Say what? A New York Times-owned sports blog told its staff to can the politics and stick to sports. It is absolutely true. Mediaite reports that The Athletic staffers are not taking the surprising edict well either.
Mediaite’s Jackson Richman wrote, “Sports news website The Athletic reportedly gave its staff a message last week when it comes to expressing political views: Shut up and stick to sports.”
This is about as surprising as a blizzard in Death Valley. In January, The New York Times purchased The Athletic for $550 million. The site has been losing money hand over first, and management read the tea lives about sports writers veering out of their lane and into politics.
The Athletic was founded in 2016 and expanded rapidly, claiming it was dominating the industry and setting the standard for sports reporting. It’s clearly been struggling recently.
According to Front Office Sports, the Times’ investment hasn’t paid off so far. The Athletic lost $6.8 million in the first two months of this year.
A blogger for the site Defector, Laura Wagner, got the scoop on The Athletic’s crackdown on politics. She reported that The Athletic’s chief content officer, Paul Fichtenbaum, announced the edict. He said:
“We don’t want to stop people from having a voice and raising their voice for appropriate issues. But there comes a point where something that is a straightforward, ‘Hey, I’m concerned about guns in America,’ for instance, right, that’s an apolitical statement. It becomes political when you say, ‘I’m concerned about guns in America and this political party is the reason why we’re having an issue,’ right? That’s when it tips over. So again, we don’t want to stop people from having a voice and expressing themselves. We just need to keep it from tipping over into the political space.”
An anonymous staffer at the Athletic blasted the change, calling it nonsense and telling Wagner:
“What about Black Lives Matter? Is that a social cause? Who will write about athlete protests? What about trans athletes in sports? Where this policy gets you is that the people who care the most about a particular issue, the people who are most informed about a particular issue, are now the ones who are banned from covering the issue.”
No, they can write about these topics for news or commentary sources willing to give them a forum for their political opinions. The market for sports news gave The Athletic a big thumbs-down on politicizing its product, and, unbelievably, management got the message and decided to make a change.
Wagner says multiple staffers expressed negative opinions on the change to her. They claim management is making it harder for them to do their jobs. She unleashed an anti-GOP diatribe in her story, accusing reactionary Republicans of “constantly looking for new ways to expand their vicious attacks on the basic humanity of black people, transgender people, and women.” And now The Athletic can’t address these topics.
Staffers further told Wagner there have been four affinity groups at The Athletic—queer, black, female and mental health—who held quarterly meetings with management. These meetings have now ended.
Summing up, all indications are that The Athletic has been a haven for identity politics masquerading as a sports blog. It’s great to see management trying to re-direct the mission back to sports. More sports media need to follow its lead.