ESPN gathered its front-facing employees Wednesday at its home base in Bristol, Connecticut for a two-hour summit. According to ESPN’s official release on the meeting, the gathering included two primary messages: 1. ESPN is fine. 2. Stick to sports.

Per ESPN, president John Skipper told employees, “At the end of this meeting I want you to be confident about the future of ESPN,” before describing various company strategies, including the maintenance of the network’s rights portfolio and its ESPN+ venture.

Later, Undefeated editor-in-chief Kevin Merida reviewed ESPN’s social media policy, emphasizing that on-air personalities should stay away from non-sports issues. That message comes about six weeks after the network published new social media guidelines limiting who can break news on Twitter and warning against overtly political posts. Per ESPN, here is what Merida, who led the effort to write those guidelines, told the assembled crowd Wednesday:

“ESPN is a journalistic organization – not a political organization. We should do nothing to undermine that position,” he said. “ESPN’s focus is sports. By-and-large we are not experts on politics, healthcare policies, terrorism, commerce – that’s not what we do.

“Our audience is not looking for our opinions on the general news of the day,” he added. “And believe me, I get it. It can sometimes be difficult to control impulses or ignore trolls, but that’s what we’re called to do for each other.”

The stricter ESPN social media policy is presumably a response to the controversy that engulfed the company over the summer after Jemele Hill called Donald Trump a white supremacist on Twitter and the White House called for her firing.

The next part of Wednesday’s program might raise some eyebrows. Per the ESPN release, the company had anchor Sage Steele interview sales and marketing executive Ed Erhardt in what sounds like transparent tangle of editorial and business operations. The fact that someone whose job is to sell advertising addressed a group of reporters and sports analysts certainly lends some extra credence to the longtime claim that ESPN lets its business interests bleed into its content.

Obviously the official ESPN account of the summit wouldn’t reflect any tension or discord, nor would it reveal any message execs might have shared that isn’t for public consumption. But it does give us a sense of the agenda items at the gathering, which was important enough that attendance was mandatory for all front-facing employees, and what ESPN wants to convey to its rank and file at the end of a rough year. Essentially, the takeaway seems to have been that the company is better off if everyone pipes down a little.

[ESPN]

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.

  • Lux Ineterior 2

    Katie Nolan must be exempt from the policy the world needs to know her wit and true insight on politics and race relations

    • Christopher Bates

      It’s ironic that someone with that username would be a right-wing nut.

      • Dingle Berry

        Give the Contard a break. Probably compound-schooled by their toothless mom/sister/cousin.

  • common_sense_is

    Finally. As a Disney shareholder, this makes me very happy.

  • Carter_Burger67

    Of course he’s gonna tell them ESPN is fine. You don’t get in front of your employees and tell them you are a sinking ship to run now. And I’m curious how this social media policy will hold up the next time someone like Jemele Hill pops off about President Trump?

  • BobLee Says

    My knee-jerk tendency is to be cynical to anything John Skipper says. That said… maybe he is sincere about trying to keep “politics” out of sports reporting; but is that even possible in today’s highly-combustible socio-cultural environment?
    … Certainly ESPN can “discipline” / “control” on-air staff for any overt political opinions while in front of an ESPN camera / microphone, but once the comment is made the damage is done regardless of which political side is being advocated. … controlling their personal social media comments has to be another matter. … I’ll give him (Skipper) credit for seeming to be trying.

    • LSB

      LOLOLOLOL…that’s funny that you actually think that ESPN would remotely tolerate any conservative viewpoints from any ESPN employee. Are you not familiar with Curt Schilling and Mike Ditka’s rapid firings from ESPN for comparatively innocuous comments? You’d be better served with your initial knee-jerk reaction.

      • BobLee Says

        I’m very familiar with the whole sordid history of the past 8-10 years of ESPN & Politics. I was simply trying to avoid dealing with the usual “potty-mouth” contingent around here. That bunch gets old fast.

  • John Q

    Good article, appreciate the insight…I had missed this covered elsewhere.

    • LSB

      That’s because it puts a negative spotlight on the leftist, social justice posturing of the media, in general, and ESPN, specifically. The leftist, fake news media never attacks their own.

      • Dingle Berry

        Good lord get new talking points from The Big Fat Idiot’s radio show, Contard.

  • QED – quod erat demonstrandum

    “And believe me, I get it. It can sometimes be difficult to control impulses or ignore trolls, but that’s what we’re called to do for each other.”

    Whereas it’s very easy to ignore ESPN (save a handful of live events). Been doing it for years.

  • Marie Barf

    “ESPN is journalistic organization – not a political organization. Our audience is not looking for our opinions on the news of the day.”

    Next up on SportsCenter: Why doesn’t Colin Kaepernick have a job? Is the NFL racist?

    • Mike

      That quote is spot on. And way too late.

    • Mike

      That quote is spot on. And way too late.

    • SF II

      Excellent post Marie.

    • Dingle Berry

      ”Is Kap being black-balled for his political stance?” is more like it, which you would know, if you weren’t a hillbilly Contard.

  • SF II

    ESPN’s new social media policy.
    Translation . . . Jemele Hill will abide under a different set of rules.
    ESPN and John Skipper are too weak and timid to discipline Hill.
    Sadly, they are fearful of being labeled “racist”.

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