By Scott A. Rowan
Racism is alive and well in 2017 and the widespread reaction to Wednesday’s firing of an estimated 100 employees by ESPN has created a new way for racist feelings to be expressed. More importantly, ESPN’s movements reflect what is an obviously racist and sexist approach to the network’s plan on dealing with cord-cutters who don’t watch shows on television but on mobile devices.
“I don’t watch ESPN anymore,” has become the 2017 version of the “not in my backyard” mentality of some caucasian sports fans.
But there’s an even dark racist intent behind last week’s firings:
“If you promote a soldier to four-star general minutes before he gets executed, was the soldier really a general?” One television insider explained. “No, of course not! It was a hollow gesture, a fake act. Likewise, everyone in the sports world seems to be focused on so many white people getting fired. I would say to you this: the real story is that for the first time minorities – women, black journalists, brown journalists, people who previously were uncommon to be seen on sports shows – are being allowed to run shows that will likely not exist very soon. So I ask you: what good is being named the captain of a ship if it’s the Titanic?”
I began working in professional sports media in 1995. Along the way, I covered everything from middle school soccer games to the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. At each step along the way – from high school games to collegiate competition to professional action – some code phrases were widely used to convey hidden racist intent. Often the comment was an add-on, an extra, editorial opinion that didn’t matter to the topic at hand, which was often how good or bad a specific athlete was.
The most frequent racist comment was the “good student” (caucasian) versus “natural athlete” (black or non-white) comments that permeated high school sports. Here’s a typical exchange:
“That point guard sure is quick, and he’s got a nice touch,” one spectator would say.
“Sure, but he’s a natural athlete,” the friend would reply. “Not a good student like the boys on our team.”
We’re painting with a very broad brush when talking about race, but the exchange above was so consistent, so common, so everyday that it has likely happened to most sports fans at some point. Those fans may not have even been aware of the subtle racist discussion being held.
“Good student” = a white high schooler who is often described as a “grinder” or a “plugger” who is “willing to put in the hours” and will “work” on his or her game.
“Natural athlete” = a non-white athlete, who is almost always black. The idea is that as an African American, this black athlete doesn’t have to “work” on his or her skill, which just exists without the athlete “willing to put in the hours” or to be “grinder” or a “plugger” and, instead, drift on the wave of talent that they have.
“I don’t watch ESPN anymore,” is the new version of this racist take on sports, a comment I’ve heard many times from neighbors on Chicago’s South Side in the past couple days. In the Donald Trump era where “Make America Great Again” felt very much like code for “Make America White Again” it should be no surprise that overt racism is expressed in public.
However, in the digital age, where children see more human carnage in one video than their grandparents saw the first 50 years of their life, people don’t take the time to explain themselves. There’s another tweet to fire off, another news feed to check for stories that are not news and more people to follow on social media so that they will follow you.
I’ve gone through the lists online and compiled the best list I could of specific names of ESPN people who were fired this week. Though all reports claim the list is around 100 people, the list below is of the 54 people that I found cited by reputable sources (The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, and Variety were used to compile this list) who were on-air talent. (It’s important to remember that not everyone fired was famous, some were unseen producers, editors, and other colleagues who did the real work behind the scenes.) Of the 54 individuals no longer with ESPN, 45 of them are caucasian, seven of are African American, and two have Hispanic heritage. (see list below)
Since 2011, ESPN has lost 12 million subscribers, including 621,000 people who unsubscribed in one month in the fall of 2016, according to Bloomberg News. Even worse, ESPN has had a 12 percent decline in overall viewership since 2015. The overall negative impact of ESPN led to a 7 percent dip in the stock of Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the sports network.
To offset this downward trend, ESPN’s apparent strategy is to target audiences of color, creating shows that appeal to specific minority markets.
“Look at what they’ve done in the past year alone and you can see exactly what they’re doing,” said on Chicago-based television insider who asked to remain anonymous because of the volatility of racial conversations. “Both the morning and evening SportsCenter shows are hosted by black individuals now. Stephen A. Smith has always been a controversial character because of his animated talking style and now he’s been given a show in a high-value time slot following the morning SportsCenter. They gave Stephen a white guy as a partner in Max Kellerman, but to offset the white addition they added a Middle Eastern influence in the show’s alleged host Molly Qerim.”
“If you watch the show that Molly is on [First Take] it’s a joke, she does nothing as a host, she’s merely eye candy for the viewer,” he said. “She’s as clueless about the topics as the worst hires ESPN has ever made, like Erin Andrews, who may be the worst sports reporter in history. Both Erin and Molly are beautiful which is why they were hired. But just ask them any question about any sports topic without them being able to read a ready-made answer from a teleprompter and you’ll discover quickly that when it comes to sports knowledge both Molly and Erin are a dollar-menu burger, not a steak.”
