ESPN turned into a running political talk show on Monday that centered around one man: President Trump.
Trump’s battle with the NFL over national anthem protests dominated ESPN’s morning and afternoon shows, which at times sounded more like CNN than a sports channel. ESPN’s analysts were overwhelmingly critical of the president.
ESPN host Stephen A. Smith claimed during one segment that Trump’s attack on the NFL was part of a nefarious “grand scheme” from the president. (RELATED: ESPN Pundit Upset That A Former Army Ranger Stood For The National Anthem)
“I personally believe Donald Trump has a grand scheme, I think his aspiration is to own a network when this is all said and done and make sure he has his strong-arm of influence,” Smith said. “That is a different story for a different day.” He also compared Trump’s response to the national anthem protests to the comments he made on violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.
Smith claimed during another segment that the battle between Trump and the NFL isn’t about politics: it’s just about Trump.
“This is not about politics at all. This is about one man, one individual who continuously displays just a lack of decorum and respect and is as divisive as they come,” Smith said, before applauding LeBron James and other athletes who have criticized the president.
When asked if Sunday’s protests were primarily against Trump rather than against racial injustice, ESPN commentator and former NFL safety Louis Riddick simply responded, “Sure.”
“Sure, because the players felt attacked and disrespected. The players are like, you are going there name calling because we are trying to protest against something we have a right and freedom to protest against peacefully, and you make it personal and use derogatory names and paint us all with a derogatory brush?” Riddick said.
“[Trump] is what they were protesting yesterday in and of itself, and spurred on the spike [in protests]. But I think the players in general, African-Americans in general, minorities in general, still have a bigger picture in mind. There is something bigger they are after. They are after equality and fair treatment but we can’t get there because all we keep talking about is, ‘should you had stand or shouldn’t you stand,'” he complained.
One “First Take” panel touched on the popular vote, political norms, and what it means to “normalize” Trump — all topics you might expect from a left-leaning CNN panel. The panel was entirely negative in its discussion of POTUS.
Host Max Kellerman also claimed that Trump’s battle with the NFL “is not about right or left, it is about right and wrong. It is about decency.” Kellerman was suspended in 2014 after he admitted on live radio to having repeatedly hit his wife.
Kellerman insisted on Monday that “the only way this is political is in the sense it is conservative and progressive in a literal definition. Conservative, keeping the tradition and status quo. Progressive meaning take steps to change things. I agree with the progressive point of view in this case.”
Kellerman has previously accused the NFL of “injecting politics” into football by playing the national anthem before games.
One “Outside The Lines” panel discussed whether Trump’s criticisms of NFL players are part of an effort by the president to energize his base — another type of segment you would typically find on CNN.
Panelist Ryan Clarke brought up Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s statement that Trump wants NFL players to kneel.
“When you are playing somebody, distracting from other issues, what better way to do it than putting himself on the side with the flag, and anybody who has a reaction other than what he thinks is right, he somehow shifts it to you are against the flag, which is not what any person said in taking any action on the sidelines this weekend,” Clarke said.
Clarke’s fellow panelist, Jeremy Schaap, agreed and pointed to comments from Republican Iowa Rep. Steve King, who said that Trump could lose his base by striking an agreement with Democrats on immigration reform.
“And don’t forget what Steve King of Iowa said. He said if the president deals with the Democrats on immigration reform, which is what he was doing with Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, he will lose the base 100 percent. There is another context here, too,” Schaap said.
In yet another segment Monday afternoon, Clarke referred to Trump’s remarks about the national anthem as “white privilege comments” and said that Trump ran “a campaign based off of separation, based on division.”
Similarly opinionated segments ran throughout the day, along with regular news updates on the latest details in the fallout between Trump and the NFL.
ESPN’s daylong focus on Trump came roughly two weeks after ESPN host Jemele Hill accused Trump of being a white supremacist.
Trump criticized the network over Hill’s accusation and demanded an apology. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called Hill’s remarks a “fireable offense.” (RELATED: ESPN Fires Curt Schilling For Conservative Views)
ESPN’s ratings have fallen in recent months, which some critics have said is a result of the network’s increasingly apparent liberal bias.