Le Batard joined a chorus of critics of different political persuasions in decrying Trump’s campaign rally in North Carolina. At the rally, chants of “send her back” broke out when Trump repeated his critique of four Democratic freshman congresswomen, including Ilhan Omar. Earlier, Trump had tweeted and reaffirmed in public appearances his view that the women should “go back” to their “totally broken and crime-infested” countries of origin, even though three of the four are U.S.-born.
The ESPN host of Highly Questionable and an eponymous ESPN radio show called the rally “un-American” and said it exposed “a racial division in this country that’s being instigated by the president.”
The Disney-owned sports brand has been easing toward a more sports-centric approach under president Jimmy Pitaro. After the Le Batard statements, the company sent its editorial team a memo reasserting the policy to avoid “pure politics.”
Before Pitaro took the helm in early 2018, hosts and commentators for years spoke out on a range of political and social issues, causing a backlash among some viewers who urged the network to “stick to sports.” (The countervaling view is that some issues, for example demonstrations by athletes such as Colin Kaepernick, call for as much analysis as the Xs and Os on the field.)
One notable flare-up was former anchor Jemele Hill tweeting that Trump was a “white supremacist.” She was suspended and later left ESPN, and is now a writer for The Atlantic.
In addition to ripping Trump, Le Batard questioned the Pitaro-era policy of urging talent not to tackle politics unless there is a direct tie to sports.
“We here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight because Jemele (Hill) did some things on Twitter, and you saw what happened after that,” the host said. “Then, here, all of the sudden, nobody talks politics on anything unless we can use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss the subject.”
He went on to complain, “That’s what you’re seeing, and the only way we can discuss it around here — because this isn’t about politics, it’s about race — what you’re seeing happening around here is about race being turned into politics. And we only talk about it around here when [Golden State Warriors coach] Steve Kerr or [San Antonio Spurs coach Greg] Popovich says something. We don’t talk about what is happening unless there’s some sort of weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through. When sports has been a place where this stuff changes.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Le Batard faced any disciplinary action that may have allowed him to continue without a suspension. ESPN declined Deadline’s request for comment.
Here’s Thursday’s full rant: