ESPN doesn’t often discuss non-sports news or politics, but they wound up with a bit of both Tuesday thanks to interviewing President Obama during the Tampa Bay Rays-Cuban national baseball team exhibition game in Havana. Obama was at the game, as was Cuban president Raul Castro, and while there were some lighter moments such as him joining the crowd in the wave, things got very serious when ESPN interviewed him and split-screened that with the game. Obama talked everything from the Brussels terrorist attacks to human rights in Cuba, and even had some lighter comments on the stress of throwing out the first pitch. Here’s part of what he said about the Brussels attacks:

“This is just one more example of why the entire world has to unite against these terrorists,” Obama said. “The notion that any political agenda would justify the killing of innocent people like this is beyond the pale. We are going to continue with the over 60 nations that are pounding ISIL and are going to go after them. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are obviously with those who have been lost.”

While it’s unusual to see this kind of extremely serious content on ESPN, they deserve credit for letting Obama address this without interruption (unlike, say, when they cut off Win Butler’s political comments) and not focusing on the non-existent sanctity of an exhibition baseball game. There’s a long history of major events interrupting sports games and coverage, too, from Pearl Harbor to the JFK assassination to the 9/11 attacks, so this is hardly unprecedented. Unsurprisingly, though, some Twitter users were annoyed, either with Obama for attending the game, with ESPN for interviewing him, or both:

For his part, Obama addressed some of why he went to the game in a bylined piece on (is that a first for a sitting president?):

Today I’m taking Michelle and our girls out to a ballgame. That’s something Americans do all the time, but this game is something extraordinary.

It’s the first exhibition game between a major league team — the Tampa Bay Rays — and the Cuban national team in 17 years. It’s only the second time an MLB team has visited Cuba since 1959. And most importantly, it’s a symbol of the bonds between Americans and Cubans despite decades of isolation — a small step that shows that our nations can begin to move beyond the divisions of the past and look toward a future of greater connections and cooperation between our countries.

He also discussed criticisms of him for being at the game despite the Brussels attacks during the ESPN interview:

It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, particularly in this age of 24/7 news coverage. You want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation, but the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”

There were some Twitter users who supported the Obama-ESPN interview, too:

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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