Sport and politics go hand in hand – so bravo to the ESPN presenter for speaking out against Trump

Better that those refuges are torn down now, while there’s still time to try and nip what went on at that rally in the bud. I worry that it is running out on us

James Moore
Saturday 27 July 2019 13:31
Trump supporters chant 'send her back' after president attacks Ilhan Omar

“Send her back, send her back.”

ESPN, the Disney-owned, self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports”, has all but declared itself to be a no-politics zone with the policies it imposes on its on air talent.

“Send her back, send her back.”

This did not sit well with Dan Le Batard, one of its most popular US talk show hosts, in response to a baying crowd shouting that at a rally held by Donald Trump in North Carolina, during which the president attacked the naturalised congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a favourite target of late.

Le Batard launched into an impassioned monologue that was bitingly critical of both the chants and the network’s policy of only allowing its presenters to make reference to politics through the lens of sports.

So it would be OK to raise the chants if, say, LeBron James would have vocally criticised the chanters. But otherwise, while Le Batard is allowed to talk about anything else that takes his fancy (as he frequently does as part of the irreverent banter he engages in with his co-hosts) politics is an absolute no-no.

“Send her back, send her back.”

Le Batard’s diatribe sparked speculation about his future at the network. There were here echoes of an earlier controversy, this time involving Jemele Hill, an African American presenter who also fell foul of the network’s policies having criticised Trump as a “white supremacist” on social media. She ultimately departed.

But a meeting was held between Le Batard and the network’s boss Jimmy Pitaro at the end of last week and it looks as if he’ll be sticking around for now.

“Send her back, send her back.”

There’s a reason I keep repeating that. I watched a recording of that rally, heard what Trump said, saw the way he acted when the chant started. It was chilling. It still is chilling.

That sort of ugly behaviour is becoming accepted, normalised. It’s been happening here in Britain too, by the way.

Racism, mixed with hateful, bellicose nationalist rhetoric, it goes beyond the debates between left and right that we used to know. It goes beyond politics. It’s about right and wrong.

This was recognised and referenced by Le Batard, himself the son of Cuban immigrants.

ESPN president Pitaro instituted the policy following market research, which found that people didn’t want to hear about politics in its programming.

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I sort of get that. One of the reasons I follow US sports is it’s an ocean away from this country and its problems and the news I write about every day. It thus offers a complete escape.

It’s an exotic soap opera, mixed with the excitement of athletic performance.

It also unifies in a way that few other things do. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your views are, put on a silver and black T-shirt and you can join the (Oakland/LA/Oakland/soon to be Las Vegas) Raider nation I’ve been a part of for more than three decades.

You can root against the Broncos, or the Chiefs, watch the games, and then go for a drink afterwards. It’s a refuge. American football, our football, cricket, baseball, pick your poison, the same things are at play.

“Send her back, send her back.”

And then someone said that and Le Batard decided that it was so egregious, so awful, that maybe someone needed to pull down the walls of that refuge and wake people up.

He was right to do so, and Disney was wrong, and those who dribble on about him having to accept its rules by taking its dollar need to take a long, hard look at themselves and think about what he actually said and why.

You know how horrible, ugly things, things that go way beyond chanting at rallies, come to happen? It’s because people turn their eyes from them. It’s because they put their heads into the sand, and hide in flimsily constructed refuges.

It’s particularly ridiculous in the case of sport because, if you know your history, you’ll be aware that sport has always been suffused with politics, and politicians have always sought to use it for their own advantage.

“Send her back, send her back.”

Better that those refuges are torn down now, while there’s still time to try and nip what went on at that rally in the bud. I worry that it is running out on us.

Le Batard seems to have realised that. But will he be allowed to speak out again after the meeting with the kingpin of the corporate refuge, Pitaro?

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