willing to do that, said as much, and the ESPN president's response was to demand that Le Batard not do the things that made him a successful journalist and radio broadcaster, but to instead remain silent, due to the precious feelings of a demographic that almost certainly isn't listening to his show anyway.

Pretending as though sports and politics do not routinely intersect is specifically designed to placate those who prefer and demand the status quo; acknowledging otherwise offends their delicate sensibilities. Pitaro's position is that those delicate sensibilities need to be coddled. It is an absurdity.

On “Gillette: The Best a Meme Can Get

"I think Trump withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan should help sales"

*stares at this comment in wide-eyed disbelief*

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Wilkinson Sword, he says, presumably related to the fortune and desperately hoping to cash in.

On “Rutger Hauer Has Passed Away

This is a particularly good comment.

On “Defending Skyler White

People that hated Skyler White were always, always, ALWAYS telling on themselves.

On “Bigot.

Electoral support is absolute support, surely. How else can they support him (or not support him) in a meaningful way? They can tut-tut him, the things he has said, and the things he has done, but if they vote for him, they're with him, and we should quite rightfully doubt the claims they make about their alleged disapproval of him.

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This guy's mind is gonna be blown when he encounters the conservative movement.

*Comment archive for non-registered commenters assembled by email address as provided.