caitlyn jenner espys espn

Two years ago this week, Caitlyn Jenner strode to the ESPYS stage in Downtown Los Angeles in an elegant white dress, embraced presenter Abby Wambach and tearfully accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

“All across this country right now, at this very moment, there are young people coming to terms with being transgender,” said the Olympian-turned-reality-star, who had recently announced her transition from male to female. “It’s not just about one person. It’s about thousands of people. It’s not just about me. It’s about all of us accepting one another.”

Today—one presidential election, several bills restricting transgender rights and dozens of ESPN layoffs later—Jenner’s moment at the ESPYS casts an odd shadow. Many Americans remember it as a bright moment in the movement for transgender acceptance, particularly within the sports world. But a vocal segment of the American population views it as something else: a rebuke of conservative values and a sign that ESPN had chosen a side in a deepening political divide.

Based on evidence both empirical and anecdotal, including a poll tracing Republican attitudes toward ESPN, it’s clear that Jenner’s award was a key moment in ESPN’s history. From that night on, a large swath of Americans viewed the country’s biggest sports network as propagating a nefarious liberal agenda. Spurred on by Donald Trump’s anti-media message, social conservatives declared war on ESPN, until the claim that ESPN was “too liberal” burst from conservative websites to mainstream newspapers and jumped from Facebook comments to widely aired sports talk radio.

Whether or not ESPN actually is too liberal has become almost beside the point: Thousands of people perceive that ESPN is too liberal, creating a PR headache—or worse—for the network.

To examine this phenomenon and what it means for the network’s future, Awful Announcing spoke to people in and around sports media about the legacy of an award that two years later lingers atop a surprising number of minds.

Dylan Gwinn first decided ESPN was too liberal in 2003, when conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh was forced to resign from his role as an NFL analyst following controversial comments about Donovan McNabb and black quarterbacks.

Since then, Gwinn has bashed ESPN repeatedly, on his Houston-based radio show, in his 2015 book about liberal bias in sports media and in his current role as sports editor of Breitbart.

Now, Gwinn’s belief in ESPN’s insidious left-wing ideology has gone mainstream, cosigned in newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, Orlando Sentinel and Chicago Sun-Times. The New York Times has attempted to parse ESPN’s politics, as has the network’s own ombudsman. The narrative has gotten loud enough that ESPN recently commissioned a study to determine whether it was perceived as too political, finding that 64 percent of those surveyed were comfortable with ESPN’s blend of sports and politics.

Naturally, Gwinn is pleased to see his viewpoint become part of a national dialogue. And though he points to a number of incidents that, in his view, showed America how liberal ESPN is, Jenner at the ESPYS stands out above the others.

“If there’s a Rosetta Stone moment in the history of ESPN’s blatant liberalism or whatever, I think Caitlyn Jenner probably has to be it,” Gwinn told Awful Announcing.

Jenner first became part of ESPN’s story on June 1, 2015, when Jim Miller reported in Vanity Fair that she would receive the network’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the upcoming ESPYS. While ESPN undoubtedly anticipated some backlash, executives could have hardly predicted the wave of anger to come.

Almost immediately, the internet exploded with reasons Jenner wasn’t deserving of the award. And it wasn’t only conservative outlets holding the pitchforks.

Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty was among the many to suggest the award should have gone to terminally ill basketball player Lauren Hill. Bob Costas—whose politics will never be confused with Sean Hannity’s—called the decision to honor Jenner, “a crass exploitation play.” The late Frank Deford suggested Jenner hadn’t “overcome” all that much since she had lots of money and a reality TV show. Anonymous “insiders” wondered whether the award was a quid pro quo for Jenner agreeing to be interviewed on ABC. (ESPN flatly denies this.) Boston radio personality Gerry Callahan tweeted a photo of double-amputee U.S. veteran Noah Galloway, claiming he was “runner-up” for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. (This turned out to be patently false. ESPN does not declare runners-up for the honor.)

For more than two decades, no one had given a hoot who won which ESPY. Now masses of people who couldn’t name a single previous Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient had viciously strong opinions on who should get this one.

When the night of July 15 arrived, Jenner delivered an impassioned speech, reciting names of transgender children who had committed suicide and begging the American public for acceptance—not of herself, necessarily, but of transgender people in general. As the ESPN cameras panned, everyone from Brett Favre to Paul Pierce to Hope Solo stood and applauded.

Among those moved by the speech were Christina Kahrl and Courtney Pollack, ESPN’s only publicly out transgender employees. To them, Jenner’s courage was obvious. She, like almost everyone who comes out as transgender, had come to terms with a complicated identity, risked losing friends and family and subjected herself to derision from those who didn’t understand her. Now she was doing what she could to help a community for which acceptance can be a matter of life and death. And she was doing it on ESPN’s platform.

“It gave me a sense of pride in the company in terms of how they embraced it,” Pollack, an infrastructure support specialist, says now. “She’s taking everything and saying, ‘This is who I am.’ And I think that was a pivotal moment, especially for the trans youth.”

Kahrl, an MLB editor at ESPN, says Jenner’s moment at the ESPYS was important because it gave Americans who had watched Jenner compete at the 1976 Olympics a personal connection to trans issues.

“Bruce Jenner the athlete was somebody that a lot of people—particularly a lot of cisgender, straight, white men—grew up with, grew up admiring, grew up respecting,” Kahrl says. “The idea that Bruce Jenner was becoming Caitlyn Jenner became an important touchpoint for a lot of fans, athletes and journalists to bring this issue home to them.”

To thousands of Americans, ESPN’s choice to honor Jenner was inspiring. The network was, symbolically at least, opening its arms to one of the most marginalized communities in America. ESPN, an important cultural institution, was not only showing acceptance toward a transgender woman but also welcoming her into its biggest night, handing her a microphone and letting her speak directly to young people in search of a role model. For most supporters of transgender rights, this wasn’t about politics—after all, Jenner was a loyal Republican and a vocal Ted Cruz supporter—it was about basic decency and understanding.

