After Keith Olbermann’s ESPN deal wasn’t renewed last July (shortly after they reportedly asked him to “quit commentary“), his exit seemed remarkably amicable, and a far cry from the “napalmed bridges” he left after his first go-round. That mostly continued afterwards, too, with Olbermann not saying much critical about ESPN after his departure, unlike Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock.
However, that appears to have changed Monday, with Olbermann blasting a Washington Post profile of ESPN president John Skipper (which is quite interesting and has some notable stories, including Skipper alleviating police trouble after a late-night drinking session at William Faulkner’s grave) as a “massage” and blaming Skipper’s “mismanagement” for a “veteran employee bloodbath”:
@Ourand_SBJ What a massage. Not a word of the veteran employee bloodbath caused by his mismanagement.
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) August 29, 2016
Olbermann has been known for plenty of strong takes before, including his shots at Rogers over their Hockey Night In Canada changes, but it’s interesting to see him publicly going in so hard on Skipper. Moreover, while ESPN unquestionably has had a lot of prominent veteran employees leave, it also may have been worth letting some (such as Cowherd, Whitlock, Simmons and Skip Bayless) walk given their budgetary challenges; if they can be replaced with cheaper, less-controversial talent that doesn’t lose too much in the ratings, that’s a win for ESPN’s bottom line.
Still, it’s notable to see Olbermann chime with such public and pointed criticism of ESPN, especially as he’d largely refrained from that to date (he did discuss the company’s larger SportsCenter strategy with Simmons in March, but that didn’t really get terribly personal). Don’t presume this means Olbermann will never work for ESPN again, however; he returned after the napalmed bridges from his first stint there, and this is a relatively minor offense by comparison.
Update: Olbermann reached out to AA’s Ken Fang via Twitter DM and said his criticisms of Skipper weren’t about his own departure, or that of any other on-air talent, but were because Skipper “fired a generation of producers, most of whom were my friends and all of whom had given their lives to that place. At least they have that white elephant of a digital studio. …Oh, and he fired almost everybody who moved to New York to staff my show, despite his assurances of their job security.”
He finished by saying “Skipper is a charming, interesting and accomplished man, but his legacy will be those firings.”