A year ago, ESPN's SportsCenter broadcasts were so far to the Left side of the political ledger that critics aptly dubbed it "Woke Center." Since then, the rebranded "SC6" and its co-hosts/social justice warriors Jemele Hill and Michael Smith have moved on, and new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro says he wants no politics on ESPN air. This was the prompt for Ben Strauss's Washington Post story, "ESPN Wants to Make 'SportsCenter' Great Again."
The goal of Norby Williamson, ESPN’s executive vice president of studio production, is to "return the show to its roots as a hub of news and highlights." And we are expected to believe that the man who will help make SportsCenter great again is ... Keith Olbermann? [see photograph above]
Isn't this the man whom GQ featured in "The Resistance" video series, an anti-Trump crusade? Didn't he used to spew hate for MSNBC, calling former President George W. Bush a "war criminal, murderer, and fascist"?
Olbermann is the author of the book "Trump is F*cking Crazy (This is Not a Joke)." And he's the last person ESPN should have turned to in hopes of regaining long-alienated viewers.
Not only does Williamson not see the irony of replacing Smith and Hill with Olbermann, but he says Keith is the all-time SportsCenter great! This is lost on Strauss, too:
"All told, ESPN looks more like it used to during its heyday — less debate, more news and highlights. Even the faces are familiar: Past stars like Olbermann and Chris Berman are on the air more often under Williamson’s watch."
Williamson says, "I like where we're at right now." SportsCenter ratings are up some, but then they were pretty low to begin with in the aftermath of the SC6 flop, so that isn't much of a consolation.
Strauss says the "new mission" at ESPN "has gotten a boost from the NFL season; Colin Kaepernick’s disappearance from the game is less a part of the news cycle, Trump’s feud with the NFL has receded, and high-scoring teams and young stars have dominated the conversation." In other words, ESPN is benefiting because it's not praising Kaepernick or criticizing Trump as much as it used to do.
But there is more evidence from Strauss's story that the lefties at ESPN haven't changed their liberal spots:
"There has been grumbling that Williamson wants 'to make ‘SportsCenter’ great again' — a nod to Trump’s campaign slogan — with critics noting his past reluctance to change and his years-ago resistance to Stuart Scott’s famous 'boo-yah!' call."
Also, this statement by SportsCenter hostess Sage Steele comparing ESPN with Dan Rather and CBS News won't help convince anyone that ESPN is not politically biased:
“I think we’ve recommitted to what people expect from us. Just as I would have watched the ‘CBS Evening News’ show with Dan Rather, I want my information. This is the same thing — just sports.”
Strauss says SportsCenter "is uniquely recognizable and plays an outsize role in how people think about ESPN." And, as Williamson once said in an ESPN commercial: "As ‘SportsCenter’ goes, so goes ESPN.” Can SportsCenter "recapture its cultural cachet"? Strauss asks. He looks to media analyst Rich Greenfield for an answer that says it all: “No one is walking around wearing ‘SportsCenter’ T-shirts anymore.”