Disney-owned ESPN is in trouble. And the circumstances that have landed the sports giant in this mess are complex, not owed to any one cause. But not the least among ESPN’s woes are the political fights it chooses to pick. Like the latest: having one of its cohosts slam MLB’s Houston Astros for visiting the White House.
In a nutshell, ESPN’s self-inflicted political problem is this: most of its viewers are conservative, while the network itself is decidedly left-leaning and is choosing to carry the liberal political banner on a wide (and increasing) range of political issues that have almost nothing to do with sports.
So when you saw news that ESPN First Take cohost Max Kellerman was ripping the Astros for visiting the White House, how could you not shake your head and say, “Here we go again…”?
The Astros received a White House invite after winning the World Series in October. The MLB champion is invited to the White House every year, as are the NBA, NFL and NHL champs, along with multiple college national championship winners.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl last winter, most of the team visited the White House. Some didn’t. Then President Donald Trump made headlines by pulling an invite from the Golden State Warriors after they won the NBA Finals (with coach Steve Kerr and superstar Stephen Curry blasting the president, it’s very likely none of the Warriors would’ve visited anyway).
But now Kellerman is acting as if it is a moral imperative to refuse a White House invite, calling the Astros’ decision to accept the invite “a grave error.” Invoking images of the 1960s Civil Rights battle, he claimed that the Astros are “on the wrong side of history.”
Kellerman claims that his view has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, but is about the Trump administration being “abnormal,” adding that it “must not be normalized.” Consider me skeptical of the sincerity of his justification.
For what it’s worth, Kellerman’s fellow cohosts Will Cain and Stephen A. Smith (who is black, as shameful as it is that we have to actually point out that distinction, but that’s where we’re at in the current political climate, amid claims that Trump is a racist) disagreed and defended the Astros’ decision.
But it’s astounding that the ESPN panel would delve off into this topic to begin with. However much you may disagree with Trump’s behavior or his policies — and I strongly disagree, not necessarily with his policies but certainly his behavior, which is disgraceful and often despicable — it is an honor to be invited to the White House. Accepting that invitation is not “normalizing” anything. It’s continuing a great American sports tradition. Astros president Reid Ryan was absolutely right when he said many people don’t get more than one chance to visit the White House. I’m 38 and I’ve never been inside the White House. If a president sends me a personal invitation, I’m going…and I don’t care whether he’s a Republican, a Democrat or Rand Paul.
It defies logic why ESPN, which continues to implement one mass layoff after another in an effort to shore up its failing bottom line, would continue to turn sports news into political debate. It should go without saying that the network needs to be bipartisan, but if you want to be really honest, the network should be nonpartisan. ESPN, as a sports network, should be apolitical. I’m more of a political junkie than most Americans, but I still want to be entertained when it’s time to be entertained — not have someone’s political leanings taint my football. It’s why I never watch ESPN unless there’s a ballgame on that I’m interested in. It’s also why I no longer watch NFL games on NBC (though I haven’t watched any NFL games this season, due to the political posturing that so many owners and players are engaging in) — because NBC has for years chosen to subject us to Bob Costas’ political lectures at halftime.
Keep politics on CNN and sports on ESPN. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Should it?