Within the last year or two, ESPN has been repeatedly dragged into in the so-called culture wars that have enveloped the rest of American media, and the rest of American institutions. A segment of the country’s sports fans has decided that ESPN propagates left-wing ideas and that anything bad the network endures must be a result of its politics.
That’s how you wind up with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, among others, suggesting ESPN’s recent loss of subscribers was evidence the network should “put aside” politics.
Well, Keith Olbermann is not having it. Appearing on Tony Kornheiser’s podcast Friday, the former SportsCenter anchor and current ESPN contributor called the culture-war narrative “baloney” and pointed out that the wholly unpolitical Golf Channel had lost more subscribers than ESPN.
The subject came up on Kornheiser’s podcast almost accidentally, thanks to a quick aside from Pablo Torre, who was explaining the vision behind his upcoming show with Bomani Jones. Here was the exchange:
Torre: The point you guys both raised about laughter—because ESPN is in the middle of a culture war [said sarcastically]. I don’t know if you guys noticed, but we are in a culture war. One of the things that I think people—
Olbermann: Baloney, by the way.
Torre: Well, yes. At risk of further culture warring, I will not comment further on the culture war that may or may not be a culture war.
Olbermann: The subscribers of the Golf Channel, they’ve lost more in the last month than ESPN. So what’s the politics of this? The politics is called “the business of cable.” OK, end of story, thank you for tuning in.
Torre: Yes, I don’t think people are canceling all of their cable because they don’t like ESPN. That’s my general hypothesis.
Torre went on to explain that he and Jones plan to laugh a lot on their show, not to “preach.”
The conversation about ESPN and politics begins around the 35-minute mark.
A nice Friday surprise. Didn’t expect a Kornheiser podcast today b/c he’s in NYC. But we get Tony & @MarcSterne w/@PabloTorre & @KeithOlbermann who are pretty ginormous upgrades over @BraunFilm & @CillizzaCNN https://t.co/ZvPTlVix5H
— Sports TV Ratings (@SportsTVRatings) May 11, 2018
You can argue all day long about whether ESPN injects politics into sports, whether sports are inherently political, whether critics are using a fair definition of “politics” and whether ESPN should care about its right-wing detractors. But it’s tough to dispute that ESPN’s loss of subscribers owes primarily to trends in the cable industry, not politics. Every cable network on the dial, including Fox News, has lost subscribers amid the cord-cutting revolution. ESPN, as Olbermann points out, isn’t special.