That’s the question the Washington Post poses in the headline (paper edition) to this article by Ben Strauss. My answer is: of course it can, and it has done since Jimmy Pitaro took the helm.
Pitaro laid down a “stick to sports” policy, and ESPN’s on-air personnel have followed it. A serious exception occurred recently when Dan Le Batard went off with a left-wing rant against Donald Trump and old white men.
Pitaro discussed this violation with Le Batard. Presumably, Le Batard will stick to sports from now on. If he doesn’t, ESPN can adhere to its policy by sacking him.
In its online edition, the Post’s headline is a bit different. It reads: “As ESPN tries to stick to sports, President Jimmy Pitaro must define what that means.” Not really. The meaning is clear, although, as with most rules and policies, there are some gray areas.
Actually, Le Batard, in his rant, did a decent job of defining what “stick to sports” means. He said:
We don’t talk about what is happening [politically] unless there is some sort of weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through.
Exactly. I would add only that the “sports angle” needs to be legitimate, not a reach.
For leftists, every corner of our lives must be politicized. There can be no escape from their preaching and indoctrination.
What’s particularly galling to the left is when an institution pulls back from politics. If the institution is an important one — as ESPN certainly is — its withdrawal from the political arena, though nothing more than an act of political neutrality, represents a defeat in the culture war.
Worse yet, it might presage additional defeats. ESPN’s Pitaro’s decision to stick to sports was based on the indisputable fact that conservatives consume huge amounts of sports and sports talk . The Post concedes that he had the data to back up the prudence of his policy.
Conservatives consume lots of other stuff too. We are particularly insistent that sports not become an outlet for left-wing propaganda, but one can imagine the same disgust that made us turn away from ESPN filtering into other areas of consumption.
The left wants to nip this prospect in the bud and, at the same time, to preach to audiences it can’t reach through CNN and MSNBC.
That’s why the Washington Post, via Ben Strauss, is suggesting that ESPN’s withdrawal isn’t really possible or, alternatively, that it needs to be defined in a way that will make it less complete. It’s also why Strauss, in a particularly dishonest bit of journalism, cleansed LeBatard’s political rant of its most offensive component — the arguably racist attack on old white men.
Pitaro defended his “stick to sports” policy this way:
I have my own views. 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 words are blindingly obvious. Yet, in today’s corporate America they constitute words of wisdom.