But, of course, many people do not consider transgender rights an applause-worthy cause. A March survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 39 percent of Americans and 59 percent of Republicans support laws requiring people to use the bathroom matching the sex assigned to them at birth. And to many of those people, ESPN’s recognition of Jenner was nearly unforgivable.

Conservatives interviewed for this story talked about Jenner’s distance from her sports career and about the virtue of other candidates ESPN could have chosen for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. But, as Gwinn readily admits, there was a more basic force at work: ESPN was supporting a cause many on the right didn’t agree with.

“They chose to seize on what has been one of the real champion causes of the left and the social justice movement, which is this transgenderism,” Gwinn says. “And they chose that moment—that huge moment—to bestow an award on it and to really put their stamp on it. And for a lot of people, I really think that was a turning point.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Jim Miller, who wrote a book about ESPN in 2011 and has been an authority on the network ever since, says he first heard that ESPN was too liberal in 2014. The complaint, Miller says, popped up when ESPN aired a clip of newly drafted football player Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend and then gave him the same Arthur Ashe Courage Award that Jenner would win a year later.

Nine months after Jenner’s speech at the ESPYS, ESPN fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling, in part due to a transphobic meme he shared on Facebook. The network said the decision owed to Schilling’s offensive behavior on social media over a period of months. But to conservatives, it was further evidence of a political agenda.

“The whole issue—transgender, gay, lesbian—that seemed to be in the minds of many, or at least some, who were making these allegations about ESPN,” Miller says. “[People thought] if they were supporting equal rights for transgender people or gay or lesbian couples, then that meant that they were a liberal broadcasting company.”

It didn’t help that the timing dovetailed perfectly with Trump’s rise. Trump officially announced his presidential candidacy one day after the 2015 ESPYS and crafted his anti-media message just as right-wing resentment toward ESPN was growing. He emboldened conservatives to speak out against mainstream outlets they viewed as biased—The Worldwide Leader in Sports included.

At the same time, transgender rights were becoming a front-page issue across the country. In March 2016, North Carolina passed its infamous “bathroom bill,” requiring that individuals use the bathroom matching the gender assigned to them at birth. Legislators eventually softened the bill slightly—after the NCAA and NBA pulled events from the state and voters replaced the governor, Pat McCrory, who had signed it. Similar bills have been introduced in numerous other states, and though none has been passed into law, they’ve all helped turn transgender identity into a political battleground.

Days after Trump won the presidency in November, Newsweek published an essay by sportswriter John Walters headlined “How Caitlyn Jenner swung the election for Donald Trump.” In the piece, Walters argued that people in Middle America felt alienated by “uncompromised progressivism” on the nation’s coasts and cited ESPN’s decision to award Jenner as an example of the “pendulum of pop culture” swinging toward a “progressive agenda.”

Walters says now that even if his headline wasn’t meant literally, Jenner’s moment in the spotlight did have a radicalizing effect.

“This was a tipping point,” Walters told Awful Announcing. “This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, when you’re asking America to cheer the courage of someone making a private decision—and that’s fine—but he hasn’t been in the news as an athlete for 40 years. He’s been in the news as a Kardashian for the past five to 10 years.”

Walters says many conservatives, including in his family, resented being “lectured” about transgender rights.

“I think there’s a large group of people who don’t care, don’t want to know and don’t want it pushed at them. And that’s what this was,” he says. “It seems like ESPN was working so hard to tell you, the American viewer, what your position should be on something.”

Data supports the idea that conservatives disliked, as they saw it, ESPN forcing a “liberal” cause on them. A recent YouGov study found that Democrats and Republicans held roughly equal views of ESPN until the summer of 2015 when, in the wake of Jenner’s moment at the ESPYS, GOP approval of the network dived. After recovering gradually, Republican opinion plummeted again the following April when Schilling was fired and conservatives were given reason to think the Jenner award was more than a blip.

LGBTQ issues clearly were not the only cause of conservative backlash. Those interviewed for this story also cited ESPN’s treatment of Tim Tebow, its employment of Keith Olbermann, its apparent chumminess with Barack Obama and its coverage of Colin Kaepernick, plus “feminism” and a “race obsession.” Some ESPN-defenders allege that conservatives also resent the network for showcasing non-white and non-male voices more than other media companies do.

But many of those dynamics were in place long before Jenner won her ESPY and didn’t spark the type of widespread backlash we’ve seen over the past two years. Maybe the tinderbox was in place before Jenner, but it took a transgender woman accepting an award for courage to light the flame.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

When ESPN laid off 100 front-facing employees at the end of April, a chorus of industry analysts blamed the cuts on rampant cord-cutting and bloated rights fees. Insiders agreed that ESPN had overpaid for live sports, leaving the network stretched thin when consumers everywhere canceled (or never initiated) their cable packages. The layoffs were an attempt either to save money or a signal to shareholders that Disney was taking ESPN’s problems seriously.

But despite that consensus, the dominant narrative around ESPN’s layoffs, particularly among conservatives, was the network’s politics.

Breitbart wrote that ESPN’s “leftist platform” had turned “headwinds into a hurricane.” The National Review suggested the layoffs should be “a wake-up call about politicizing sports.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, ex-ESPNer Jason Whitlock blamed Deadspin for ESPN’s supposed leftward swing. Politico examined whether politics had turned off conservatives from ESPN, citing Jenner in its headline. And longtime ESPN antagonist Clay Travis practically performed a victory lap on his Outkick the Coverage site.

“Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football,” wrote Travis, who declined comment for this article. “ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”

But Travis and others who blamed the layoffs on liberalism run amok were essentially pointing to karma and nothing else. In a world of cable bundles, Miller notes, any conservatives wishing to cancel their cable subscription out of anger toward ESPN would also be canceling, for example, Fox News.

“I think it’s patently absurd and actually financially naïve to try and connect any kind of political agenda to those layoffs,” Miller told Awful Announcing. “I see no empirical evidence whatsoever.”

The persistence of the “liberal ESPN” storyline as an explanation for the layoffs shows how ingrained the belief in the network’s bias has become. Swaths of Americans believe ESPN is pushing a political agenda, and there seems to be no changing their minds.

