Tuesday there was an interesting — to use the term loosely, since there are far more descriptive adjectives available — article at ESPN.com by that organization’s major league baseball writer Jayson Stark about the big leagues and politics.
The title? “With nation deeply divided, MLB’s silence speaks volumes”…
BEFORE THEY STRETCHED, before they played catch, before they practiced their first cutoff and relay this spring, the New York Yankees watched a video. It was part of their annual media training. Prominent among the topics was the hottest button in American life right now:
And the message was as clear as the sky over Steinbrenner Field: If you’re asked about modern American politics — beware.
“The platform of the baseball player is a very powerful one,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says. “It’s a free country, and you can always utilize that platform whenever you so choose. But just know, when you choose to do so, what the potential ramifications are.”
The piece goes on to describe how major league teams are, to paraphrase, stifling the political speech of their players by telling them to shut up about Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter and everything else, contrasting such elements of MLB media training with what’s on offer in the NBA, for example, whose players pop off incessantly about political topics.
Nowhere in the piece is it mentioned — irony of ironies! — what happened to former major league superstar pitcher Curt Schilling, who, when he was an ESPN announcer, was yanked off the air and suspended for retweeting an internet meme two years ago comparing Muslim jihadists to Nazis, and then fired last year for expressing, on Facebook, the opinion that men shouldn’t be allowed in women’s bathrooms regardless of whether they identify themselves according to their plumbing. One might argue that if anyone is an authority on stifling the political speech of major leaguers, it’s ESPN.
Stark isn’t known as a raving left-winger. He’s not a Keith Olbermann or Bryant Gumbel. His reputation is as a relatively responsible baseball writer. Having graduated from Syracuse’s J-school and coming up out of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports section it’s probably a good bet he’s a Democrat, but reading his writings doesn’t offer much of a tell.
Given all the circumstances surrounding the publication of Stark’s story one could conclude that this piece came from above.
Three weeks ago, Clay Travis at Outkick The Coverage had a great post about ESPN and its impending collapse — and the network’s rather inexplicable response to a business model which looks more and more unsustainable by the day…
And the story here is simple — ESPN is losing millions of subscribers and viewers that add up to billions of dollars a year in losses and is on the hook for tens of billions of dollars in sports rights costs in the years ahead.
That’s a bad combination.
Every single day this year ESPN has lost roughly 10,000 cable and satellite subscribers.
Per day! …
The result of this coming financial calamity has been panic, which has primarily manifested itself in a desperate ploy for relevance. ESPN decided to become a social justice warrior network, treating all liberal opinion makers as those worthy of promotion and casting aside all those who had the gall to challenge the new Disney world order.
ESPN became MSESPN.
You would be astounded by how many people inside ESPN I hear from who have the absolute gall to vote Republican. Yes, they exist. And yes they are terrified of you knowing who they are. In fact, many of them are reading this right now and nodding their heads at the absurdity of this corporate decision.
I’m not saying that ESPN should just stick to sports, but I am saying that if you decide to allow political opinions to flourish from your network’s stars that you shouldn’t neuter all conservative opinion and allow liberal political opinion to advance unchecked. That’s not a marketplace of ideas, that’s a totalitarian government. Those with liberal opinions are rewarded and allowed to speak freely, those with conservative opinions are told to keep their mouths shut.
Conservative viewers aren’t stupid, they see exactly what’s happening.
Even crazier, SPORTS VIEWERS ARE, ON AVERAGE, CONSERVATIVE!
Travis goes on to describe the stupidity of pelting the viewers of a network dedicated to offering things like NASCAR, college football, the NFL and major league baseball with leftist pieties like offering Bruce Jenner in a dress as an example of courage, noting that the only major sports audience in America which leans Democrat is the NBA, and that’s mostly because of the large segment of black viewers who even so tend to be more socially conservative than ESPN’s talking heads.
He also notes that ratings for ESPN’s talking-head shows have completely tanked as a result of its politicization; the Monday morning numbers following the Super Bowl for PTI, Around the Horn, SportsCenter and others were down an average of 33 percent just since last year.
It didn’t take long for Travis’ rather controversial take on ESPN was validated by Stark’s MLB piece. One of the most prominent sources interviewed for it? NBC News’ Chuck Todd. Yay.
But that brings baseball to a moment of truth. On the outside, there is the divide in the nation, pervading the lives of just about everyone. On the inside, there is the potential divide in these clubhouses, which could undermine the fabric every team needs to function and win.
So which is the more important divide? Baseball clearly has chosen to worry about its own house. But is it possible that, by making that choice, it is squandering an opportunity to help Americans mend a much bigger divide?
“I’ll say this,” Todd says. “Baseball has an opportunity to heal the country, because of the political, ethnic and racial diversity in its locker room. No other sport has that. So it can either hide in a corner and pretend nothing is happening — and baseball becomes America’s distraction — or maybe we’ll see some leadership … where some players who politically disagree get together and say, ‘This is way too tense.’”
But players across a variety of demographics, and from both ends of the political spectrum, have made it clear this spring that they want no part of topics this volatile — no matter how outspoken they may be on a million other subjects.
All of which leads this writer to offer a great deal of thanks to MLB and its players for getting it right regardless of the crybullying Jayson Stark and his bosses in Bristol might have on offer. We saw last fall how much damage Colin Kaepernick and the other entitled millionaires in the NFL did to that league and its TV ratings, and it’s only rational for MLB to recoil in horror from those stupid decisions and agree not to repeat them.
At the end of the day, those players and owners are showing themselves to be smart businessmen. They’ll be around a lot longer than the lefty elitists in the money-hemorrhaging boardroom in Bristol. I’m all of a sudden a lot more interested in big-league baseball — which I’ll watch on the MLB Network once the season starts, and probably not on ESPN.
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