If the first rule of ESPN is “Don’t talk about ESPN” and the second rule is “No politics (unless you’re Curt Schilling),” Dan Le Batard may be heading for trouble on both fronts. The Highly Questionable and ESPN Radio host blasted President Obama’s Cuba trip in his Miami Herald column Monday, and he also took several shots at ESPN and Major League Baseball’s participation in this trip (around Tuesday’s exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, which Le Batard actually broke the news of in January; ESPN is also broadcasting editions of SportsCenter and Outside The Lines from Cuba, and has taken flak for a since-deleted tweet promoting the latter). Amazingly, Le Batard’s column was also syndicated by ESPN, with the anti-ESPN references intact. Here are the highlights:
Another loss. That’s what this already feels like to so much of Miami, before the “historic” baseball game has even been played. As if the Cubans who fled to this country haven’t already felt enough of those losses over the decades. Lost childhoods. Lost roots. Lost families. Lost land. Lost freedoms. Lost lives in the ocean that divides Cuba and America like the million miles of distance between desperation and hope.
So much happy coverage on the television this week. Historic visit! America and Baseball celebrating themselves. Obama and Jeter and ESPN head toward communism like it is another cruise port, so many symbols of Americana descending on a rotting island stuck in the 1950s, and it doesn’t feel quite right back in Miami, like watching a funeral morph into a party. The history of my own people feels like it is either being ignored or trampled here, and I’m not quite sure which of those feels worse. …
I’ve never known anything but freedom. My grandparents and parents made sure that was so. But now my grandparents are dead, and my parents are old, and the Cuban regime that strangled them somehow lives on … lives on to play a baseball game with our country this week. America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family … as the rest of America celebrates it, no less. That’s going to hurt, no matter how you feel about the politics.
Le Batard makes some good points here, and he provides a valuable perspective on how this trip is seen by some Cuban exiles and their families, but his inclusion of ESPN in this may get him in some trouble. Throughout the inconsistent history of the Worldwide Leader’s suspensions, there’s been one clear thread in what Bristol does usually punish: those who criticize ESPN or ESPN talent. Criticizing the network itself is probably even worse than criticizing colleagues. Consider what ESPN president John Skipper told then-ombudsman Robert Lipsyte in 2014:
“As for protecting the brand, that’s one of Skipper’s core jobs. As he told me, ‘There are really two parts to that: the internal culture — making sure our people understand that we respect them and the workplace — and the external PR impact.'”
We’ll see if that brand protection leads to any action against Le Batard here. If so, it won’t be the first time he’s gotten in trouble; he’s previously been suspended for trolling LeBron James with a billboard, and he took some fire from both ESPN and the Herald for giving his Baseball Hall of Fame vote to Deadspin. Le Batard’s Herald bio (on the right) even includes that “He can be heard nationally on ESPN radio weekdays 10 AM -1 PM or watched on his television show “Highly Questionable” weekdays at 4:30 PM on ESPN (when he’s not suspended).” Depending on how Bristol reacts, here, that may prove prophetic.