Writing at National Review, Jim Geraghty makes note of three institutions of long standing and reputation that have crashed and burned at the hands of progressives and their politics. Included on the list -- ESPN. Once a "world wide leader in sports," the Disney-owned network is now drowning in leftist pieties:
Across the country, on ESPN’s campus in Bristol, Conn., the long winning streak of the “worldwide leader in sports” has come to a crashing end. After nearly three decades of ever-growing ratings, new channels, Web dominance, and viewer enthusiasm, the Disney-owned institution made a series of high-profile layoffs, from longtime correspondents to ex-player color commentators to a slew of SportsCenter anchors. Undoubtedly, the biggest financial factors were the network’s expensive purchases of broadcasting rights and consumers’ “cutting the cord” from traditional cable packages. But more than a few viewers pointed to the network’s relentless coverage of Michael Sam (an openly gay football player) and Colin Kaepernick (who famously knelt during the national anthem in protest), the prestigious award it gave to Caitlyn Jenner, and its firing of baseball analyst Curt Schilling over an offensive social-media post as evidence that the Disney-owned company had become increasingly overt in progressive political messaging, at the expense of its previous identity focused upon sports.
Sports-media analyst Clay Travis put it bluntly: “Middle America wants to pop a beer and listen to sports talk, they don’t want to be lectured about why Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, Michael Sam is the new Jackie Robinson of sports, and Colin Kaepernick is the Rosa Parks of football. ESPN made the mistake of trying to make liberal social media losers happy and as a result lost millions of viewers.”
Again, heavy-handed political messages are not ESPN’s lone problem; if the network had never dipped its toe into the realm of politics, broadcast rights would still be expensive and many consumers would still be cutting the cord. But annoying and alienating the demographic of conservative-leaning sports fans exacerbated their woes.
Americans still love sports. They resent having their games shrouded in politics. ESPN appears not to care.
In this era of intense political and ideological divisions, it is right and fair to ask what the true purpose of any of these institutions is. Do we want a university to prepare young people for the work force, to broaden their knowledge and impart some wisdom, or to ensure they are properly “awakened” to the need to enact the progressive agenda? How much does the viewing audience want the shouting voices around the table on a sports network to resemble those on a cable-news network? And while every storyteller wants to make some statement about people and the world, can you make a political message fun, exciting, intriguing, or surprising in a world of superheroes? Isn’t one of the core rules of drama that good heroes should have flaws to overcome, and villains can be charming or seductive, an approach that doesn’t lend itself easily to simple “this political philosophy is right” stories?
And shouldn’t progressives ask themselves why they’re so determined to use university campuses, cable sports networks, and comic books as the venues for their arguments?
Because, as Geraghty notes, creating their own outlets is both difficult and risky. Better to co-opt an existing institution with a pedigree and fan base and transform it into an arm of the cultural revolution.
They should not be surprised when their customers decide their time and money is better spent elsewhere. But somehow, they still are.