ESPN and politics have not mixed very well in recent years. Sometimes that critique may have been warranted but often it was lobbed as a way for people on one side of an issue to silence opinions on the other side under the guise of calling for fairness. There were plenty of people calling ESPN “too political” over the years, including President Trump. ESPN has done a whole lot to try and get away from the idea that they’re political in any way, with president Jimmy Pitaro going as far as to tell his employees “I do not believe that we’re a political organization.” Much of the talent who drew the ire of the #StickToSports crowd, including Jemele Hill, have moved on and the company has walked a fairly straight line since the NFL season ended.

Which brings us to this week when the political world and the sports world intertwined in a way that made it nearly impossible to go unnoticed by ESPN, as much as they might have tried. News broke earlier in the week on Twitter that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had approved a roughly $18 million budget cut set aside for the Special Olympics as part of the President’s 2020 budget.

After outrage swept across social media over the decision, DeVos took to the Twitter to defend herself on Wednesday by denouncing the media for distorting the facts before confirming that, yes, she would be cutting all funding for the Special Olympics.

Update: On Thursday, President Trump reversed DeVos’ decision after widespread backlash:

Our initial post follows:

The Special Olympics is sports. End of story. So it’s impossible for ESPN, a network dedicated to covering sports news, to ignore entirely. The company has a page dedicated to the Special Olympics on its site and the network provided global coverage of the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. The company did post a wire story about the news on their homepage for a time but was relatively quiet otherwise. That is until some of its talents started speaking up.

First, SportsCenter anchor Kevin Negandhi spoke about his own experiences with the Special Olympics and the people he’s encountered as part of the ESPN crew.

Then, Around The Horn host Tony Reali, who had tweeted out his own thoughts the day before, took some extra time at the end of the show to talk about what it means to include the Special Olympics when we talk about how sports is for everyone.

Julie Foudy also discussed the impact of the proposed $18 million budget cut on the Special Olympics in a video on ESPN.com, citing how “soul-crushing” it would be.

It’s hard to imagine anyone being punished for using their ESPN platform to speak up on this issue. You’d have to be pretty callous and cold-hearted to think defending Special Olympic athletes is something unsavory, and it seems that all the callous and cold-hearted people are the ones who caused the need for this discussion in the first place.

It’s still possible the cuts don’t happen and the outcry is certainly going to continue one way or another. But if there’s a line that ESPN personalities were looking for to cross back over into the world of politics, this is the kind of issue that allows them to do so (we hope) without getting any kind of blowback.

[ESPN]

About Sean Keeley

A graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse related things for SB Nation, Curbed, Neighborhoods.com, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Chicago.