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ESPN suspended Adrian Wojnarowski for emailing a “fuck you” to Missouri Senator Josh Hawley. Immediately following Outkick’s report of the decision, NBA Twitter rushed to the insider’s defense and got the #FreeWoj trending. These two reactions felt important — they were covered on Fox and Friends, the top-rated cable morning show. But were either impactful? No, neither changed anything, at all.
ESPN’s reaction has no impact on Wojnarowski’s future, ESPN’s political direction, and the NBA’s decision to silence critics of the Communist Party of China.
Friday, hours into the madness, I explained why the NBA is fortunate. Wojnarowski’s inexcusable email took the attention away from Senator Hawley’s email. It’s a distraction from the conversation that ignited a three-day blaze: the discreditable hypocrisy of the NBA.
Hawley asked a valid question; one the NBA doesn’t have an answer for. A question that if answered truthfully, would’ve exposed a league that prides itself on social justice. Well, to those who aren’t already aware that its players use real-world issues to promote their Nike brands.
No one is talking about the NBA’s relationship with China or its marketing strategy to allow social statements on the back of jerseys, now. The attention is solely on a reporter who got involved.
Hawley is right to not be moved by the suspension or apology:
“.@ESPN don’t suspend a reporter, ask tough questions of @NBA about their pro-#China, anti-America bias,” Hawley tweeted. “Start reporting for goodness sake.”
You may think ESPN is embarrassed over the email; some employed there are. But its leaders are likely, too, relieved the attention is on a reporter, not the league it has pivoted its entire network toward. ESPN can handle backlash toward a talent, not its cherished property.
The NBA continues to benefit from its main broadcast partner, ESPN. A network that has pledged its allegiance to come to its rescue at the most inopportune times.
ESPN is a propaganda machine for the NBA, as in state-run TV. It employs personalities who can’t be distinguished from representatives from the league’s public relations office. It’s why J.A. Adande, who was all over the NFL’s decline, gets bent out of shape when it’s reported that the league’s ratings are down (and deletes the tweet). It’s why First Take asks “how great” the league is.
This time, the NBA wasn’t protected by an ESPN talent, it was saved.
The NBA still hasn’t answered if it will allow players to support “Free Hong Kong” on their uniforms. Avoiding the question saved them from another embarrassment and a busy week of defense from its puppets (the sports media).
Wojnarowski’s suspension has no ramifications on ESPN direction, either. The direction, if you haven’t noticed from the ratings, is programming that provides the opposite of what sports fans enjoy. This includes a new radio lineup, a social justice-themed ESPYs, declaring war on Drew Brees, irresponsible coverage of Bubba Wallace, and inking a deal with Colin Kaepernick and Jemele Hill.
Twitter users think ESPN made a statement that it won’t allow partisan behavior, anymore. That isn’t true; it has nothing to do with that. This was an out-of-line email and ESPN subsequently looked to save face. Conveniently, it came at a time absent of games and player movement. Translation: there’s no downside in this decision.
Despite the narrative, ESPN’s response wasn’t a statement on politics. Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, made one of those a few years ago. “Fans don’t want us to cover politics,” he explained. Hmm, it appears this was forgotten when Dan Le Batard called out President Donald Trump and the company.
Wojnarowski’s suspension, instead, sent the following message: “Don’t send vulgar messages that could get screenshotted during a downtime in coverage.”
ESPN’s personalities know this. They see it with every decision, re-signing, paycheck, and reported salary. Maria Taylor, who ESPN sees as a future face of the network — as it should, she’s great —even rushed to Wojnarowski’s defense after her employer publicly declared his actions as “unacceptable behavior.”
“I don’t care what anyone says I will always stand with, by, and, for my incredible colleague & friend @wojespn,” Taylor tweeted.
Taylor also has a photo of Barack Obama with the caption “My life has been made,” pinned to her profile. Both of these actions are a product of what ESPN has made clear it tolerates.
No, there isn’t an ESPN employee who supports a pinned photo with a Republican politician. That will stay reserved until one finally has enough and attempts to get fired.
Finally, #FreeWoj tweeters are advising Wojnarowski, who still has over a year left on his contract, to leave ESPN. There’s curiosity if the suspension fractured his relationship with the company. This isn’t a Bill Simmons situation when he was suspended. Remember, ESPN suspended Stephen A. Smith in 2014 for his comments on domestic violence. Smith has since become the face of the company and its highest-paid on-air talent. Smith made a mistake and didn’t blame ESPN for reacting accordingly; Wojnarowski shouldn’t, either.
Though Wojnarowski could start his own company and have immediate success.
For the past three days, Wojnarowski, ESPN, and Hawley have given us a surprisingly fascinating story before the return of sports. Unfortunately, though, nothing has changed.