ESPN, which has seen its ratings drop as its on-air talent has drifted into politics, issued new political and election guidelines to employees, recommending that they tie any political comments to sports whenever possible. There are different guidelines for staffers working on news reports and those providing commentary for the network.
Patrick Stiegman, ESPN’s vice president of global digital content and the chairman of the company’s internal Editorial Board, which drafted the new guidelines, cited the presidential election and the ongoing interest in politics as one of the reasons for the new guidelines.
“Given the intense interest in the most recent presidential election and the fact subsequent political and social discussions often intersected with the sports world, we found it to be an appropriate time to review our guidelines.”
But Craig Bengtson, ESPN’s vice president and managing editor of newsgathering and reporting, admitted to ESPN public editor Jim Brady that the highly charged political climate played a role.
“We have the convergence of a politically charged environment and all these new technologies coming together at once,” he said. “Based on that, we wanted the policy to reflect the reality of the world today. There are people talking about politics in ways we have not seen before, and we’re not immune from that.”
Those “new” technologies include Twitter, which the network and many of its employees have used to express liberal views—from endorsing Black Lives Matter, to supporting former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem, as well as a women’s sports website seemingly supporting the Women’s March on Washington in January.
"Women's rights are human rights."
— espnW (@espnW) January 22, 2017
While liberals are welcomed with open arms at ESPN, anyone expressing a more conservative view—like Sage Steele, who has been with the network for a decade—loses her NBA Countdown role, becoming the first victim of the new guidelines.
ESPN may appear that they are trying to rein in the political dialogue taking place on the screen, but in reality that probably won’t happen. Those on the commentary side will still have free rein to make political statements within some very broad guidelines.
Mixing sports and politics is a bad idea, and apparently ESPN still hasn’t figured that out.