During an appearance on the Dan Le Batard Show this week, Stephen A. Smith discussed the network’s supposed ban on discussing politics.
Smith confirms that while many of his colleagues have had issues with the policy, he understands it. Smith says he gets that viewers come to ESPN mostly for sports conversation. However, he adds that ESPN, or any company for that matter, must be consistent with such a rule, applying it to everyone.
“You can’t let one person get away with [talking politics at ESPN] and not let the other person get away with it,” Smith said. “The rules have to be for everybody. ”
“Is this worth alienating the organization I work for? Most things are not. Some things may be.” – @stephenasmith had an open and honest conversation with Dan about working at ESPN and the difficulties of navigating the labyrinth inside the machine.
— Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz (@LeBatardShow) May 18, 2022
And therein lies the issue with the “no-politics” mandate at ESPN. The rule is not for everyone.
Ever since network president Jimmy Pitaro said ESPN is “not a political organization” in 2018, the company has enforced the rule selectively, surrounded with hypocrisy.
This week, ESPN allowed ina Kimes to endorse a far-Left political candidate for Mayor of Los Angeles. For a history lesson: ESPN benched Sage Steele for answering a question about Barack Obama.
ESPN enforces the rule variously depending on the talent and their political views. Last month, we compiled a long list of times ESPN has let liberal pundits inject politics on-air.
Smith goes on to point out that there are times when ESPN believes a political story usurps what the needed to follow the rule, but ESPN also applies that idea inconsistently.
There are select political stories that crossover to sports for which ESPN can justify an exception, such as the COVID vaccine and its impact on sports.
Yet even the ace PR team at ESPN could not defend the network making an exception for Mark Jones calling police murdering racists or Elle Duncan protesting that Florida law that bans sexual discussion in a classroom with young school children.
Ultimately, ESPN enforces its ban on politics based not on the topic but on who the talent is and the anticipated reaction of punishing them. Aside from OutKick, no outlet will call ESPN out for the double standard that is punishing Sage Steele for her conservative views. Meanwhile, telling Bomani Jones to stop calling all white people racist would incite rage from the media mob and that guy at the New York Times who writes the hit pieces on ESPN.
So the person, not the topic, is the line at ESPN. Even Stephen A. Smith, who ESPN would probably allow to run for office while still working there, knows this. He just said as much.