The fall of ESPN is still a hot topic in sports media, but former ESPN commentator Jason Whitlock has a unique point to add to the litany of reasons for the famed cable sports network’s troubles. Whitlock says that left-wing sports blog Deadspin caused ESPN to veer left, and that was the seed that caused the network’s downfall.
Deadspin, a popular but far-left website that forms part of the Gawker chain of sites, has targeted ESPN for political correction for several years with a long list of posts aimed at forcing ESPN to toe the political line of the extreme progressive left. And, according to Whitlock, Deadspin’s campaign to liberalize ESPN has not only worked, but it has helped lead to the near death of the 38-year-old sports network.
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Whitlock acknowledged that much of ESPN’s problem is the penchant of many customers to “cable cord-cutting.” But, Whitlock says this assessment is “accurate but incomplete” and shouldn’t be offered as the only reason ESPN is failing.
Whitlock thinks that one of ESPN’s main problems is, “The decade-long culture war ESPN lost to Deadspin, a snarky, politically progressive sports blog launched by Gawker’s Nick Denton in 2005.”
“While the mainstream media has failed to document the extent of Deadspin’s rout of ESPN, I haven’t,” Whitlock noted. “I worked at ESPN twice, BD and AD. Before Deadspin (2001-06) and After Deadspin (2013-15).”
Whitlock pointed out that the pre-Deadspin era at ESPN was marked by much innovation, sparked by the energetic leadership of network executive Mark Shapiro. That period saw a surge in ESPN’s influence and creativity. But, it wasn’t to last, as the left-wing meddling of Deadspin kicked into high gear:
Deadspin significantly elevated the price of implementing change at ESPN. The often-caustic blog mastered search-engine optimization and Twitter ’s ability to gin up faux outrage. Its writers trolled ESPN talent and executives, getting plenty of attention along the way. The site particularly delighted in exposing alleged sexual malfeasance among ESPN employees.
Whitlock went on to list a number of Deadspin stories based on dubious and often outright false claims, all aimed at bullying the network to adopt a liberal point of view.
The firing of commentator Curt Schilling seemed to cap Deadspin’s victory over ESPN, Whitlock said. It all led to a knuckling under by the sports network:
Rather than sue [Deadspin’s] bullying internet pirates into submission the way tech billionaire Peter Thiel did, ESPN chose to acquiesce and adopt progressive ideology and diversity as groundbreaking business innovations. ESPN is the exact network Deadspin desired. It’s diverse on its surface, progressive in its point of view, and more concerned with spinning media narratives than with the quality of its product.
“The channel has become too handcuffed by politics to protect its most experienced and loyal employees,” Whitlock wrote. “It’s a massive symbol of everything that fueled Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency.”
The former ESPN employee and current Fox Sports commentator ended his piece with a telling paragraph:
ESPN NFL reporter Ed Werder, one of the most prominent faces among the layoffs last month, said in a podcast that he heard quality of work would not be a consideration when employees were let go. He lamented that “it seemed to me that quality work should be the only consideration.” Not in this America, the one ruled by social-media perception and dismissive of the real world.
Plainly, Whitlock feels that ESPN has allowed liberal politics to dictate its every move. And, many sports fans agree.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.