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Of course, ESPN is far from the only ostensibly apolitical media outlet to be labeled as liberal. Thanks to Trump’s well-publicized distaste for the “mainstream media,” every publication left of Infowars has dealt with with the accusation to some extent or another.

But ESPN is a sports channel. The vast, vast majority of its programming concerns players, teams and coaches. For every analyst who talks about social issues on air, there are plenty who stick to Xs and Os. For every segment asking why Kaepernick remains a free agent, there are numerous about NFL players who have roster spots. When people say ESPN should stick to sports, they seem to ignore that an overwhelming portion of the time, ESPN does stick to sports. Of the dozens of headlines on ESPN.com at any moment, rarely can more than one or two be defined as at all “political.” Often, none can.

And given that quote-unquote political content makes up only a fraction of ESPN’s content, it shouldn’t be hard to avoid. If you’re sick of hearing about Kaepernick or think athletes dissing Trump is fake news, you can pretty easily keep away from those subjects. In the worst case, you have to change the channel for a few minutes.

And that gets us back to Jenner.

The 2015 ESPYS—broadcast on ABC for the first time, with Jenner as the headliner—drew about 2.2 million viewers. That was a ton for an ESPYS show, but only about a fifth of the average Monday Night Football broadcast on ESPN. Most sports fans didn’t actually see Jenner receive her award, yet ESPN’s critics on the right continue to cite it as Exhibit A in why the network is unwatchable. To them, the moment seems to have violated a sacred principle.

Take Matt Philbin, an editor at Media Research Center, a site that claims to expose liberal bias in mainstream press. Philbin says he wasn’t “upset” at ESPN’s decision to honor Jenner, but two years later his objections remain stubbornly strong.

“We’re celebrating somebody who’s coming out as transgender. That’s all it was,” Philbin says. “This guy had not run a race in 35 years. He had not been an athlete for 35 years or whatever it was. There was absolutely no reason beyond scoring political points and, basically, virtue-signalling.

“It’s ideological, it’s political,” he added. “It’s something a sports network shouldn’t be doing. I think you celebrate sports, you don’t celebrate identity politics. But they celebrate identity politics, and it creeps into everything they do.”

But what Philbin sees as “identity politics,” another person might view as simply recognizing and celebrating the humanity of someone different. When conservatives decry that ESPN is too liberal, they don’t mean that the network advocates for a universal basic income or forces employees to read Das Kapital. They mean that people like Caitlyn Jenner and Michael Sam sometimes get a microphone, while people like Curt Schilling, who disrespect them (and others), increasingly don’t. That’s what Philbin, Gwinn and others with similar ideologies won’t stand for.

Jemele Hill, co-host of SC6 and a favorite punching bag of ESPN detractors, has observed a suspicious correlation between who has a platform on ESPN and how certain viewers feel about the network.

“I notice those accusations seem to become more intense as you’ve seen more people of color, more women, more diversity in our network in very key positions,” Hill told Awful Announcing. “Some people, when they accuse us of that, they’re really saying that ESPN has become this liberal network because they’re promoting more black people and more people of color.

“People act like Caitlyn Jenner got up there and broke down the Affordable Care Act or that we do that every day on our network. Those are political topics. [Jenner’s identity] is not a political topic,” she added. “That’s why it’s really interesting that people have started to link diversity and liberalism, as if diversity is inherently liberal.”

Hill suggests the narrative that ESPN is too liberal comes largely from ESPN’s competitors and says her bosses at the network seem to assume it will “tire out” eventually. But it’s fair to wonder, what if it doesn’t?

A faction of the American right wing has made clear that if ESPN amplifies LGBTQ voices, even occasionally, it will yell, scream, tweet and threaten to boycott. The same goes for defending athlete-activists, questioning racist logos and promoting gender equality. If the Trump-fueled anti-media groundswell continues, the anger toward ESPN will only grow, as will pressure on the network to keep social issues off its airwaves. With ratings already wavering amid changes in how Americans consume news and sports, ESPN can ill afford to lose many viewers. All those people on Twitter claiming they won’t watch ESPN on principle may be blowing smoke—or they may not. Conservative media analytics firm Deep Root recently reported that Republicans in a select city (Cincinnati) already made up a smaller share of ESPN’s audience in 2016 than in 2015.

An ESPN spokesperson told Awful Announcing that the network fully stands by its decision to honor Jenner, but given the backlash her award inspired, it’s hard to imagine ESPN won’t hesitate slightly before making such a statement again. (Executives Maura Mandt and Connor Schell, who chose Jenner for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award back in 2015, declined to comment for this article.) The network recently brought back controversial Monday Night Football singer Hank Williams—once fired for comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler—leading some to suggest it was reaching out to conservatives to mend its reputation on the right.

For now, ESPN doesn’t have a serious competitor, so aggrieved viewers have few places to run. But if FS1 finds its footing, Barstool’s empire grows or a new network emerges, could ESPN’s market share shrink among conservatives? Could sports television become hyperpolarized the way cable news has? It won’t happen tomorrow, and it probably won’t happen in the next few years, but with an anti-media current running through the American right, conservatives won’t suddenly flock back to ESPN unless the network changes to accommodate them.

And so it seems that ESPN has a choice: It can make people like Caitlyn Jenner feel welcome in the sports world, or it can keep its right-wing audience. Doing both just might be impossible.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • Aaron S

    ESPN lost me when they covered up the Donaghy scandal, purposely sparing David Stern, a huge Democrat party donor from embarrassment and resignation. Yet they attack the NFL, traditionally a conservative league, every chance they get.

    • Michael S

      It’s all about competition. I pay extra to watch the local Comcast sports station. I do watch Bob Ley and that’s it for ESPN. Living in Philly they cheered mightily for admitted dog killer Michael Vick and there are lot more dog lovers of those with a phony right wing agenda. Next they will link ESPN with leaking Trump Jr’s emails. They should force those geniuses to watch Skip Bayless on and see how much beyond 30 seconds they can take.

      • Dingle Berry

        Drink less, snowflake. Your writing will appear less stupid over time.

    • Sean Mooney

      Alex Jones is furiously masturbating to this post.

      • Teb Tb

        Not everyone likes 65 year old tranny bung brother.

