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Liberal politics were front and center at ESPN on July 4 when it published an article bashing America in the most recent example of what critics believe is a woke agenda infiltrating the sports network.
Many Americans rely on sports to unwind and escape from the polarized world that exists in their day-to-day lives, but ESPN has been accused of injecting its content with liberal politics for years. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro landed the top job at the Disney-owned network shortly after his far-left predecessor, John Skipper, shocked the media industry by suddenly resigning in late 2017 when a drug dealer attempted to extort him.
The Skipper era saw ESPN take a dramatic turn to the left, and the network was accused of spending too much time glorifying Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests and spouting far-left talking points. Liberal voices were rewarded with high-profile gigs, while conservative personalities such as Curt Schilling were shown the door. (Schilling was fired in 2016 after sharing a Facebook post regarding the North Carolina law that banned transgender people from using specific bathrooms.)
Pitaro initially encouraged ESPN talent to pivot away from the political rhetoric that plagued the network during Skipper’s tenure, but a variety of racial and political topics have taken center stage and sports fans continue to be inundated with political messages.
The murder of George Floyd was covered at length by the sports network, conservative Major League Baseball players have been criticized for religious views, and ESPN even had a moment of silence to protest Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by Democrats who falsely claim it bans any discussion pertaining to being gay in the state’s schools.
Things were no different when ESPN shocked readers on Monday by celebrating Independence Day with a column headlined, “Baseball, barbecue and losing freedom this Fourth of July.” ESPN senior writer Howard Bryant wrote a lengthy piece bashing America for a variety of things, including “20 years of military tributes and unquestioned nationalism” that have emerged since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Duncan wrote that America is currently “tearing itself completely apart” because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and declared the American flag has been “co-opted by White nationalism groups.” The ESPN columnist also touched on the Jan. 6 hearings, referred to women as “the people who can become pregnant” and praised Kaepernick throughout the column that Outkick founder Clay Travis called “a perfect distillation of everything wrong with sports in America.”
Here are some of the other most-woke moments from ESPN in recent memory:
Sarah Spain calls Rays players ‘bigots’ for not wearing gay pride patch
Five Tampa Bay Rays players declined to wear an LGBTQ+ logo on their uniforms last month because of religious beliefs, and ESPN’s Sarah Spain labeled them “bigots” over the decision.
When appearing on “Around the Horn,” Spain scolded relief pitchers Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson for not wearing the rainbow logos on their caps and sleeves.
“That religious exemption BS, which is used in sports and otherwise also allows for people to be denied health care, jobs, apartments, children, prescriptions, all sorts of rights… we have to stop tiptoeing around it because we’re trying to protect people who are trying to be bigoted from asking for them to be exempt from it, when the very people that they are bigoted against are suffering the consequences,” Spain said.
On-air tears after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade
ESPN host Malika Andrews became emotional on-air last month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively ending recognition of a constitutional right to abortion and giving individual states the power to allow, limit or ban the practice. The decision came on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, landmark legislation that prohibited sex-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.
“Today, the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld for nearly a half-century, no longer exists. In less than 24 hours, we celebrated equal rights for women, and now we react to women’s reproductive rights being taken away,” Andrews told viewers as she appeared to fight back tears.
Andrews read a series of reactions from liberal sports personalities, including NBA star LeBron James, who sent a retweet of a message former President Obama shared.
ESPN’s Elle Duncan urges fathers to advocate for their daughters’ right to have abortions
ESPN host Elle Duncan recorded a segment earlier this month that she asked producers not to put on television, and instead post only online, because she didn’t want “bad-faith characters” to attack the network for her thoughts. She then urged fathers to speak up so their daughters can have abortions.
In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Duncan criticized fathers who use the hashtag #GirlDad to promote innocent things such as photos on social media but don’t speak up when women are stripped of “constitutional rights.”
“I want the dads watching to ask themselves a really honest question right now, and I mean that. How does the sentiment of being a #GirlDad evolve beyond superficial social media posts into actual advocacy? Are you carrying that same pride for your daughters into boardrooms, locker rooms, courtrooms? Are you doing everything in your power to protect their rights? Do you trust them to make difficult decisions for themselves and their bodies? Should they be given full agency over their own lives? Can you confidently state to the women in your lives that you’ve used your power and privilege as men to for their betterment? That you’ve done all you can to ensure, at the very least, they’ll have the same rights afforded to decades of women before them?” Duncan asked. “I’m going to keep speaking up, even when it is uncomfortable.”
Moment of silence to protest Florida’s parental rights bill
ESPN broadcasters Carolyn Peck and Courtney Lyle went silent during a Women’s NCAA Women’s basketball broadcast in March to protest Florida’s parental rights bill that progressives claimed is anti-LGBTQ.
“Normally at this time we would take a look back at the first half, but there are things that are bigger than basketball that need to be addressed at this time. Our friends, our family, our co-workers, the players and coaches in our community are hurting right now,” Lyle told viewers during halftime of a game between South Carolina and Richmond.
“Our LBGTQIA+ teammates at Disney asked for our solidarity and support, including our company’s support, in opposite to the parental rights education bill in the state of Florida, and similar legislation across the United States,” Lyle continued.
“The threat to any rights is a threat to all human rights, and at this time, Courtney and I are going to take a pause from our broadcast to show our love and support for our friends, our families and our colleagues,” Peck said.
Lyle and Peck then went silent for roughly two minutes, even as play continued.
Duncan spoke out about the bill that created a feud between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and ESPN’s parent company, Disney, too, and also held a moment of silence.
