ESPN has long been extremely leery of anything that can be perceived as even vaguely political, but even by those standards, they set a new record with the bizarre way they cut off NBA Celebrity All-Star Game MVP Win Butler Friday:
Sage Steele says “Congratulations,” and Butler responds “Thank you, I just want to say it’s an election year in the U.S., and the U.S. has a lot they can learn from Canada, healthcare, taking care of people…” and Steele cuts him off, grabs the microphone back and says “We’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics. Congratulations,” as they cut away. Granted, this probably wasn’t her call alone; the truck started rolling music as soon as Butler said “election year,” so you can tell they were eager to get out of there. ESPN as a whole handled this remarkably poorly and awkwardly, though, especially given the context.
It’s not like Butler’s comments came in the middle of a serious basketball broadcast, or like he said anything particularly problematic. This wasn’t a direct endorsement of a specific candidate or party, and it’s worth considering that ESPN gave plenty of other people involved with or at this game time to shill anything they wanted; Cassidy Hubbarth’s halftime interview with Warriors’ star Draymond Green included her asking “The most important part of our halftime show: fashion!” and “Who are you wearing?”
The game itself wasn’t serious, either; Canada’s 74-64 win included U.S. coach Kevin Hart coming out of retirement to enter the game as a player, Anthony Anderson coming off the U.S. bench to steal a pass and drive for an uncontested layup, Canada’s Property Brothers (Drew apparently was a “suprise”) switching jerseys to avoid one fouling out, and an appearance from the kid who’s “Ellen DeGeneres’ special fitness correspondent, he of YouTube fame.” Butler’s political digression was one of the saner moments of this broadcast, and it’s worth noting that MVPs have usually been able to say whatever they want. Consider Hart’s speech from 2015, after Mike Golic wrestled with him: “It’s Black History month, Mike, let this happen.”
Or Hart’s crying speech from 2013:
So, clearly this MVP award is a tradition that can handle all sorts of joking around, personal promotion and the like. ESPN’s always here to talk about “celebrity stuff,” apparently. Mention an election year, though, and they’ll cut you off in six seconds. Welcome to the Worldwide Leader In Not Mentioning Politics.
Correction: this post initially said Steele interviewed Green at halftime. Cassidy Hubbarth did that interview.