Unless you’ve been in a dark cave for the last year and a half, you may have noticed that we’re living in a slightly charged political climate that is seeping into every area of life, even those that used to be kept apart from political rancor and rhetoric. In spite of their repeated wish to be kept out of it, ESPN has been under the microscope recently about their involvement in politics, and the number of network personalities that have been speaking out on political matters. And now that microscope extends to the very top of the company.

At a shareholders meeting on Wednesday, Disney CEO Bob Iger was confronted by a question about ESPN and ABC News being politically biased against Donald Trump. While Trump has infamously and dangerously called the mainstream media “the enemy of the American people” ESPN has been swept up into the political climate with criticism of their politics coming from sources ranging from Sarah Palin (who once said terrorists were using ESPN to lead the American public) to Clay Travis and his regular rants that claims ESPN is doomed because of their liberal agenda (and his own math that is off by billions of dollars).

According to the LA Times, Iger said “The charge that ESPN is exhibiting significant political bias is just a complete exaggeration.” And according to USA Today, he also added “Watch ESPN, you are not going to see political bias.”

First of all, for the question to even come up and for Iger to respond in such a way means that the questions of a possible liberal bias at ESPN are definitely starting to gain traction. So much so in fact that it was the subject of the most recent column by ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady. He wrote this about the very real effect that’s taking place in Bristol:

As it turns out, ESPN is far from immune from the political fever that has afflicted so much of the country over the past year. Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing products. Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some.

So often it’s true that perception is reality, especially in the public space and especially in the media. While perception rages through social media and fringe blogs, the truth and the reality of ESPN’s politics is much more nuanced than anyone would want to admit in our polarized, debate-centric culture.

Do we really believe that John Skipper and ESPN and Disney execs would order a network-wide move to the left politically to alienate half of their audience? It’s a ludicrous conspiracy theory, but ludicrous conspiracy theories are all the rage these days.

You’re not going to turn on ESPN to watch the ACC basketball tournament and hear a lecture from an analyst on why the GOP’s new healthcare package is terrible in the middle of breaking down a 2-3 zone. To boycott Monday Night Football out of some inherent fear that you have a .0001% chance of hearing something you might politically disagree with is absurd.

Skipper defended the network t0 Brady saying that what some might view as progressive stances are “human” stances:

“It is accurate that the Walt Disney Company and ESPN are committed to diversity and inclusion,” Skipper said. “These are long-standing values that drive fundamental fairness while providing us with the widest possible pool of talent to create the smartest and most creative staff. We do not view this as a political stance but as a human stance. We do not think tolerance is the domain of a particular political philosophy.”

That makes perfect sense from Skipper. However, if the reality isn’t that ESPN is offering a network-wide edict to move left that doesn’t mean that the perception doesn’t exist and is having a tangible impact. And that perception exists both inside and outside the network as Brady’s column makes clear. No matter how justifiable each political piece of the puzzle has been in their own right (like axing Curt Schilling), the bigger picture could lead conservative sports fans to believe that ESPN doesn’t share their views. On top of that, with more ESPN personalities speaking out on social media and espousing their personal political views (oftentimes liberal), it only adds fuel to the fire.

The issue for ESPN now is how to deal with the perception that exists, rightly or wrongly. Their on-air commentators aren’t going to likely be dialing back on social media anytime soon and their debate-style programming is going to invite going beyond X’s and O’s regularly. Furthermore, this administration’s policies don’t look to be getting any less polarizing over the next four years.

It might not be a comfortable place for the network to be at right now, but they have to figure out how to best deal with the delicate balance of the wall between sports and politics that has come tumbling down.

[LA Times/USA Today]

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • Real Talk

    I don’t watch ESPN anymore

    • Christopher Bates

      Awwww…do you need a place to curl up into a ball and cry for a while?

      • Paul Sullivan

        Isn’t that what left wing zombie snowflakes do when their campus “hate-speech-free” safe spaces aren’t available? Personal boycotts are laudable. Group think boycotts and “shut ’em down” protests, the tactic of the juvenile left, are pathetic…and I’ll bet you cheer them on.

        • Christopher Bates

          Do you think you could squeeze a few more cliches, fed to you by Brietbart, into your messages? Thanks!

          • Clint

            Did Adolf feed u that one Chrissy?

      • dksherlock

        Nope Christopher, you’re thinking of your Hero Obamacare boy from a few years back.

        • Christopher Bates

          It’s interesting that you slam Obamacare quite literally on the very day we learn exactly what a clusterfu(k the GOP plan is. You don’t read so much, do you? Never had any truck with book larnin’?

          • dksherlock

            What makes you think I support the GOP plan? GOP loves Obamacare as much as you do.

          • Clint

            Spoken like a true statist. There should be no govt healthcare dipshit

      • that’s what the left-wing morons do, such as yourself. I watch sports because I don’t want politics thrown in my face. Colin Kaepernick is an a$$hole too.

