Dan Le Batard left ESPN in January 2021 when “it was mutually agreed that it was best for both sides to move on to new opportunities,” according to Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president and executive editor. Le Batard quickly regrouped, partnering with former ESPN boss John Skipper on Meadowlark Media. And Meadowlark has attracted some big-name talent, including some fellow former ESPN folks who left the company under similar auspices.
While things seem to be going well for Meadowlark and Le Batard, it’s always interesting looking back on how a relationship seemingly as successful as the one between ESPN and him fell apart. The podcaster appeared on a recent episode of the Naked with Cari Champion podcast (hosted by Cari Champion, who left ESPN a year earlier) and discussed his relationship with the Worldwide Leader, why it worked for so long, and how it stopped working.
“That place is hard to leave because it is a destination and I’ve been single all my life so I had 30 years of savings as a single man and I had plenty of journalism bona fides and I had opportunities and it was still scary to leave.”
“For where it is, all of us wanted to arrive with our vanities, with our insecurities because they would make you madder, they would give you the bona fides, they would give you the reach of television and those four letters behind your name. It sort of masked whatever it is you felt fraudulent. They knighted people.”
Le Batard has an appreciation for what working for ESPN did for someone like him, though he also recognized that there were shifting factors that made it hard to be outspoken working for a Disney-owned corporation in our current world.
“I was hired to be a fire-starter. I was hired to talk about some of the difficult stuff and the company changed and the country changed. What didn’t change is the reason I was hired and what didn’t change is that I was going to be my most authentic voice and self. We left amicably and I don’t have hard feelings toward ESPN. They helped make us bigger. It was a mutually beneficial relationship for as long as it was a mutually beneficial relationship.”
That said, he also put the company on blast for how they haven’t really fixed the issues that lurk behind the scenes, such as the one that played out in the summer between Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.
“With everything related to Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor and the public mess that that was…Maria Taylor was someone who was, behind the scenes, was doing the same kind of advocating that you were, and enduring the same kind of frustrations that you felt and was trying to find her voice and trying to be heard and feeling like she was landing short of where she wanted to, and eventually leaves that company because of it.”
“What Rachel Nichols was complaining about on that private audio, which represented a sentiment that you shouldn’t say in public, but she didn’t say in public, and a sentiment with any ambition can understand the humanity in it. If you’re seeing, well, we’re only allowed one space for a woman and now we got to choose, because there can’t be multiple spaces between Maria and Rachel and then you get into real estate and ego and protection of turf and all of that stuff.”
“What can’t be ignored because it’s too obvious and if you care about these things, it’s something you can’t unsee. Maria Taylor is no longer at ESPN. Rachel Nichols soon will no longer be at ESPN. But what Rachel Nichols was complaining about in the thing that [was] ‘gotcha’d’ here, that is still at ESPN. She was complaining, ‘your crappy record on diversity is not going to be something that you fix on my watch.'”
“They want Black faces, they do not want Black voices,” added Champion. “That’s clear because it’s too uncomfortable.”
As for how Le Batard spends his days now, hosting the Le Batard and Friends podcast, he says it offers him the chance to have the best of both worlds.
“I loved just showing up talking to a microphone and seeing that direct deposit. I was always fooling around. I was somebody doing a show with my father. I was doing stuff that was silly and didn’t have any of these real responsibilities making sure our employees have healthcare and talking to accountants and attorneys…I don’t want to do the stuff that’s conquering and ambitious, I just want to do gigglesnorts with my friends, and I did that for a long time at ESPN.”