As ESPN continues to slash salaries and lose personalities to competitors, talent agents and employees have recognized there are only two bulletproof groups in sports media: the superstars and the race analysts. And because there are only so many Stephen A. Smiths and Scott Van Pelts, the latter group has grown with out-of-placed followers.
In high school, followers take after the popular students. In corporate America, followers imitate overachievers. Overachievers at major companies sound and tweet alike. And because they so often have nothing interesting to say, they all play victim and agree that white people are, at best, privileged and, at worst, racist.
ESPN employees, in particular, feel pressured to racialize each topic they discuss, to view every subject through a racial lens. And they obey for good reason. They saw the company tell radio legend Mike Golic that he couldn’t stay, even at reduced pay; they see that Mark Jones’ gross and racist tweets shield him from criticism and give him job security.
However, the problem is that so few people — at ESPN or otherwise — racialize topics with sense. It’s hard to fit in. Jokes are funny until the weird guy at the end of the bar repeats them so that he can fit in. Then, no one laughs. Racial victimhood plays out much the same way today, and the ESPN B-team is the creepy bar guy.
For example, ESPN creepy bar guys Jay Williams and Jalen Rose felt pressured to inject race into their commentary last week.
Williams inaccurately said it took the Boston Celtics 75 years to hire a head coach of color, even though the team has had five black head coaches in the past. Then, because Williams didn’t take the time to check his facts, he blamed the hackers. No one believes him.
Less than 24 hours later, his colleague Jalen Rose felt it was his turn for a swing and a miss and falsely claimed that the NBA is afraid to send an all-black team to the Olympics and that Kevin Love, the team’s only white player, is just a “token.” How often can ESPN personalities say things that are both racist and inaccurate at the same time? It turns out, frequently.
Because Rose made his comments on-air, he couldn’t blame vicious hackers like his NBA Countdown co-host. So instead, Rose explained himself in a bizarre Instagram video on Sunday:
“I’m apologizing right now to the game,” Jalen Rose starts. “Because I’m what the game made me. Not with the fame made me. No amount of money can change me. I’m what you lames can’t be.”
What does that even mean? It doesn’t mean anything. It barely makes sense. Jalen Rose’s 40-minute video is really just an excuse to talk about himself. Rose isn’t sorry for his commentary. If he were, he would’ve apologized to — I don’t know — Kevin Love.
In the video, Rose also bragged that his bosses didn’t ask him to apologize:
“But I’ll tell you what it is,” Rose goes on. “I’ll look down at my phone right now. It ain’t one text, ain’t one email from nobody telling me to apologize.”
In so doing, Rose inadvertently exposed ESPN’s acceptance of racism. Not only did ESPN decline to comment publicly on Williams and Rose’s respective missteps, but they didn’t address them behind the scenes. Rose isn’t necessarily a racist. He’s just trying to fit in at work.
ESPN’s silence on the matter is rooted in fear. The network’s top executives know Rose and his colleagues’ divisive, dishonest commentary has alienated viewers. However, they won’t risk some worthless New York Times reporter spinning the headline to say ESPN Silences Hosts Who Speak Against White Privilege.
TV execs see baseless allegations of racism as more detrimental than 20% viewership declines.
As a result, ESPN’s like-minded bosses will never tell Rose, Mark Jones, Maria Taylor, Elle Duncan, and Max Kellerman to stop injecting the words “white and black” where they don’t fit.
ESPN promotes skin color truthers behind the scenes and social media to avoid negative publicity regarding race. ESPN even promoted Rose’s “token” line on Twitter:
— Jalen & Jacoby (@JalenandJacoby) June 24, 2021
ESPN embraced a racist comment to avoid a potential racist label themselves.
Media members are thus incentivized to find racism, even during their own “apology” addresses.
“But here’s what we not going to do right here,” Jalen Rose continues on Instagram. “What we not going to do. If I’m allowed to talk about Kevin Durant, or Ben Simmons. Or we want to call PG ‘Pandemic P.’ If we gonna do that. We just need that same energy.”
(Yes, that’s an accurate transcription.)
It’s unclear what caused Rose to stop and abruptly change the topic, but his implication is clear. Rose believes that white players should be subject to the same criticism as black athletes. And he’s correct. But can he please point me to the white athletes whose skin color grants them soft coverage from the media?
Actually, first, I’d like Rose to point me to examples of sports discriminating against black people’s pay, which he claimed in May:
The lack of diversity in these war rooms & how we still get paid less to be better & more talented in sports & media is disgusting. https://t.co/0AjzK1bh2l
— Jalen Rose (@JalenRose) May 1, 2021
But as Rose knows, accusations of racism don’t need to be proven to send a message to the suits. He doesn’t get rewarded for being accurate. The promotion, the extension, the job security come from his attempt at addressing racial grievances.
The truth is, if you have to force race into a story, then race is likely irrelevant to it. And therein lies the problem. Public figures are not fighting perceived racism but weaponizing authentic racism.
It’s a club — all you have to do to get in is show them you tried. But, most importantly, show them you won’t disrupt their pivot, and they will give you the protective shield.
At ESPN, that weapon is accessible. Last week, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams misfired, but they still sent their bosses a clear warning: they are armed and ready to reload.