  • RadioGuy

    Sorry, Bob, but your network is well known for promoting social engineering. I haven’t had ESPN for almost four years and with 24 different sports channels bookmarked on Roku (which costs me nothing), I don’t really miss it. I turn on a sports channel to watch sports, not have some anchor lecture me on how or what I’m supposed to think or feel. Sports represent an escape from political agendas to some of us, not a platform for them.

    Good luck using the same old thing as a tourniquet to stanch your subscriber bleed, Bob.

  • Respected Citizen

    Bob should save his breath. Fascists aren’t reasonable and don’t care about logic.

    • crs44

      Neither are/do brain-dead communists.

    • Paul Sullivan

      You missed the note…it’s Nazi’s this week…not fascists. Soros isn’t too happy with you right now. Get with the system!

      • Christopher Bates

        Perhaps you should refrain from commenting until you understand the difference between ‘Nazis’ and ‘Nazi’s.’ To those who have even a rudimentary grasp of English grammar, you look like a moron.

        • Clint

          Maybe you should refrain from claiming who you think support nazis and who that actually do. Shill

  • Mike Swope

    Iger not seeing the problem is part of the problem at ESPCN.

  • bggatbdl

    What’s he gonna say? Of course he’s going to deny it. I didn’t mind when the long Sunday Night Sportscenter had its liberal feature of the week. Some of them were actually good. But once liberal bias and badgering permeated every aspect of ESPN, I checked out. And if I want honesty, I will look to Bob Ley, not Iger. Ley has addressed ESPN’s liberal bias perfectly.

  • Raymond Chuang

    Good luck trying to defend that. Carefully listen to some of the hosts of ESPN programming for about six months and the Leftist bias becomes very obvious. No wonder why ESPN is losing money for Disney like crazy–it’s very fortunate that Disney’s theme parks (Disneyland and Disney World, Hong Kong and Shanghai Disney Resorts, plus massive licensing revenue from Tokyo Disney Resort) and Disney’s animated movies are making enough money so ESPN’s financial ills are tolerable to the Walt Disney Company.

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  • Roger Bournival

    :Do we really believe that John Skipper and ESPN and Disney execs would order a network-wide move to the left politically to alienate half of their audience?” – You don’t have to order it; you can just let it happen naturally / nudge-nudge, wink/wink, know what I mean?

  • C-Sharp

    Supporting political causes shouldn’t be done in a for-profit business.

  • Regular Joe

    So the new 6pm Sportscenter isn’t liberally biased? OK if you say so!

  • Matt Anthony

    There is an obvious liberal bias on ESPN, but the reason I stopped watching it is that during basketball season, which lasts from September through June, that’s 50% of their content. There is more than just college and pro basketball happening in sports during those months. They can cover whatever they want, but they lost me as a viewer years ago.

  • dksherlock

    Only show worth the time is Mike and Mike, which continues to enjoy terrific ratings by focusing on sports and steering away from social justice. Every once in a while they’ll let Mr. Chip On The Shoulder Jones come on to complain for a segment, but the Mikes are first and foremost sports fans and that’s how they run the show. I’ll be listening for change when Greenberg leaves.

    • Bomani is a piece of crap. Does he even know English? I don’t speak ebonics. Sage Steele has integrity but she isn’t black enough to be a sister because she has conservative views. I get it.

  • cajb11

    A little late to the party but here I am….

    First, I have a real problem with liberals and conservatives call each other names in a forum like this. I’m very conservative but I don’t hate you if you are liberal. We just disagree. And this nonsense is as bad on the right as it is on the left.

    That being said, from my conservative perspective I do see ESPN as embracing a liberal, politically correct, worldview. No, I don’t believe I will hear an endorsement for a specific piece of legislation. I believe it’s more subtle than that. Perhaps a playful jibe at a Republican president (which I really don’t think is a big deal), but more so I see ESPN exhibiting a bias towards a liberal social issues in those they choose to punish for on-air comments (mostly conservatives from my memory) and as a perfect example, choosing Bruce Jenner (No disrespect intended.I really can’t remember “her” new name) as the Courage Award winner a couple of years ago after choosing a transsexual lifestyle.

    Now I don’t pretend to understand everything that goes on in a person’s mind to make such a decision, and I’m truly sympathetic as there is no doubt a lot of pain involved. But Disney chose to move this ESPN production to the ABC network stations so more people could see it. Although it was the decision of a person who hasn’t been active in competitive sports for 35-40 years, it really had nothing to do with sports. That Disney/ESPN would so blatantly promote this when a large, if not majority, part of the population really have big concerns/disagreements, suggests Disney is pushing ESPN to a non-sport related, politically and socially motivated position. Disney is of course doing this in their entertainment fare, featuring two males kissing in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, ostensibly a children’s movie. Whether one agrees with these social positions or not, I don’t think there is much argument it’s decidedly liberal. I think many of us just want a place to escape from the polarization that affects us all.

  • George Clark

    I stop watching ESPN, political crap they put out.