  • Bruce Cuthbertson

    Put aside Jenner for the moment and focus on this year’s Arthur Ashe Award winner, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. She’ll receive the award as founder of the Special Olympics. Nothing wrong with the Special Olympics. It’s one of the beautiful things about sports. But how much “courage” did Ms. Shriver display in getting the program off the ground? A wealthy member of the Kennedy family with a address book full of the rich, famous and politically connected, I’m certain it took more hard work and stick-to-it-ness than I can imagine, but real “courage?” Not so much. The topper, of course, is the “we’re not political” management at Disney trotting out Michelle Obama to present the award. This is the Disney management just telling everyone, “you want to complain about our politics? Alright then, we’ll give you something to REALLY complain about…”

    • Sean Mooney

      No it isn’t. Take the tin foil hat off.

      • Bruce Cuthbertson

        Take your blinders off…

        • Sean Mooney

          You are not smart. You badly want this to be some weird conspiracy by the media because your imperial leader or his Alex Jones lackey tells you it is and you are so dumb that you just accept what is being fed to you.

          Also, do you really care what ESPN thinks? How does it affect your everyday life? You must be a joy to be around in the real world. Is your job walking into Pediatric Units telling kids Santa Claus is a socialist asshole?

          • Bruce Cuthbertson

            No I don’t really care what ESPN says. Just posting an opinion. The big question is, why do you care about even a single word that I say? You seem to be spending a lot of time worrying about it.

    • Adam Domo

      how in the world can anyone be mad that the founder of the Special Olympics is getting recognition?

      • Brian C. Lee

        Did you even read what he wrote? How much “courage” did she show founding the Special Olympics?

        • Sean Mooney

          It’s a fake award on a fake awards show- why the fvck do you even care what they are giving out and to who? They can give the Arthur Ashe courage award to a Fathead of Rudy for all I care.

        • Adam Domo

          Courage comes in many forms. Putting together the resources and funds in order to make the lives of the misfortunate better is a truly courageous act.

          and like the other poster said, it’s a stupid sports award show that means nothing…and they decided to recognize the founder of the special olympics… lets complain!? damn

          • the Swamp Fox

            Remember how ESPN wouldn’t stop talking about how Michael Sam was being banned for being gay

            and then he want to the CFL and sucked

            That’s the great thing about sports no whining no excuses
            two men enter one man leaves

            the left hates competition and winners but if you want to watch Caitlin Jenner and Micheal Sam accept awards and make out with dudes be my guest but I’m not going to call it sports and pay for it

          • robert franklin stroud

            He was also sending dick pics to teammates — that’s why he was cut.

          • the Swamp Fox

            I believe it
            that dude wanted a TV show not a helmet

        • Phil A.

          This one passes the smell test. You’re just reaching. This individual founded the SPECIAL OLYMPICS. I mean, how is that not relevant to
          1. sport?
          2. courage?
          You allow millions of people with disabilities to participate in sporting culture.

          • Brian C. Lee

            I never said it didn’t have anything to do with sports. But how much “courage” does it take to found the Special Olympics?

          • PAI

            How is it courageous that she set this up due to her family lobotomizing her sister. She set it up out of guilt, because her family did something horrifying (one of many things).

          • the Swamp Fox

            Courage? She was a bored rich girl that was spending Trust Fund money

            I’m not sure what you’re into but if you had to watch lazy rich people who were terrible at it take all the credit I’m sure you’d be way less into it

            Like watching a football game because you’re a Jerry Jones fan that’s just lame

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  • Walt_Gekko

    It has to be remembered the ESPYs two years ago were on ABC live for the first time after not only airing almost exclusively on ESPN, but for several years not actually airing until the Sunday after they took place (or they aired live on ESPN with a late Saturday night replay on ABC). It may have been Disney brass wanted Jenner to get the award to justify moving it to ABC where it would bring in the more casual viewer and bigger ratings. Personally, I don’t find ESPN to be anywhere near as liberal as some think.

    • Karl Kolchak

      Bingo–this farce was all about the ratings, NOT politics. I’m just glad it blew up in their faces.

    • inku palios

      Ask why Hank Williams Jr got rehired. He was there to make ESPN middle of the road. Honestly, conservatives will be pissed when Michelle Obama will be presenting at the ESPYs m

  • Tornado Jake

    Another interesting wrinkle: Jenner endorsed Trump, the hero of many of these right wingers.

  • Karl Kolchak

    It’s just the right wing. I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter and I absolutely detest Jenner, and this farce was also the final straw for me as far as tuning into ESPN. Jenner is not a hero, nor is he/she anyone worthy of admiration. He/she is an attention whore who killed a woman with his/her car and should have been imprisoned. That ESPN is now paying the price for stooping to his/her level is just what they deserve.

    • Adam Domo

      you’re letting the ESPY awards dictate your viewing habits? that’s kinda sad man

      • Karl Kolchak

        To clarify, it was the final straw after many years of ESPN becoming to sports what MTV is to music.

      • jmburca

        Hey, Adam, since when do you (or anyone) get to determine other’s viewing habits? Or even judge?

  • Real_American78

    “Some ESPN-defenders allege that conservatives also resent the network for showcasing non-white and non-male voices more than other media companies do.” This is the same sorta non-sequitur the left typically engages in. They can’t or won’t defend their actions, so they accuse the critics of being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. This article did not cite one example of people making this charge. They didn’t even bother citing anonymous twitter trolls. It’s just leftist excuse-making. No serious person is bitching about black people being on ESPN. People don’t complain about ESPN being leftist because a black person breaks down some X’s and O’s or tells us the scores of the games. That’s BS. The problem, as with the rest of “journalism” is the one-sided advocacy of leftist cultural/political positions that drives people away. Additionally, saying your politics aren’t political is a big fat lie. Of course, it’s political. Of course, pushing transgenderism is political. Politics isn’t just about legislation or elections. Politics is downstream from culture. Conservatives more and more recognize this fact and aren’t putting up with it anymore.

