ESPN has shied away from politics after a regime change in leadership. Under previous leadership, the network’s talking heads and pundits criticized President Donald Trump and it led to a significant backlash among its audiences.
For example, then-host Jemele Hill criticized the president for being a white supremacist and then called for people to boycott the NFL franchise Dallas Cowboys, the latter of which would have threatened ESPN’s relationship with the NFL. Hill has since left ESPN and works for The Atlantic.
After then-president John Skipper resigned, his replacement Jimmy Pitaro told ESPN staffers to avoid politics in their coverage. Since then, only once has an ESPN host brought politics into sports coverage, which was Dan Le Batard. Le Batard was not punished for criticizing the president about his ongoing spat with the four freshmen female congresswomen known as “The Squad.”
During the ongoing feud between the communist government in China and the National Basketball Association (NBA), ESPN has avoided discussing the political implications or fallout from the controversy. NBC News reported that ESPN sent guidance to staffers to focus on the NBA, not China or politics. Also complicating the issue is that ESPN is owned by Disney, which has significant business investments in China. Disney has a deal with Tencent, a major Chinese television network, to carry ESPN content in China, and it also has a theme park in the city of Shanghai. NBC News noted that this story “has geopolitical ramifications” and it is trying to navigate the tricky situation as best as it can without offending the Chinese government.
As NBC News claimed, due to management’s guidance, ESPN only covered how the controversy could affect the NBA, while not addressing the Hong Kong protests or China’s reaction to the Hong Kong protests.
In order to protect its Chinese investments, ESPN will not report the truth about the Hong Kong protests and why free speech is censored in China. Although it is understandable, with the potential of billions of dollars at risk, it is a disservice to ESPN audiences that the sports network is ignoring the context and background of the China-NBA feud.
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