ESPN’s new president is asserting his power over the network after only five months on the job. Specifically, Jimmy Pitaro is warning employees to focus more on sports and leave the politics behind.
In an interview published by the Washington Post, Pitaro noted that as the network’s newest leader he intends to prioritize the drive back to more sports and less politics.
“If you ask me is there a false narrative out there, I will tell you ESPN being a political organization is false,” Pitaro told the paper. “I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely.”
Still, by injecting the word “purely,” Pitaro signaled that some politics is still acceptable. It remains to be seen just how “pure” his sports coverage will be going forward.
The comments come on the heels of years of controversies over on-air hosts and ESPN writers indulging a variety of left-wing political statements and causes. Chief of which, but not limited to, host Jemele Hill who has repeatedly called Donald Trump and Republicans “racists” for their political positions.
But Pitaro said his bigger goal is to repair the fractured relationship between his network and the National Football League.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with league executives,” Pitaro added. “The relationship is incredibly important to us. That programming cuts across everything we’re doing on the studio side, on the original content side. And we’ve made that very clear to the NFL.”
The strained relationship is also a result of numerous politicized on-air comments about the league as front-facing talent, and website news writers have attacked the league on a variety of fronts including the league’s response to domestic violence and policies concerning player concussions.
NFL anthem protests also featured strongly in Pitaro’s comments. Indeed, the ESPN chief recently announced that the network will no longer air the national anthem during NFL games in the hopes of taking the bite out of player protests.
Pitaro said the NFL did not ask about the network’s anthem plans, “But we have proactively just as a courtesy and as good partners let them know what our plans are,” he said of the announcement.
The network has never made it a regular practice to air the anthem period of games, but have also regularly aired them over the last two seasons due to the notoriety of the protests. According to Pitaro, that will now end.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.