“Many of our colleagues here at ESPN have planned and organized a walkout that will be happening at 3 p.m. ET today and to be honest with you, we thought we were going to come in here today and really celebrate a sport that has meant so much and done so much, including for so many in the LBGTQIA+ communities, but we understand the gravity of this legislation and also how it is effecting so many families across this country. And because of that, our allyship is going to take a front seat and with that, we are going to pause in solidarity,” Duncan said before a similar moment of silence during the network’s women’s college basketball studio show.
J.A. Adande downplays genocide in China, bashes America in process
ESPN regular J.A. Adande, a professor at the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, compared ongoing human rights abuses committed by China to election reform efforts in the U.S. when speaking of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The controversial Olympics famously kicked off as the Chinese Communist Party committed genocide against the Uyghur Muslims, but Adande didn’t seem to mind when asked during an appearance on “Around the Horn” if he could enjoy the Games despite the human rights abuses.
“Who are we to criticize China’s human rights records when we have ongoing attacks by the agents of the state against unarmed citizens, and we’ve got assaults on the voting rights of our people of color in various states in this country. So sports – I think it is possible and it’s necessary more than ever to just shut everything out if you are to enjoy the actual games themselves,” Adande said.
Host Tony Reali didn’t appear fazed by the remark, telling Adande he appreciated everything he said.
“It’s very hard to find a country that isn’t problematic when it comes to human rights, including here,” Adande added.
ESPN files motion to dismiss Sage Steele’s free speech lawsuit
“SportsCenter” host Sage Steele is suing ESPN for allegedly violating her free speech rights, but the Disney-owned network filed a motion to dismiss her claims last month.
She claims ESPN breached her contract over its reaction to remarks she made in September 2021 podcast interview, where she spoke out against parent company Disney’s vaccine mandate and swiped former President Barack Obama for identifying as Black and not biracial.
She accused ESPN of selective enforcement of its policy that bars news employees from commenting on politics and social issues. The motion to dismiss has not been decided.
Adrian Wojnarowski’s profane response to criticism of NBA’s China directive
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., revealed in 2020 that ESPN’s top NBA reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski sent him a profane message in response to criticism of the league’s relationship with China.
Hawley’s office sent a press release detailing a letter he planned to send NBA commissioner Adam Silver, criticizing the league’s decision to limit messages players can wear on their uniforms to “pre-approved, social justice slogans” while “censoring support” for law enforcement and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hawley wrote in the letter to Silver that the league’s “free expression appears to stop at the edge of your corporate sponsors’ sensibilities.”
Wojnarowski, who is arguably ESPN’s most prominent reporter and breaks so much NBA news on Twitter that his messages have been dubbed “Woj Bombs,” apparently didn’t appreciate Hawley’s message.
“F— you,” Wojnarowski responded, according to Hawley, who shared an image of the email on Twitter.
The ESPN reporter did not censor his message, spelling out the four-letter word. Wojnarowski eventually apologized for his “regrettable mistake.”
Wojnarowski remains one of ESPN’s biggest stars.
ESPN revives debunked narrative Bubba Wallace found a ‘noose’ in NASCAR garage
ESPN was accused of spreading “misinformation” last year after sharing a clip from a TV special about NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, who made national headlines in June 2020 after he asserted that someone hung a noose in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway in the wake of the unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
Days later, an investigation from the FBI concluded that the rope attached to his garage door had been there since at least October 2019 and that “nobody could have known” that Wallace, who is Black, would be assigned that specific garage to hang a noose.
However, ESPN shared a clip from “Fistful of Steel” in a 2021 tweet that fueled the already debunked narrative.
“Last year, a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s stall at Talladega Superspeedway. The next day, the NASCAR community stood with him in unity,” ESPN tweeted.
“I was like, ‘Holy s—, it’s the whole garage.’ … That’s when I lost it,” the tweet read quoting Wallace from an interview.
The dramatic clip, which was dominated with melodramatic music, also included interviews from NASCAR All-Star Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR President Steve Phelps and Wallace’s mother, Desiree Wallace, marveling at the unity that occurred within the sport after the noose claim drew national attention.
The clip shared on Twitter made no mention that Wallace’s claim was debunked.
Then-ESPN pundit Jemele Hill calls Trump a ‘White supremacist’
Jemele Hill famously called President Trump a “White supremacist” on Twitter in 2017, putting a spotlight on what many critics believe was an ongoing liberal bias at ESPN during the Skipper era. ESPN hasn’t exactly shed the reputation over the last five years but the Hill ordeal remains one of the most prominent examples of the sports network’s hosts and reporters showing their liberal views.
At the time, Hill was one of ESPN’s biggest stars and hosted its flagship “SportsCenter.” She also called Trump a “bigot” and “unqualified and unfit to be president.” Her comments caught the attention of the White House and press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said she considered the rhetoric a “fireable offense.” Trump even got involved, mocking Hill and ESPN’s lackluster ratings.
ESPN initially declined to punish Hill for the anti-Trump tweet. The network later sidelined her for two weeks after she violated the company’s social media guidelines again by calling on Dallas Cowboys fans to boycott the team because owner Jerry Jones told players they would be benched if they did not stand up during the national anthem.
Hill was eventually reassigned from “SportsCenter” to a role at The Undefeated, the company’s site that covers the intersections of sports and race. It is now called Andscape.
She left ESPN in 2018 and has repeatedly said she doesn’t regret calling Trump a “White supremacist.”
“I thought I was saying water is wet,” Hill said after she left ESPN. “I didn’t even think it was controversial.”
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Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos and Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.