I am a rabid sports fan. I play hockey and love hockey, I love the NFL, I love college football, and even though my Pittsburgh Pirates are perennially terrible – I still love baseball. My brother and I can and will spend hours on the phone bemoaning the state of the Steelers and playing armchair General Manager.
Almost all day in my house, sports radio is on in whatever room in the house that I am in. My basement is filled with sports memorabilia and my closets are loaded with sports jerseys, sweatshirts, and t-shirts.
Some of the most amazing and ridiculous fights in my family growing up were over sports – my mom once locked herself in her car and refused to come out until we agreed to stop fighting over sports.
When ESPN burst on the scene in 1979 it was a revelation. Suddenly a network that spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week showing sports, talking sports, and covering sports.
I was a massive consumer of ESPN.
Democrat Nancy Pelosi tells U.S. athletes to cower to the Chinese Communist Party and not “speak out” against their human rights abuses. pic.twitter.com/EqyK9K2yFL
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) February 3, 2022
This morning I watched about 30 minutes of ESPN for the first time in years. It was a mistake. In the same way that MTV stopped being about music, ESPN has stopped being about sports.
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For 30 minutes I was treated to one of the most poisonous and toxic discussions of race I have ever heard. One host, the woke white host, opined that the reason there is only one black head coach in the NFL was because now that there were black QBs, racist owners couldn’t allow TV cameras to see both a black QB and a black head coach.
Unsurprisingly this woke idiot didn’t provide one iota of proof for his racist TV camera theory. Not to be outdone, former NFL wide receiver turned ESPN talking head Keyshawn Johnson – who was once arrested for beating up his ex-girlfriend – told the world that it was the responsibility of white NFL players to step up and do something.
By the time the third host said, “my position on this is a little more radical,” I had had enough and turned off the damn TV.
There was a time that sports was an amazing diversion from politics. A break from the divisive culture wars. There was a time – not that long ago – that what mattered on Sunday was whether you bled black and gold, not your position on the politically charged social issue du jour.
Sadly, wokeness hasn’t simply destroyed ESPN, its destroying America’s sports culture in general.
What started with Colin Kaepernick has been a complete and total politicization of sports and sports culture. Every professional franchise in every sport bends over backwards to please woke America and amazingly – does so almost always at the expense of its own die hard fan base.
Not everything has to be political, not everything has to be a front in the culture wars, and indeed some parts of our culture should provide an opportunity for Americans to put politics aside.
Brian Flores is not messing around. The ex-NFL coach filed a class-action lawsuit against the league and its 32 franchises citing racial discrimination.
— NPR (@NPR) February 4, 2022
I am not saying that sports news outlets should simply ignore cultural or political issues. Covering the Flores lawsuit claiming racism is certainly fair game – it’s a story impacting the NFL. But the coverage of the lawsuit shouldn’t sound more like an episode of Joy Reid’s show than it does a show covering sports.
Professional sports leagues and professional sports franchises should err on the side of avoiding needlessly dividing their own fan base. They should focus more on putting a quality product on the field or on the court or on the ice than they do on “social justice.”
In a nation that seems hopelessly mired in division, when it seems that half the country believes the other half lives in an alternate dimension, when we have 24-hour cable news networks doing everything they can to make politics as personal and as divisive as possible – it would be nice to have one refuge from the storm.