    • namingrightsforsale

      And yet all you do here is rail against the supposed tyranny of “left-wing” cultural values without ever bothering to identify them or explain why they’re a problem. Most “left-wing values” I can think of involve caring about other people and treating them with respect, so it’s a little hard to see how those are objectionable. Is there a reason you act as if the media is so one-sided in favor of the “left” without really pausing (it seems) to consider the possibility that the media advocates for “leftist values” because those values are good values?

      • tom laf

        “Most “left-wing values” I can think of involve caring about other people and treating them with respect,”

        B.S. (only if they agree with them}

        • namingrightsforsale

          Are you saying that it’s “only if they agree with them” because you met a liberal who disliked your conservative ideas and don’t feel like they respected you while telling you they thought you were wrong? Or is that just what you got told about liberals by right-wing media?

          (This is a genuine question.)

          • Royberto

            Nope, just go on MSNBC and CNN over the years.

            Disagree with President BO? You’re a racist.
            Vote against Hilary? You’re a sexist.
            Come out for immigration law enforcement? You’re anti-Hispanic.

            That is the garbage they spew 24/7.CNN also had one of it’s reporters call the current President “Mentally Ill”. They disrespected George W Bush for 8 years. It also happened with MSNBC, NY TImes, Washington Post, LA TImes and so on.The list goes on and on.

            You don’t have to be told. Just go to any of theose far left news saources. You can see it for yourself. THey do not respect ANYONE who disagrees with them.

          • blakecpa

            AMEN!!! This is SO true!! I can’t stress that enough…. SO TRUE!!!

          • Michael

            There is nothing more pathetic than the self-victimhood and persecution complex of conservative white guys. The lack of self-awareness and crtiical thinking is stunning.

          • Jack_Kennedy

            ahhhh…….. your Americahatred is showing…………..and you hate white privilege, amirite?

          • JonW

            It’s a problem on both sides of the aisle, and each side claims the other does it exclusively.

            If you support gay rights, you’re a leftist baby killer that wants to see Hillary sell out the US government to China.

            If you think the simplest way to solve the bathroom dilemma is to say that you go to the one in which you’ll find similar looking genitals, you’re a homophobic, transphobic bigot who is afraid of progress.

            Too many people are shutting out reasonable discourse, and that is a big reason why we have this shithead in office now.

          • Jack_Kennedy

            red ………..meet …………herring

      • Royberto

        The left wing treates peopel with resepct? Disagree with President BO’s policies? You’re a racist. Disagree with Hillary? Sexist. ALso, ask George W Bush about the left wing. The left wing is the miost intolerant, disrespectful, and hateful group in America.

        • blakecpa

          Again… true.

      • Todd Brown

        No. Leftists now push degeneracy like transgenderism.

    • Phil A.

      “The left”
      “Leftist”
      Someone doesn’t know what those terms mean. Try making that claim in Canada or Europe, where people of all political angles agree: Those values are human, not “leftist”

      • Dingle Berry

        Got news for you. ”Leftist” in Canada isn’t some kind of honor badge.

      • Jack_Kennedy

        what’s it like living on your knees……. muzzies luv YOU mooks……..they luv giving muzzie flying lessons

    • JWJ

      Agreed. Great way of articulating the point: “No serious person is bitching about black people being on ESPN. People don’t complain about ESPN being leftist because a black person breaks down some X’s and O’s or tells us the scores of the games. That’s BS. The problem, as with the rest of “journalism” is the one-sided advocacy of leftist cultural/political positions that drives people away.”

      It is kind of sad that this opinion piece is so conservative-phobic, common-sense-phobic, anything non-leftist-phobic (if the author can use the idiotic term “transphobic”, others can be idiotic [guilty] in using phobic on everything)

  • BobLee Says

    Its 2017 in a severely divided America. Everyone HAS to be an either/or so I guess I’m a “crazy right-wing guy” by Mr. Putterman’s standards. I have not watched The Espys in at least ten years. I’ve never heard of Mr Gwinn or any Houston sports radio guy. I think Chuck Schilling “jumped the shark” after his first rant. …. I stopped watching any/all Embrace Debate formats over a year ago regardless of the network.
    … I used to watch an hour of Mike&Mike with my morning coffee. Then I stopped for several weeks and found I didn’t miss it.
    …. Occasionally I’ll watch an MLB Network morning show. Thats about it for any daytime M-F sports channels. I do watch Cardinals Baseball on MLB.tv
    …. This Fall I’ll probably watch College FB GameDay.
    …. In sharply divided America everybody and everything IS partisan whether he/she/it admits to it or not. That includes John Skipper / ESPN. Skipper/ESPN is certainly not “conservative” so what does that leave ???
    …. I am confident I am no longer anyone’s target market demographic.
    …. In conclusion, I don’t think Mr. Putterman is anyway near as smart as he thinks he is.

    • Andrew Ayres

      By inadvertently referencing the original Schilling on the Sox, you are OK in my book.
      http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/schilch01.shtml

    • namingrightsforsale

      “In sharply divided America everybody and everything IS partisan whether he/she/it admits to it or not.”

      This is not true and not a helpful way to think about things. Things are only partisan if you let them become partisan or if someone makes them partisan. You don’t have to accept it as the norm for everything, nor should you.

  • Hack

    This article is an abomination that should be erased from the annals of human history. Truly, truly terrible

  • Teb Tb

    No Bruce Jenner is nasty

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  • Adam Domo

    Really great write-up…..really good

  • John Danknich

    “I think there’s a large group of people who don’t care, don’t want to know and don’t want it pushed at them. And that’s what this was,” he says. “It seems like ESPN was working so hard to tell you, the American viewer, what your position should be on something.” – This. 100% This. It’s for reasons like this that Trump won. A lot of people are tired of being talked down to (or perceiving that they are) and just want to watch ESPN or FS1 or whatever without having to deal with politics (left or right). The Jenner thing… whether it was politically motivated or ratings driven was a mistake. You still could have honored Jenner without giving her the Ashe award. Would that have appeased the conservative crowd? Probably not, but it might have tamped down some of the outrage. I just don’t think politics and sports are a good mix, but that’s just my .02 worth. Your mileage may vary. 🙂

  • MetaphysicalMan

    So being accepting of transgender people is considered a political ‘position’. Says it all, really.

