Inside ESPN’s Political Civil War

A profile of ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro reveals interesting details

Michael Smith and Jemele Hill (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Michael Smith and Jemele Hill (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
By Evan Bleier / May 24, 2019 9:13 am

After rolling out a new politically charged version of SportsCenter hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith in 2017, ESPN came under fire for leaning too far to the left.

A big reason for that was Hill at one point responding to a Twitter troll by calling President Trump a “white supremacist.”

Now, with Hill gone to The Atlantic and Smith still being paid by the network in parts unknown, new ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro is attempting to make it clear that sports and politics no longer mix at The Worldwide Leader.

In a Los Angeles Times profile of Pitaro written by Stephen Battaglio, the ESPN chief explained his new approach.

“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro said. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”

Pitaro’s boss, Disney chairman Bob Iger, likes the progress Pitaro has made in “dialing down the political discourse” on ESPN, Battaglio writes.

“We’ve done some brand research that suggests ESPN’s brand is stronger than it was a few years ago,” Iger said. “In general, if you look at what Jimmy’s performance has been … it’s been really positive.”

For what it’s worth, Pitaro’s approach seems to be working as the current version of SportsCenter has enjoyed better ratings than Hill and Smith’s version.

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