Two decades after his run as a beloved SportsCenter host, and two and a half years after the end of his ESPN2 talk show, Keith Olbermann is once again involved with ESPN.
About half an hour into Wednesday night’s edition of SC6, host Michael Smith introduced “the once-upon-a-time host of The Big Show, Keith Olbermann.” Olbermann’s name appeared on screen as he read a list of the 10 most unlikely Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks ever.
Here’s Smith’s lead-in:
An ESPN spokesperson told Awful Announcing that Olbermann’s pieces will run “sporadically,” not only on SC6 but also on other SportsCenter editions, as the news dictates.
Olbermann’s return to SportsCenter did not come with a press release, promotional campaign or even a warning tweet, though Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand did report shortly before the SC6 segment ran that Olbermann would contribute to ESPN leading up to the Super Bowl. Olbermann subsequently tweeted that we should not “read too much into this.”
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) January 31, 2018
But at risk of reading too much into this… it’s pretty surprising to see Olbermann and ESPN reunited once again. Since first leaving the network in 1997, Olbermann has been mostly a political commentator, with a proud left-of-center perspective. Given the criticism ESPN has faced for its supposed “liberal bias,” you might think the company would steer away from someone who might fuel the skeptics. Surely ESPN could have found someone else to write and voice a list of unlikely quarterbacks.
Then again, before Olbermann was an MSNBC commentator and Al Gore partner, he was the face of the SportsCenter. He remains a legendary figure in ESPN’s history, and no one has ever questioned his sports bona fides. He previously appeared on ESPN Radio in January of last year as part of its 25th anniversary celebration and wrote a brief essay for ESPN.com in October. Those appearances received little fanfare or backlash, and in all likelihood this new gig will be no different. It would take a hardcore ESPN critic to find cause for outrage in a 90-second video essay about unlikely quarterbacks, no matter who delivered it.