    • John Danknich

      When a certain political party is obsessed with playing identity politics, things like this will happen.

      • namingrightsforsale

        You are talking about the Republican Party, right? The party who defends discrimination (which the Republican Party most certainly does) is the party responsible for identity politics, after all.

      • Michael

        Trump is “identify politics” for loser white guys blaming Others for their problems, which were caused by people like Trump.

    • common_sense_is

      A mental illness? Yes

  • sportsfan365

    Preaching is aimed at the weak, but I’m not sure you’re going to find many among your current readers.

  • redman913

    sigh, again i just see the “if you complain about ESPN being too liberal, you’re probably just racist or sexist” coming from the ESPN PR machine.

    • Royberto

      ESPN never says that. ESPN defenders do.

  • Sting Rey

    i stopped watching espn several years ago. it had nothing to do with politics.
    i stopped when it became real obvious espn became less about sports and more about espn.
    for example, i remember a couple years back. they advertised a game based on who the announcers were and barely mentioned who was playing the actual game.

  • rwclwn

    ESPN leans right. Classic fake news.

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  • thewatcher2

    A bigger problem from that 2015 ESPYs show was how it started Ronda Rousey-mania in its effort to make her the greatest female athlete of all time. There was (and still is) truly a movement and agenda to put her in that position over Serena Williams in the fact they named her both Boxer and Female Athlete of the Year and tried to make her almost the leader of a feminist movement. After two losses which exposed her and her unwillingness to deal with them, she now comes across as an insecure, egocentric loser who only cared when everybody kissed her butt. Now she wants to walk around like her butt doesn’t stink and no one wants to call her out on it. That’s my problem with ESPN.

  • Eddie Roche

    Two examples from this article explaining why ESPN won’t be refilling its ranks anytime soon with Alex Putterman:

    #1: “The popular idea that ESPN is “too liberal” seems to have begun July 15, 2015. But what does that allegation really mean?”

    It means you cherry-picked events to suit your narrative. Your own article includes events that contradict this timeline.

    #2: “… claiming he [Noah Galloway] was “runner-up” for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. (This turned out to be patently false. ESPN does not declare runners-up for the honor.)”

    *facepalm*
    Re-read Callahan’s tweet, Putterman. It’s a little something called rhetorical irony. Most grown-ups have an innate sense of that kind of thing and know enough not to treat it as a literal assertion. Come on, Putts, you’re better than that…

    • blakecpa

      No shit!

  • Phil A.

    Speaking from my angle, most folks I know didn’t care or believed the Jenner thing was just a big reach for ESPN to appease the Kardashian machine, which I partially agree with.

    With the rise of hardcore nationalism every social good is “political” because these people have decided that they want to destroy modern “degenerate” culture. People get mad (or fake mad, or troll mad) on the internet because it’s cathartic. Step away from the keyboard, breathe, take a walk, watch some sports. Sports will never be red or blue, just watch the damn thing and worry about everything else later.

  • jmburca

    Hey Alex, guess what? The Land of Deplorable AMERICANS think as little of you and you do of us…go ‘F’ yourself.

    • namingrightsforsale

      He probably thinks more of you than the current occupant of the Oval Office does, you know.

  • Mayor_Vaughan2012

    Half of this country is just stupid and ignorant. They vote for Republicans like Donald Trump and they will sell their own children into slavery before they would ever admit that they voted for a crook who is in bed with the Russians and is completely unhinged. Who cares if he is destroying the country. As long as it pissses off liberals, right??

    • Fire Girardo Started 7/7/17

      rational response

    • Bragar

      Wow. Ah, just “wow”…

    • Dingle Berry

      Don’t go outside, Mayor. You’ll melt.

  • common_sense_is

    I sont know who Caitlyn Jenner is, but that’s Bruce Jenner wearing a dress.

    ESPN is just a liberal mouthpiece at this point. I don’t know who the hell ESPN polled, but everyone in middle America thinks they are too liberal.

  • MAGA

    There is a third option they could stick to sports which is why most of tuned in to ESPN originally.

  • Mike in Atlanta

    I don’t mind that ESPN delves into politics. What I mind is that there is no diversity of opinion. Whether it’s “Sports Reporters”, “Around the Horn” or whatever, there will be a panel of 4 people who all vehemently agree with each other whenever the topic turns political, for instance Colin Kaepernick.

    I don’t mind hearing liberal opinion on ESPN. What turns me off is that they present their liberal opinions as the ONLY SANE, LOGICAL OPINION that any thinking, rational person might have. No other opinions are welcome or spoken.

    That’s why I loathe ESPN.

    • Michael

      What opinions should ESPN include to represent the conservative side? Should they invite on some Nazis or Klansmen and have them explain why “both sides” are to blame for violence in Charlottesville, or why they are “very fine people”? Should they have on Clay Travis to talk about Kaepernick so he can change the subject to “black on black crime?”

      The problem is that “conservatism” in America now means reactionary, authoritarian, anti-intellectual and detached from objective reality. If you want “conservative” views represented you are going to have to do better than that. Not all “opinions” deserve respect or serious consideration. That’s how we ended up with the clown in the White House.

      • Super Mateo

        Don’t worry. The clown left the White House in January.

      • JonW

        Not to mention that there are people on ESPN who have claimed Kap’s unemployment had as much to do with his skill set as his political opinions: you don’t sign QBs that struggle under center, and in the pocket, as a backup… no coaching staff wants to redesign their offense mid-season. Not to mention that he became vegan, leading to seemingly tremendous weight loss, which would raise reasonable questions around the durability of a guy who exposes himself to huge hits on a consistent basis because he can’t pass from the pocket, and he likes to run a lot.

        I’m not responding to you because of that, though. This is about the latter part of your post.

        You can’t place diverse opinions on a multitude of complex issues into a single bucket. We used to be able to select topics we agreed on, but it’s increasingly becoming an all-or-nothing buy-in to a team.

        You see it on both sides, too. If a Republican agrees with science on climate change, he’s a brainwashed communist: a RINO. If a Democrat suggests that not all cases of gender inequality directly result from the claws of the patriarchy, they’re misogynists. You could expand that list to seemingly every topic, these days.