Doesn’t that make ESPN as sexist as they are racist?
“Of course it does!” The executive said, throwing his hands in the air. “Why shouldn’t they be sexist? Sex sells! Of course they’re going to be sexist and racist and anything else that will get eyeballs to watch their content.
“The name of the game is expanding your reach. When ratings are tanking, you have to reevaluate what you’ve done that’s bad. ESPN took some big hits in 2016 and to counter that downward trend they’re reaching out to new audiences: black audiences, brown audiences, females, and anyone who basically isn’t a white male. It’s not that ESPN doesn’t care about the white males, it’s just that they’ll keep watching anyway. So to expand their audience ESPN needs to purposefully guide their ship into the direction of new audiences. And, yes, by “new” I mean creating content specifically to be enjoyed by audiences who aren’t white and aren’t male.
“Obviously these populations aren’t new, they’ve always been there. But let’s be honest, highlight shows hosted by white males were created to be consumed by white males. Those days are over. ESPN is simply reacting to the moving audiences.”
“There’s just no future in it,” Keith Olbermann recently said about SportsCenter.
Yes, that’s the same Olbermann who became nationally famous as co-host of the network’s flagship show with Dan Patrick.
That negative opinion is shared by ESPN executives, apparently, because ESPN has invested $1 billion in a broadcasting future beyond television.
Realizing that cord-cutting individuals who want to watch their content wherever they want – in bed, on a bus, at your in-law’s house so you can avoid them – cannot access SportsCenter via traditional cable feeds, ESPN became a partner with BAMTech, a streaming company, according to MarketWatch. ESPN has invested $1 billion to become a 33 percent partner with BAMTech and by the end of 2017 ESPN is expected to unveil a new direct-to-consumer service.
Which helps explain one financial reason ESPN fired so many people this week in addition to shutting down the ESPNU studio in Charlotte, North Carolina (and moving the production to the network’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut). Even to a behemoth like ESPN, $1 billion is a major investment.
The real name of the game is getting people to watch the games that ESPN has paid billions for the right to televise and the new direct-to-consumer service ESPN will launch in the next year will likely accomplish that in a user-friendly manner. Which will likely mean the end of SportsCenter as it existed in its traditional form: a show filled with highlights and breaking news about sports. With the highlights and news already available in a variety of ways, SportsCenter will become just another show featuring comments about people and topics in sports.
Here is a breakdown of the 54 on-camera ESPN individuals who were fired. The two Hispanic individuals are in italics by their name and the African American journalists are in bold. The number of individuals in each category is in the parenthesis.
“SportsCenter” anchor Jay Crawford
ESPNU anchor Brendan Fitzgerald
“SportsCenter” anchor Chris Hassel
“SportsCenter” anchor Darren Haynes
Columnist Johnette Howard
Columnist Melissa Isaacson
Radio host Danny Kanell
Reporter Andy Katz
Radio host Robin Lundberg
“Sports Center” anchor Jade McCarthy
Reporter Britt McHenry
Columnist Jane McManus
“SportsCenter” anchor Jaymee Sire
Correspondent Reese Waters
MLB analyst Jim Bowden
MLB analyst Dallas Braden
MLB analyst Raul Ibanez
Dodgers reporter Doug Padilla
MLB writer Jayson Stark
Baseball reporter Mark Saxon
MLB analyst Doug Glanville
New Orleans Pelicans reporter Justin Verrier
Houston Rockets’ reporter Calvin Watkins
NBA reporter Ethan Sherwood Strauss
NFL analyst Trent Dilfer
NFL analyst Ashley Fox
NFL reporter Ed Werder
NHL columnist Scott Burnside
NHL columnist Pierre LeBrun
Hockey writer Joe McDonald
Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett
College basketball writer Eamonn Brennan
College basketball reporter C.L. Brown
SEC football reporter David Ching
College football recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree
College basketball analyst Len Elmore
College sports reporter Chantel Jennings
College football reporter Brett McMurphy
Pac 12 reporter Ted Miller
Big 12 reporter Max Olson
College basketball reporter Dana O’Neil
SEC Reporter Greg Ostendorf
Predictive analytics expert Rufus Peabody
Big Ten football reporter Jesse Temple
SEC recruiting analyst Derek Tyson
Big Ten football reporter Austin Ward
Boxing host Marysol Castro
Legal analyst Roger Cossack
Enterprise reporter Tom Farrey
Soccer writer Mike Goodman
Golf commentator Dottie Pepper
Auto racing commentator Dr. Jerry Lee Punch
Sports gambling writer Dave Tuley
ESPN Dallas columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor
#ESPN #baseball #basketball #football #SOH