One bad month of subscriber losses might have been considered a fluke, but two bad months in a row has to be setting off alarms at ESPN and parent company Disney. The once seemingly invincible sports juggernaut, which has exponentially increased its political posturing in the past several years, lost 621,000 subscribers a month ago, and shed another 555,000 during November (i.e., heading into December), according to Nielsen's December 2016 Cable Coverage Estimates ("monthly" reports are apparently issued on the closest Monday to the first of the month on four-week, four-week, five-week rotation).
ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady on Election Eve surveyed complaints that the sports network had gone overboard with liberal pieties, frustrating long-time watchers by injecting politics onto the playing field. He agreed with conservative complaints that ESPN had shifted leftward, though the company brass and at least one outspoken lefty personality didn’t see a problem: "One notion that virtually everyone I spoke to at ESPN dismisses is what some have perceived as unequal treatment of conservatives who make controversial statements vs. liberals who do the same."
The politicization of ESPN the Magazine is complete, as the October 31 NBA Preview issue features a cover story interview of NBA star Carmelo Anthony by sportswriter turned Black Lives Matter! cheerleader Howard Bryant, “The truth according to Carmelo Anthony.” The cover shot featured Anthony in radical chic mode, sporting a black beret and unleashing a font of ‘60s-tinged cliches about the Baltimore riots and Colin Kaepernick.
One of the great mysteries surrounding the controversy over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit (or kneel) through the National Anthem at the beginning of his team's games (while wearing socks during practices depicting police as pigs) has been the National Football League's nonchalant response.
Perhaps the league thought that the matter would blow over in a week or two if it indulged Kaepernick, which it certainly did with its "it's his right" response, accompanied by no visible reminder that his actions and the actions of other players have the potential to damage the league's standing, reputation and popularity. The league also must have thought that Kaepernick's protest wouldn't be imitated by other players. This was a major miscalculation, and it's showing signs of hurting the league where it really counts — in the pocketbook.
As the NFL season starts this week, Colin Kaepernick has the right to kneel or sit or do a headstand during the national anthem. What’s more, he can do it for any reason he likes. If he wants to go to the barricades over the oppression he suffers pulling $19 million a year to ride the bench and fill his mansion with his shoe collection, well, fight the power, comrade!
ESPN Magazine’s Howard Bryant: insightful on sports, but prone to suffocating liberal piety when he starts talking politics. As a special treat for fans, ESPN posted online Bryant’s “The Truth” column for the upcoming September 19 NFL Preview II Issue: “Response to protest shows the power of the sports machine.” That would be the protest of infamous San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whom Bryant predictably hailed as a hero for failing to stand for the National Anthem at a preseason game last week, citing United States “oppression” while collecting a $19 million annual salary in that same oppressive country. Bryant portrayed the quarterback, whom many criticize as hypocritical and ungrateful as well as anti-police (his workout socks featured pigs in cop hats), as “awakening” into brave dissent despite the pile-on of intimidation by the "predominantly white media."
Showing the continuing conflation of big-time sports journalism and liberal activism, Howard Bryant's “Ali Everlasting” tribute for ESPN Magazine used the boxing legend as a tool to condemn American racism and inequality Meanwhile at Sports Illustrated, lefty journalist Charles Pierce bashed the former Cuban embargo for "shredding" the Cuban economy:
Like almost everyone who has the sense God gave geese, Deadspin founder Leitch thinks O.J. Simpson is an unconvicted murderer. Unlike most of those people, Leitch also thinks Simpson’s acquittal “may have been one of the biggest civil-rights victories” of the 1990s. In a New York magazine review of the seven-hour, 43-minute documentary O.J.: Made in America, which airs in five parts next month on ABC and ESPN, Leitch remarked, “The verdict was just cause for all that national celebration from African-Americans, even if [Simpson] was guilty. Shit, especially if he was.”
To Leitch, the acquittal amounted to partial recompense for the black community of Los Angeles, given “the city’s [history of] scabrous racial politics, from the southern blacks who came to Los Angeles expecting acceptance and discovering something far different, to the Watts riots…to former LAPD chief Daryl Gates’s horrific racial attitudes…It all exploded with the Rodney King riots, which were less about King and more about the seeming impossibility that a black man could ever win anything in a court of law in the city of Los Angeles.”
ESPN Magazine comes with a bonus dose of dubious liberal piety from “The Truth” columnist Howard Bryant, the mag’s moral authority/scold on social issues, especially what he sees as systemic American racism. His latest column is on a familiar topic: the scourge of “authoritarian” patriotism and militarism infecting the ballpark. The subhead: “Why don’t more athletes speak out on behalf of their communities? Perhaps more of them would if there wasn’t a chilling force looming over them.” A chilling force preventing multi-millionaires from speaking their minds?
The WNBA marks its 20th anniversary this year, and ESPN’s May 23 issue was devoted to wondering why people weren’t watching the games (that the network just happens to air). Magazine columnist (and social justice keyboard warrior) Howard Bryant blamed sexism and racism for the game’s failure to achieve popularity, even roping in the civil rights movement and the history of American inequality: "Six-foot-10 John Isner serves 143 mph. Five-foot-9 Serena does not and never will, which is proof of nothing, another false equivalent in a country built on inequalities."
ESPN, not content to cover sports, wants in on the burgeoning social-justice market as well. In “Waiting for LeBron," an ESPN magazine essay, Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow pondered why Cleveland Cavaliers basketball legend LeBron James backed off his brief anti-gun activism. Saslow’s histrionic analysis of James “the athlete and the activist” makes it clear that LeBron has (somehow) let both a grieving father and his home city down, by only going halfway in fighting racism and police shootings and gun violence in general, while noting in a single sentence that James, who lives in a gated mansion surrounded by bodyguards, likes to fire guns himself.
On Thursday, both NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America reveled in ESPN firing baseball analyst Curt Schilling after the former all-star pitcher objected on social media to liberal demands that transgender people be allowed to use whichever bathroom they choose. At the top of Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie announced: “He's out. Former all-star pitcher Curt Schilling fired by ESPN after another controversial post to social media. What he said this time that could cost him his job.”