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Sports

ESPN President: ‘Our Fans Do Not Want Us to Cover Politics’

Jimmy Pitaro, former president of Disney Interactive, poses at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Calif., June 11, 2014. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

Does it seem you hear a little bit less about political controversies in the sports world than you did a year or two ago? Do you find yourself grumbling at your television, “I just want to enjoy watching the game” less frequently?

Today’s Los Angeles Times profiles ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, who took over running the network in March 2018. Deep in the article:

Pitaro has also satisfied ESPN’s more traditional fans by steering commentators away from political discussions on-air and on social media, which heightened during President Trump’s criticism of NFL player protests against social injustice during the playing of the national anthem.

“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”

This does not mean that political controversies are gone completely, or will never return to the sports world. Some members of championship teams choose to not attend ceremonies at the White House. The political comments or Tweets of collegiate or pro athletes will continue to generate controversy for content-hungry sports media. But some of the most politically-active sports commentators have moved on to other things.

Jemele Hill has moved from anchoring the 6 p.m. SportsCenter to writing for The Atlantic. Bob Costas departed NBC Sports after 40 years. And Keith Olbermann is not the media force he once was; he’s now grumbling that MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Steve Kornacki haven’t shown enough gratitude towards him.

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