It looks like Dan Le Batard is heading back to his usual ESPN responsibilities following a meeting with company president Jimmy Pitaro. Le Batard created a firestorm last Thursday on his radio show when he not only criticized ESPN’s “no politics” policies but also specifically weighed in on a political issue (namely, the “send her back” chants in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at a rally held by President Donald Trump), saying “There’s a racial division in this country that’s being instigated by the president. And we here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight because Jemele (Hill) did some things on Twitter, and you saw what happened after that.”
Afterwards, ESPN insisted the no politics policy still applied but didn’t suspend Le Batard, although he wound up taking time off from his radio show this week (reportedly at his own request). That led to plenty of speculation that Le Batard might be on the way out from ESPN if the sites couldn’t find consensus on how to proceed, but as per a tweet from Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand, Le Batard will return to radio Monday following a meeting with ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro:
Dan Le Batard meeting with Jimmy Pitaro is over. He will stay at ESPN. He will be back on "Highly Questionable" tomorrow. He will be back on the radio on Monday.
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) July 25, 2019
On some levels, it makes sense for both sides to continue their relationship. For one thing, Le Batard has brought a lot of value to ESPN both on radio and on TV, and he’s one of their more recognizable commentary voices. His work has a significant and devoted fanbase, and he’s also used his platforms to help ESPN develop and promote other talents. And Le Batard signed a multi-year extension with ESPN last summer (as did his radio co-host, Jon “Stugotz” Weiner), so the network was likely looking at paying him a lot of money for nothing even if they did decide to part ways.
But it also makes some sense for Le Batard to stay with ESPN; they’re still the U.S. sports media industry’s biggest spot, especially when it comes to sports opinion, and their combination of TV and radio platforms is tough to beat. And while there were other suitors for Le Batard ahead of this last contract extension (including Sirius XM), he’s previously spoken about the difficulties ESPN personalities have had establishing themselves elsewhere, so it makes sense that he’d stay if there was a palatable path for him to do so. (And he’s had some past run-ins with ESPN management, including one that ended in an actual suspension (over a billboard trolling LeBron James), so this isn’t necessarily the most serious incident he’s faced there.)
There is a notable question ahead of if Le Batard’s approach or his content will change at all in the wake of this incident, though. While Ourand reports that Le Batard will soon be back on the radio, there’s no indication of if he’s been told more firmly not to delve into political waters again. But ESPN’s determinations on what is and isn’t political have always been questionable, and the discipline is far from consistent (consider the protests against proposed Special Olympics cuts earlier this year, which produced no apparent backlash from management), so it’s also possible there’s not a huge push from them over this. And politics intersects with so many areas of life that anything can be seen as political in the right light. Inconsistent discipline in general is an age-old ESPN story, though, and predicting exactly what the network will do when it comes to political commentary in general is a fool’s errand. At the least, we now know that Le Batard will be back to his regular appearance schedule soon, and we’ll see what he says in those appearances.
[John Ourand on Twitter]