Another test of ESPN's shaky "no-politics" rule is underway, as First Take's Stephen A. Smith (in photo) today announced he's invited Colin Kaepernick to come onto the show as a guest. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro is trying to force the network to stick to sports, but was directly challenged by Dan Le Batard earlier this year and now by Smith trying to lure Kaepernick onto the First Take set. Smith said he has approval from his "bosses," but it wasn't stated if Pitaro is on board with this.
Such an appearance by the notorious ex-football player and anthem kneeler would undoubtedly provide a huge viewership spike as curious supporters and detractors alike would tune in. Would Pitaro and ESPN sell out and opt for viewers, or will they stick to their so-called principles and put a lid on a program that is sure to be politically charged and highly controversial?
It may never happen though. Since Kaepernick last played in the NFL three years ago, he has disdained doing interviews, preferring to criticize America and police officers on his Twitter account.
Smith said today he's gotten clearance from ESPN to devote an entire program to Kaepernick, his girlfriend Nessa Diab, and his former teammate and fellow anthem protester Eric Reed. It's unknown if Pitaro was involved in that decision.
The First Take panel of fawning Kaepernick defenders cheered the invitation.
"I think that it would be fascinating to hear from Kap," said Smith's co-host Ros Gold-Onwude.
Max Kellerman strongly defended Kaepernick by saying he "has broken no law of the land, nor has he broken a single rule of the NFL. When last seen on a football field he was clearly one of the best 64 quarterbacks in the world. The fact that he does not have a job in the NFL is an outrage. And I second that. We would love to have him on the show."
Kaepernick, whom we learned recently is drawing inspiration from the Black Panther movement, is vigorously working out in hopes that some NFL team will hire him to play quarterback. Gold-Onwude said his media blackout can sometimes "be powerful and sometimes confusing."
Earlier this year, Le Batard said on-air that President Donald Trump has instigated a racial divide, and ESPN doesn't have the stomach to confront politics unless it's through a "weak, cowardly sports angle." Those remarks drew a personal rebuke from Pitaro and a public reminder that ESPN is not a political organization.
But let's get real. The events on First Take portray ESPN as wishy-washy and disingenuous in its claims of sticking to sports.
The Kaepernick invitation arose because, Diab confronted Smith about his past claims that the ex-49ers' quarterback had received four opportunities to play in the NFL since becoming a free agent in 2017. Smith then extended the invitation to allow Kaepernick to "clear the record."
"I've gotten the okay from the bosses," said Smith, who claimed he has "no agenda" when it comes to Kaepernick. "They could come up in here for the entire two hours" of the First Take program.
The Kaepernick invitation for an ESPN platform is available "Anytime they want. Just give me a heads-up and let me know and we will make it happen," Smith said.
ESPN is the second media outlet this week to seek television space for Kaepernick. On Tuesday, New York Daily News sports writer Bob Raissman wrote a story recommending a television network hire Kaepernick to "breathe life" into NFL pregame shows.