        And while I agree that there are some opinions that make we want to flatten someone’s face with a shovel, you can’t shut them out entirely. The absence of discussion only allows for those views to strengthen themselves. If you’re never presented contrary evidence, your truth becomes more and more true all the time. Look at Daryl Davis (Accidental Courtesy) and all the people who left the KKK because of conversations he had with them. The conversion rate will never be ideal, but it’s not insignificant.

        This team picking bullshit we’re on as a nation has got to end. THAT is how we got the mess we have in the White House now.

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  • bggatbdl

    I stopped watching ESPN years ago, except for football games, college and pro. I do not watch SportsCenter anymore, which I never missed for years, I got tired of both the subtle and bang-you-over-the-head liberalism. Many discussions of ESPN and its liberal bias, whether written or discussed bu[y liberal commentators, quickly devolves in the same manner: the right wing are a bunch of bigots who don’t accept [pick your victim] and ESPN isn’t biased anyway, unlike those right wing morons. The Trump-obsession and bashing, both open and subtle, was ridiculous. The Robert Lee thing this week was totally embarrassing.

    ESPN and its supporters can deny it all they want, but Travis is correct. We want sports to be our escape, and now that ESPN is basically MSNBC with better visuals, there is really no reason to bother watching SportCenter for 60 minutes to get 10 minutes of highlights when we can go on the internet and see our highlights and get to bed earlier. Many of us don’t need 15 minutes of our life wasted on poor Colin Kaepernick being a victim of the evil jingoistic right wing Trump supporters.

    • Michael

      That’s cool. Retreat to your safe spaces for put-upon, victimized white guys.

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  • CaZ

    ESPN, is allegedly or historically a SPORTS TV network. The fact that they feel they need a sports / politics blend IS the problem. I don’t watch sports to listen to politics, but to escape it, And I certainly don’t need political or moral lectures from the likes of ESPN.

  • Bragar

    All broadcast, published, and entertainment media is overtly liberal. I don’t expect content written by people in the media evaluating the media to be objective. Like this article.

    If the author thinks it was Bruce Jenner that tipped the scales he’s kidding himself. Liberals can’t stop themselves from spreading their religion in the most condescending manner. Their bias is overt in commercials, print advertising, sitcoms, every drama on TV, reality shows, and of course screeched from every college campus in the country.

    Conservative thinkers have simply had enough of their chit. What we don’t like, we turn off. The media’s audience shrinks by the day. Obviously they don’t care. They own every portal so they’ll talk to empty rooms if they must. It’s all about spreading the religion. Nothing else matters…

    • Michael

      “Conservative thinkers” lmao.

      “The media’s audience shrinks by the day. Obviously they don’t care. They own every portal so they’ll talk to empty rooms if they must.”

      All major media companies in this company are owned by corporations, which obviously are conservative institutions that care about nothing but making money for shareholders. And as reactionaries are always reminding us, the No. 1 cable news channel is a conservative propaganda machine. Conservatives need to stop with your self-victimology and take “personal responsibility” for holding views that the majority of Americans find repugnant.

  • GavinVolaire

    I admit I did not read this 10,000 word dissertation — only it’s presumptive central thesis which is “the right-wing” was fine with ESPN before they gave Jenner that award (just before Jenner launched a TV show on ESPN’s parent network).

    You couldn’t be more wrong, son. ESPN’s self-destruction has been happening for a lot longer than that. If you don’t see it, it’s because you don’t want to see it. If you do see it but prefer to politicize it by minimizing it (it’s just some “right-wingers” after all), then you are nothing more than a propagandist. I know it’s hard to tell considering you are surrounded by them.

    • Michael

      Giving an opinion on an article you didn’t read, and calling the writer a “propagandist” because of your uninformed opinion about said article, is so right-wing.

      • Dingle Berry

        If you didn’t grasp the point by the halfway point of that overlong opinion piece you’re not very smart.

        • Michael

          If only you possessed the self-awareness to appreciate the irony of your comment.

          • Dingle Berry

            I understood that original bit of drivel after the second paragraph. I guess it takes retards longer to get the point.

          • Michael

            “Retards”
            “Snowflakes”

            Edgy AF bro you are really owning those libs.

          • Dingle Berry

            No idea what you’re talking about, retard. Speak Engrish.

  • common_sense_is

    The author does not get it at all. I mean at all. Sports are a sanctuary from all this bullshit with politics. ESPN has violated that sanctuary and keeps violating time and time again. The author says the critics seem to ignore the fact that politics comments are rare on ESPN. There should NONE. Not one comment. Not a single mention of Kaepernick’s protest or Michael Sam being gay or or some dude in a freaking dress wanting us all to accept him wearing a dress as cool other than the mental illness it clearly is. We just want sports. Nothing else. So even one mention of it pisses us off. And it is very clear to anyone even remotely moderate, unlike the author, that ESPN has picked one side and has repeatedly backed that side’s point-of-view time and time and time again.

    • Michael

      “We just want sports. Nothing else. So even one mention of it pisses us off.”

      Exactly. You are triggered snowflakes who demand that everyone cater to your point of view at all times.

      And surely your desire for “no politics” includes ending the giant flags covering the field, the worship of the military, the fighter jet flyovers, “honoring America” every 15 seconds and all of the other things that define “patriotism” as unconditional support of war. Right? Naw, when you say “no politics” what you really mean is “only the politics that I agree with.”

      • ginamero

        LOL – is that the best you got? Well, it’s lame as Hale. Those that don’t like your brand of politics all over everything can vote with their feet and move on…and guess what Chip? They did. So glad to know over 100 liberals lost their jobs…warms the heart, no?

        • Michael

          All over everything? This guy literally said “one mention” of any politics he doesn’t like triggers him. I’m fine with the white tears crowd moving on because your feelings are hurt but could you stop being such whiny little bitches about it?

  • david news

    I stopped watching because I don’t like looking at bug-eyed blue gums every time I turn on the TV

  • ✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    “But what does that allegation really mean” <<< Libs in denial.

