ESPN has walked a difficult tightrope in recent years when it comes to politics. At a time when sports are more entwined with political and social issues than ever, and avoiding those subjects often feels irresponsible, more and more fans are demanding the network “stick to sports.” ESPN is doomed to anger some viewers whether it acknowledges sports’ intersection with politics or not.
According to a profile of Michelle Beadle published Thursday on MySanAntonio.com, ESPN’s upcoming morning show Get Up won’t be afraid to discuss political issues when they enter the sports conversation.
The team also may delve into politics occasionally, particularly when something breaks that pertains to sports, which has been the case more and more of late.
“It’s an unusual time in America now, so politics has encroached into our happy little world more frequently than I think we’re used to,” Bill Wolff, ESPN’s vice president of studio production, told TV critics here.
Get Up, which will debut April 2, brings together three co-hosts with very different histories when it comes to sports and politics. Beadle and Jalen Rose are rarely afraid to share their opinions about race and gender, and both have publicly criticized Donald Trump. Greenberg, on the other hand, does not typically stray far from sports. When you Google “Mike Greenberg Donald Trump,” all that comes up is a sports-centric 2012 interview he did with the then-businessman on Mike & Mike.
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“Everyone has to approach this to whatever degree they feel comfortable with,” Greenberg said. “[But] the people who have been listening to me on the radio or watching me on TV or follow me on social media, are there because they want my opinion on sports. That’s what they’re coming to me for. They go other places when they want other things.”
Rose, for his part, said that his followers expect slightly different, and he doesn’t feel “muzzled” by ESPN in speaking to that.
“My audience … does expect me to be politically, socially conscious, not only as it relates to sports,” he said. “I’m really passionate about giving back to my community, being a leader of my community and being outspoken about injustices that I see in our country and throughout the world.”
So what will happen when Beadle or Rose wants to speak up on a sports-adjacent political issue (or a politics-adjacent sports issue) and Greenberg is uncomfortable? Based on what MySanAntonio reported, it sounds as if such conversations will be fair game. But if not everyone on set is on board, they could feel flat or awkward.
By pairing Beadle and Rose with Greenberg, ESPN might be trying to please people on both sides of the “stick to sports” debate. Often, that winds up pleasing no one. We’re a few months from finding out if that’s the case here.