Will Cain: ESPN’s Lone Conservative Voice

Screenshot Will Cain
Screenshot

ESPN is rightfully accused of being a left-leaning sports cable network, but lately many have employed some whataboutism by noting that the outlet does have one conservative employee in commentator Will Cain.

The Will Cain Show debuted on ESPN radio this year, and Cain has become a much-needed addition to the network’s First Take, Sparring with hosts Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim, Sporting News notes.

While he is only a recent addition to ESPN having floated around as a contributor since 2015, but only having his own show starting this year, Cain has contributed opinion among conservatives for a decade. Before signing on with ESPN as a fill-in host in 2015, Cain worked for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze and contributed to National Review. In addition, Cain spent some time on CNN filling in for left-winger Soledad O’Brien’s CNN show Starting Point and other stints. Cain has also mixed it up during visits to ABC’s The View, HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, various Fox News programs, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

The Texas-born ESPNer has at times defended pro football, scoffed at those trying to end tackle football for kids and come to the side of those defending team names such as the Washington Redskins and other names targeted by PC activists.

“I want the Will Cain Show to be a place where nothing goes unchecked, nothing goes unchallenged,” Cain told Sporting News. “Too much of our media, and not just sports media, but media, in general, is one where the people with the voices live in glass houses. They feel like their opinions are either above challenge or that they’re incapable of withstanding challenge.”

In his long interview with the site, Cain noted that he and his father would engage in debating the issues of the day and that sparring served as a training ground for what he does today. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for First Take my entire life,” he said.

Sporting News indulged some whataboutism by noting that if ESPN was so liberal, how could it employ Will Cain?

Cain demurred from characterizing his network as strictly liberal saying only that he speaks for himself. Cain also denies that he is some doctrinaire actor:

But I’ll promise you this: My point of view on most issues, my point of view on political issues, doesn’t check all the boxes for any movement or any ideology, so I don’t feel any burden to give voice to anybody but myself. If there are people out there who identify with it, that’s great. That will be awesome. If there are people who disagree with it, and who want to engage with it, that’s even better.

Cain noted that he enjoys being around people with whom he disagrees, so it doesn’t bother him that ESPN has a lot of left-wing employees.

But it is telling that ESPN and its flacks now point to ESPN’s single conservative to defeat claims that ESPN is a liberal network. When you have only one commentator who is perceived as conservative and dozens that are liberal, you are pretty much admitting that ESPN is a liberal network that has a token conservative. The existence of Cain on ESPN is the exception that proves the rule.

Cain was next asked about the recent controversy over Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s taunt to basketball’s LeBron James whom she told to “shut up and dribble,” and to stop his constant blather about politics.

Cain said that he is tired of people calling opponents racists and saying they are immoral just because there is a political disagreement.

What I’m unwilling to do, and I’d like to think I’m very consistent on this, is to read into someone’s intention and character, so when I go on First Take, or on the Will Cain Show, to talk about LeBron and Laura Ingraham, the first thing I want to say is we can’t just go about castigating everybody we disagree with. We can’t make them immoral. We can say they’re wrong. Sometimes just being wrong is a heavy enough hammer, right?

[Spurs coach] Gregg Popovich was right about many things he said about LeBron. LeBron’s story is absolutely inspiring and uplifting. LeBron is an absolutely amazing basketball player, among the greatest of all times. But none of them inoculate him from criticism if he ventures into these areas. I think it’s condescending to say, “Well, he’s above criticism,” or, “We shouldn’t question LeBron James.” No, it’s respectful to engage and say, “This is why he’s wrong, and this is what he’s wrong about.”

On the other hand, Cain did note that he is “sympathetic” to the idea that sports people should “stick to sports” and forget about politics.

I’m sympathetic to that completely. Even though I come from a political background, I would say my show is one of the most reluctant to go into political spheres on any sports network, not just ESPN. I know why the audience is here. I know why they come for sports, what they want to listen to. They don’t go to the toy aisle to buy Metamucil but to buy something they want to have fun with. That’s what we are. That’s what we do. At times it’s going to be unavoidable. Those two worlds are going to collide. The difference is, do you go looking for it? Do you look for excuses? If every time sports just slightly touches into the world of politics, or politics slightly touches into the world of sports, is it an excuse for you, a green light, to go down the path of having the political conversation that’s pent-up inside you?

I can’t take that away from some of my colleagues. Some of them feel very passionately about these issues. They feel a burden, and a responsibility, to give voice to things that they feel are underrepresented. For me, I want to balance those things against why I know the audience is here. Maybe, Mike, I got some of that out of my system by spending five years in politics. I knew when I came over here what I signed up for. I tried to be respectful of that.

Cain also said he feels ESPN host Jemele Hill has taken her forays into politics too far. While he didn’t deny that Hill has freedom of speech and that she just might truly believe that President Donald Trump is a “white supremacist,” he also said that she shouldn’t have gone there.

“Because we have jobs,” Cain said when asked why Hill shouldn’t have attacked the president. “We have jobs with job responsibilities and expectations of what it is we’re here to do. So Jemele certainly has free speech. We all do. It’s really not a matter of ‘can’t.’ It’s a matter of ‘should.'”

Cain also noted that he is no fan of social media. “Social media is one of my least favorite media platforms,” he said.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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