  • Farmer_Girl

    Jenner’s Espy win wasn’t impacted by my political ideology it infuriated me as a woman. So many outstanding female athletes to select from and the best they could do was select a mentally ill, surgically altered male masquerading as a female? H*ll no that isn’t happening. Your misogyny is duly noted ESPN.

  • I stopped watching ESPN when they promoted that thing Jemele Hill.

  • the Swamp Fox

    Hahaha this Cuck really lays it all out there
    such a descriptive essay on how he feels about life

    “it shouldn’t be hard to avoid. If you’re sick of hearing about Kaepernick or think athletes dissing Trump is fake news, you can pretty easily keep away from those subjects. In the worst case, you have to change the channel for a few minutes.”

    Can you imagine any real man saying this about things he cared about?
    Just be patient and let other people destroy what’s important to you as long as you can have it back when they are done?

  • Dingle Berry

    If a network chooses to force-feed me a mentally ill man in drag, I can choose not to watch.

  • mcsegeek1

    I’ve read some biased piles of tripe before, but this article sets a new benchmark. ESPN doesn’t get it, but it’s even more clear that the author is clueless too.

  • Xenon

    I used to watch ESPN all the time. I loved all the highlights and the analysis from experts about the Xs and Os. We got Dish network in large measure so I watch ESPN. I watched ESPN every morning and pretty much all day long on Saturday during College Football and Basketball season.

    Then ESPN changed. They felt they had to, I guess, as media changed. They had less and less highlights and expert analysis and more and more “fell good stories” and “two guys yelling at each other” kind of content. I don’t enjoy that stuff nearly as much as highlights and experts. So I started watching less and less ESPN. Then I started DVRing whatever I was interested in and fast forwarding through all the stuff I didn’t care about. That meant that my ESPN watching dropped and dropped.

    Then, we had to decide if to re-up with Dish. I voted no. My wife was surprised, and asked “But don’t you lose ESPN?” and I said I just don’t watch it that much anymore … certainly not enough to be worth the cost of cable/Dish.

    I still listened to local ESPN radio .. but I noticed they started doing more and more “two guys yelling at each other” and I just didn’t enjoy it. So now I listen to other radio stations.

    To me, it’s not so much that it’s political … I DO think everything ESPN does tends to lean left … as it is just one side of the culture war (which certainly has political elements to it). I guess I am just not the demographic that ESPN wants …. I want highlights and thoughtful discussion and insightful analysis. Evidently, ESPN thinks the best demographic for them is “two guys yelling at each other” and “gangsta” language and terminology and “NEW YORK” and “LA” lifestyles and attitudes. I’m not that.

    The culture wars are BAD FOR BUSINESS in my opinion. Choosing a side in the CULTURE WARS means offending “half” of your potential customers. ESPN took a side in the Culture Wars, and that lost me as a customer. Stay OUT of the culture wars, and be all about sports and transcend the culture wars … and you might get people like me back.

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  • ginamero

    Bruce Jenner lost his man card when he married Kris K. She neutered him on that show and honestly, the two episodes I had to watch while at the doctors office showed me the dude was quite weird B4 he literally removed his frank & beans. ESPN is way left leaning. I refused to watch it long before Jenner was on. But, yeah, what exactly is couragous about being wealthy and getting a new show for mutilating yourself? Also, Jenner has just killed a woman because he couldn’t drive a big truck and basically murdered a woman he ran into and because he’s Jenner he walked. It’s sick – these people can literally kill us and just walk! He did not deserve an award for courage so many others have done so much more with so much less and they are over looked…ESPN did this to push their politics and I’m glad 100s have lost their jobs and more will lose their jobs…if they had just stuck to reporting on sports and not telling the rest of us we are backwards and stupid – they wouldn’t be having this problem. I can’t stand Bob Costas – he’s why I stopped watching. Redskins, Redskins, Redskins. Eat that Costas.

    • ginamero

      If Jenner had real courage he would have done time for killing that woman instead of using his celebrity and money to get out of the charges.

  • ginamero

    Curt Schilling gets let go for his FB posts but Jemel Hill gets to keep her job…she’s a hard core racist and I very much want to see her out in the cold. This is another way ESPN is Left. Fires the straight white male for private FB posts but let’s a loud mouth racist female black keep her spot no problems…and she’s done it more than once. I hope the lot of them lose their jobs.

  • Dailyb

    This columnist is so stupid and uninformed that he probably doesn’t realize that Jemele Hill stated that rooting for the Celtics is like saying that Hitler was a victim about 10 years ago. What a stupid and racist remark. That is on top of her calling Trump a white supremacist — equally stupid, uninformed and malicious.

    Suppose a conservative at ESPN said Obama was stupid. (see his law school writings, which are rife with grammatical errors.) What do you think would happen to that person. Yet Jemele Hill who is both stupid and racist has been with ESPN for 10 years. Undoubtedly, because she is liberal.

    It just shows that the Left lives in a bubble when someone is so dense that he questions the Left-Wing bias of ESPN.

    • JonW

      You’re taking the Hitler comment out of context. She also said that it would be like rooting for Gorbachev over Reagan: the obvious point being that the Celtics are evil and awful, and should not be rooted for… Consider that in 2008, the Celtics put the “big 3” together, which started this new, awful wave of “super teams.” She’s right that rooting for them was rooting for the bad guy. She’s an idiot for using those analogies, but that doesn’t make her racist.

      There’s as much evidence that Trump is a white supremecist (i.e. not distancing himself from KKK support, saying there were good people on both sides when one side was a group of white nationalists, etc.) as there was for Barrack hating white people (i.e. attending a church for like a decade that consistently preached hatred of white people), but I’m betting a lack of complete certainty didn’t stop you from saying Barrack was an anti-white communist.

      • JonW

        Also, don’t conflate language/grammatical skills with intelligence. There’s a good deal of evidence that says they’re entirely unrelated.

  • It means transphobia, plain and simple.

  • robert franklin stroud

    It’s a mental illness.

    They should be treated with compassion and professional care, but it is INSANE to expect everyone to pretend what is reality is not so. We will look back at this time in 30 years and see the mutilated bodies and think, “Why Liberal madness allowed the paving of this road to hell.”