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ESPN’s President Sees the Light on Mixing Sports and Politics

Let’s face it: these days politics seems to invade everything we experience. As a sports fan, it used to be nice to escape with a good game or coverage like SportsCenter.

ESPN has been a huge part of my adult life. I used to watch SportsCenter over and over in the mornings until it was time to go to class during my college days. I’ve enjoyed countless baseball, football, and basketball games on the network, especially as it has become the go-to for SEC sports coverage.

But over the past few years, ESPN got too heavy handed with politics, and nearly all of it from the left. From smugly liberal personalities like Jemele Hill to endless coverage of political controversies, sports and politics intersected far too often over at ESPN for a while.

That has changed over the past year or so. Disney – ESPN’s parent company – named Jimmy Pitaro as president in March 2018, and in addition to his approach to the network as a sports fan as well as an executive, he has encouraged ESPN to tone down the political rhetoric.

A Los Angeles Times profile of Pitaro highlights his friendly demeanor with the employees at ESPN, his emphasis on using the network’s ESPN+ streaming service to grow the brand, his willingness to embrace Disney, and his unabashed sports fandom. But buried deep in the article is a telling pair of paragraphs:

Pitaro has also satisfied ESPN’s more traditional fans by steering commentators away from political discussions on-air and on social media, which heightened during President Trump’s criticism of NFL player protests against social injustice during the playing of the national anthem.

“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”

It’s a refreshing change to ESPN’s recent history of being way too political. Now, politics will rear its ugly head on ESPN from time to time, because we just can’t totally escape it these days. But it’s nice to see an executive at ESPN who understands that we don’t have to encounter politics every time we turn on the television.

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