ESPN hasn’t engaged in the political aspects of the China-NBA fiasco, and it doesn’t sound like it will anytime soon.
Deadspin reported Tuesday that the sports network had circulated a memo forbidding its employees from discussing politics and the situation unfolding overseas after the Houston Rockets general manager voiced support for democracy in Hong Kong on Twitter. Pro-democracy protests have been going on for months amid crackdowns .
Given the network’s history in past years of getting very political at times, some people were certainly surprised by the alleged stance from leadership.
However, don’t expect much to change going forward even considering recent events. According to a person familiar with ESPN’s thinking, the network believes the memo was “misreported” and that it was “actually an email from an ESPN editor to a few colleagues which was a reiteration of ESPN’s policy: That it only covers politics as it intersects with sports.” (RELATED: Los Angeles Lakers Event In China Canceled Amid Trouble Between The League And Government)
He also explained the situation in China and that ESPN’s coverage of the NBA is “not a political decision in any way,” and compared it to the way “CNN covers politics or foreign policy.”
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The same individual, who spoke to me on the condition of background, added that ESPN feels they’re now in a no-win situation. They either talk politics and get slammed for it, or they don’t and the result is the same.
“Now ESPN is being criticized for not being political enough. ESPN feels like they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to politics. They are just trying to do what they do best: cover sports,” the source explained.
It’s also worth noting from a sports standpoint, ESPN is on the ground reporting about the actual impact this has on basketball.
The latest from Shanghai – players are getting frustrated, and no one knows if Thursday’s Lakers-Nets game is really going to happen. pic.twitter.com/qsH7lCG97x
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) October 9, 2019
People who have been paying attention during Jimmy Pitaro’s reign shouldn’t be surprised at all by the way ESPN is handling the situation.
If John Skipper was still running the show, then there’d be plenty to be confused about when it comes to not covering politics.
That’s not the case anymore, and Pitaro has done a nice job of bringing the network back to where it belongs. It’s meant to cover sports. Fans don’t want to hear political preaching.
We’ll now have to wait to see if the planned games in China between the Nets and Lakers actually take place. One event Wednesday was canceled, and I’m not sure if anybody has any idea what happens next.
No matter what happens, it looks like the NBA and the Chinese government are both dug in. We’ll see how ESPN handles the situation going forward, but he seems 100% committed to not getting involved outside of sports.