ESPN Reportedly Set for More Layoffs
By Javis Ogden
ESPN, “The Worldwide Leader in Sports”, is reportedly getting ready to layoff more staff in the wake of declining ratings and subscriber-ship. Back in April of 2017, the sports media giant gave the pink slip to around 100 long-standing personalities that filled its ranks.
Among the on-air file of those casualties were the likes of Ed Werder, Danny Kanell, and Jayson Stark – guys whom you’d probably characterize as traditional sports guys.
The official word from ESPN as to why the layoffs took place was that it was attempting to adapt to the changing landscape of sports broadcasting in the wake of technology and the need for diversity.
ESPN President John Skipper commented, “Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent – anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play – necessary to meet those demands.” (FOXNews.com)
The unofficial word on the street was that ESPN had made an apparent strategic decision to embrace political and social commentary within the context of sports, and such a decision warranted releasing several members of its ranks whose modus operandi didn’t fit the new business model.
Many people in the news and on social media took ESPN to task for this decision, suggesting that the move to political sports programming had alienated a significant portion of their paying customer base, who in response opted to seek their sports elsewhere by canceling their ESPN packages and subscriptions. As a result, to offset the loss of significant revenue from paying customers with the incurred cost of huge league contracts from the NBA and NFL, ESPN had to let people go.
There is no doubt in my mind that while ESPN’s official statement may have played a role in the layoffs, it was primarily cutting its losses because people decided to leave ESPN behind for greener pastu
This is what happens when you claim to embrace diversity of thought, but in actuality you only embrace one school of thought. I’ve discussed before how dogmatism can stymie true progressiveness, and it looks like the chickens are continuing to come home to roost as ESPN is getting ready to issue more layoffs in the near future
Now, it’s looking like as early as late November or early December, an additional 40 to 60 people may be let go from ESPN, according to the latest report from FOXNews.com.
What cannot be ignored is the fact that ESPN has undergone a seismic shift in the type of commentary that it welcomes to its platforms.While in its heyday it looked to avoid meddling in the murky waters of politics and socio-political commentary, it has of late looked to embrace the notion of bringing these issues to the forefront for the betterment of society.
Original shows like First Take and His & Hers (which has now transition to SC6), and radio platforms like The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and The Right Time with Bomani Jones, have all been propelled to the forefront of ESPN consciousness with the intent to embrace dialog and promote social change for the greater good, all the while aligning itself with worthy societal ideals such as racial diversity for on-air media talent. These are all ideals that I am in favor of.
The problem with ESPN’s approach is that it has made the face of socio-political commentary one-sided. It’s inclusion of fresh new faces on the diversity front, such as Sarah Spain, Pablo Torre, and Kate Fagan, have all been met with the exclusion of what one can deem more conservative, older-fashion views, as with the firings of Curt Schilling and Danny Kannell, and the seemingly needless removal of Chris Berman from its Sunday NFL Countdown show to make room for Samantha Ponder.
It’s not that ESPN embraced a penchant for diversity. The problem with ESPN, and why it subsequently has battled ratings declines, lost paying customers, and is laying off even more staff, is that it has allowed the social media and mainstream media hypercritical climate to influence its operations.
When Curt Schilling is fired for a FaceBook post that defends the notion of gender-specific restrooms and the North Carolina law that bars transgenders from using public restrooms, but Jemele Hill is only suspended for calling Donald Trump a white supremacist and a bigot, as well as suggesting on Twitter that people boycott the Dallas Cowboys, it gives off the impression that ESPN is firmly entrenched on one side of the social debate landscape; the side that is probably most represented on social media and in the mainstream media.
I am not defending one position or the other. But when you make it apparent that a particular viewpoint will be met with swiffer retribution than another, you’re implicitly telling fair-minded people who more closely align with the viewpoint that you don’t curry favor for that they either need to get in line with your way of thinking, or hit the high road; and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Mind you, I am all good for more women and minorities as on-air talent. As a black man, I am welcoming to the notion that marginalized groups are now retaining greater representation in the media, and I am appreciative of ESPN for being on the front-lines of such a movement.
Yet at the end of the day, I must remain consistent in my overarching belief that diversity of thought, not groupthink, is needed in order to cultivate understanding. What ESPN has done with propagating racism and anti-conservatism is no different than what FOX has historically done with their propensity to unfairly propagate the conservative agenda. They’re two sides of the same coin.
If you’re going to choose to get into the social and political commentary landscape with your sports, you’re going to have to try and present viewpoints from all angles.
The pro Kaepernick, pro anthem kneeling, pro women’s rights groups may be historically underrepresented, but the proper response to that history isn’t to go in the complete opposite direction and keep the debate skewed anyway. There has to be balance. Fair-minded people who don’t think everything is about race or discrimination should at least be heard, not completely cast aside as bigoted and racist.
To use a personal analogy, I appreciate women and am the furthest thing from a chauvinist, misogynist, or otherwise. Yet I get exasperated whenever I listen to Michelle Beadle, Sarah Spain, or Kate Fagan tell me that every story that has a possible anti-woman angle to it is automatically about discrimination or prejudice against women.
For once, I would love to have a man’s point of view presented for those situations, but I know that will never happen because that guy, whomever it is, will most assuredly be denigrated as anti-women for not going full-board and supporting the idea that this is yet another situation in which a woman is being mistreated and maligned simply for being a woman.
I would love to have seen Jemele Hill and Curt Schilling have a formal debate over why each of them interpreted the North Carolina bathroom law so differently. Or why one has a different outlook on Trump than the other.
Unfortunately, this also could never be so because ESPN is now a death dealer to those who are not of a similar mindset as Jemele Hill. What we have at ESPN is a media entity that feigns diversity, but in actuality is white-lashing in an attempt to even the score against a longstanding hierarchy that has largely been perpetrated by the white male archetype.
You may think that this is a good thing. You may think that because the majority have had it good for so long, that it is only right that some of their power be taken away. I can understand that feeling. I share in some of it; but what I am telling you is that the change we’re looking for is never going to come by doing it this way.
This only creates another hive for our colony of group-thinkers to migrate to, all the while bypassing conversations with reasonable people who don’t see eye-to-eye with us on every issue, but are amenable to reaching an understanding.
These actions have indeed helped ESPN to achieve its status as a hub for media diversity – and more power to them. However, that achievement has carried with it unintended consequences. Alienating a huge consumer base by not at least trying to be balanced in the presentation of its programming has cost it money, and they’re now having to get rid of more staff to save face.
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