Saturday’s ESPN Broadcast of Football’s Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremonies marked a symbolic end of an era for the once proud network. First came the announcement that longtime analyst Tom Jackson was retiring, followed by a rare public appearance by Chris Mortensen. Mortensen, who took a leave of absence from ESPN in January to deal with Stage 4 throat cancer, was in Canton, Ohio, to accept a well-deserved Dick McCann Award. One watching the broadcast couldn’t help but realize that more big changes are in store for the troubled network.
For those of us who remember ESPN’s infant days of covering garbage sports, to its rise as a mega sports media outlet that spawned countless memorable moments and cash profits that often carried the Disney Corporation when its other lines of business lagged, the collapse of ESPN’s business model is stunning. Despite the latest financial disclosures that showed a small boost due to the NBA Playoffs, ESPN for the most part has struggled mightily in the new Netflix era, where traditional TV and cable viewership has vanished, and ESPN’s once sky high ratings and revenues are disappearing just as quickly as its high priced on-air talent are jumping ship before they are shown the door due to the cash crunch.
If it sounds like I’m lamenting change coming to ESPN, let me make myself clear. Change couldn’t come fast enough as its current shtick has grown stale. As it sorts out the current mess, let us hope its future includes dropping the unwanted political bent that, in the last decade or so, too often made viewers wonder if they’d turned on MSNBC instead.
In a short column it’s impossible to list all the examples of ESPN’s inclusion of leftist dogma in its programming, so let me pare it down to a few:
If you are a conservative and happen to be employed as on air talent, chances are your employment won’t be long term. Rush Limbaugh and Curt Shilling were shuffled out of the ESPN deck for not being politically correct. When Chris Broussard voiced his opinion that homosexuality was a sin while discussing former NBA player Jason Collins coming out gay, ESPN felt it necessary to issue an apology telling everyone that they welcomed Collins’ announcement.
Conversely ESPN created a show specifically for one of its alumni, Keith Olbermann, who by his second go round was infamously known as a liberal hatchet man. Remember when he called Tea Party-backed Republicans “a group of unqualified, unstable individuals who will do what they are told, in exchange for money and power, and march this nation as far backward as they can get, backward to Jim Crow, or backward to the breadlines of the ’30s, or backward to hanging union organizers, or backward to the trusts and the robber barons”?
Despite Olbermann’s reputation and past he was welcomed back and given a show that dragged on for a painful two years, chock full of disappointing ratings and idiotic moments such as when he called Penn State students pitiful during a sophomoric twitter exchange over Penn State students’ annual pediatric cancer fundraiser.
One of the great pleasures of being a sports fan is finding moments of escape from a world full of issues, conflicts, and bitter partisan politics. I really don’t care what party affiliation, if any, sports announcers have, other than I don’t care to be subjected to their political musings while catching the highlights of last night’s games. So here’s to change at ESPN, where hopefully the network can rediscover some of its early magic when its on air talent were fresh and fun and didn’t think it was their job to educate the masses on the virtues of modern liberalism.