While most of ESPN seems intent on staying “woke” in their politics, ESPN’s Bomani Jones seems to want to put the woke narrative back to sleep.
In an interview with The Wrap about his new podcast The Right Time, Jones, who up until now has been one of the most politically outspoken commentators at ESPN, seemed to back away from the idea of forcing politics into the sports discussion.
‘Me going outside of the realm of sports has always been dictated by what is going on in the realm of sports,’ Jones told TheWrap. ‘We had a situation at the end of 2016 and early 2017 where the real world topics were coming up in a way that mattered when came to sports, so we talked about the immigration ban because you had NBA players who were potentially caught up in that.’
As for the new podcast, ‘I think we will fill the show with sports as much as possible as that’s what people come to us for. But once you are there, you’ve got to take it wherever you need to go to answer a question. If that comes from somewhere else, that’s where I am going to go to, but I don’t think it is effective to ramrod politics into your sports discussion because it doesn’t do you any good to talk if there ain’t nobody listening.’
Obvious exceptions have included when boxing legend Muhammad Ali died, as you couldn’t cover his life story without talking about the Nation of Islam, ‘which is not the easiest thing to do,’ Jones said.
‘What makes it a little bit different for me is that I am kinda good at it [talking about social issues]. There are a lot of people that when these issues come up, they look at me as they feel like I am a person who can address them,’ he said. ‘I think in the time that I have worked this job, I’ve managed to do this without having any kind of giant controversy over any kind of observations I’ve made.’
How “giant” any of the political controversies Jones has been embroiled in is certainly open to debate. No, he isn’t Jemele Hill, who has called the president and his staff white supremacists and seems intent on wading into every non-sports related issue under the sun.
However, his lack of major controversy is not for lack of trying.
Jones once said that Tim Tebow’s success on the baseball field makes him “hate coming to work.” Presumably, because Jones ultimately feels Tebow’s baseball career is a fool’s errand. Which is fine, a lot of people feel that way. However, Jones also called the Eagles bringing Tebow in for a workout a “ridiculous and foolish idea.” So, does Jones approve of any of Tebow’s attempts to play sports? Or is it Tebow himself, that he doesn’t approve of?
Jones also said, regarding criticism of Panthers QB Cam Newton, that the “simple reality” is that “the country does not like black people very much.” The ESPN personality also once wore a “Caucasians” t-shirt on camera to protest the Cleveland Indians use of “Chief Wahoo.” In addition, Jones advocated for popular white athletes like Tom Brady to speak out on social issues to increase the chances for “change.”
Therefore, regardless of how successful Jones has been in political activism, he certainly has shown himself to be more than willing to engage in it.
So, why the change? Why now talk about not ramming politics down people’s throats?
The answer to that is likely two-fold, and both have more to do with business than politics.
In November of last year, it was announced that Bomani Jones’ radio show, also called The Right Time, was getting canceled. According to Clay Travis, who admittedly has something of a feud with Jones, the show had the worst ratings in ESPN history:
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 2, 2017
ESPN will spin it as him quitting to focus on TV. But this isn't true. Radio show's a total disaster, like most of @espn's recent decisions.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 2, 2017
Whether Travis’ exact numbers are correct or not, shows aren’t normally canceled because they’re doing well. So clearly, Jones needed to do something different with his podcast opportunity.
The idea to make a point out of not ramrodding politics down people’s throats, might have had its origins from looking at the ratings for ESPN’s other recently started show, Get Up!
When the Hollywood Reporter ran the headline: ESPN Plans to Wake Up Woke With New Morning Show. The talking point became that the show would include a healthy dose of politics. However, ESPN viewers clearly do not want an additional influx of politics into their sports programming. As evidence for this, the ratings for Get Up! have been nothing but disastrous.
Watching how the roll-out for that show unfolded, could have been what inspired Jones to make it clear that his show would not make politics a priority.
Regardless of what motivated him to switch gears, it appears that even the most political of ESPN personalities have started to get the message that fans want them to talk sports, and not politics.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn