Wednesday marked a painful historic moment for ESPN. Because of its failing business model, the sports television channel laid off 100 anchors, reporters, analysts, and production staffers. Sean Davis wrote yesterday that “From poor financial decisions that are no longer paying off, to declining viewership, to an increased focus on left-wing politics, ESPN made its own mess.” While this is certainly sad, the unreported tragedy here is ESPNW.
Take, for example, this article from just two days ago, “Five poets on the new feminism.” Since it was on ESPNW, the sister site of the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports, one might think the article would be a compilation of poems by female athletes or poems about women in competition. Wrong on both accounts. It actually is just five poets writing about the gibberish that is apparently the “new feminism.”
Also gracing the site’s article archives: “Sights and Sounds from the women’s marches throughout the U.S.” The word “sports” is only mentioned once in this entire article and it’s after a proud rant about “nasty women” in NYC doing the most “sports thing” ever: they all high-fived. Because high-fiving, of course, is the most sports thing ever.
For a Sports Site, They Cover A Lot of Non-Sports Politics
It’s no surprise ESPNW covered the Women’s March, but the angle they took was surprising. Why didn’t they write about the incredible achievements women have made in sports over the years? Another mind-numbing article about Brandi Chastain’s 1999 World Cup sports bra controversy would’ve made more sense.
What about the USWNT’s current ongoing battle for equal pay? Or a throwback piece on the 1996 Olympics where 4’7” Kerri Strug won USA a gold medal with a third-degree sprain and tendon damage in her ankle? Where was the article on Lisa Leslie’s ardent defense of school choice?
Even a click-baity headline like “Serena Williams’ epic biceps shatter all stereotypes that women can’t lift as much as men!” would’ve made sense. Instead we get a shoddy report on the cities participating in the women’s march and a weak photo slideshow with an intro that reads, “Are we missing your favorite iconic female athlete? Let us know in the comment section below.”
Also, the Coverage Is One-Sided
Since ESPNW covered the Women’s March, why didn’t they cover the March for Life? Like the Women’s March, it is also politically charged, full of women, and has nothing to do with sports. Just like ESPN, ESPNW has no business inserting themselves into an already crowded sea of political and social conversation.
Women’s sports isn’t this hard of a sell, especially with the current sea of beautiful, fierce, talented athletes. In the 2015 Women’s World Cup, America’s 5-2 win against Japan was the most-watched soccer game of all time in the United States, with more than 26 million viewers. When Sports Illustrated finally put true athletes Aly Raisman and Simone Biles on its cover, the whole world wiped the drool from their chin.
Ronda Rousey, the beast in girl-next-door clothing, is an Olympic bronze medalist, a former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion and the last Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion who won 12 consecutive MMA fights—11 of which she won in the first round. Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open in January while pregnant. These women are real-life wonder women! Why are we wasting time on second-rate poetry and high-fiving among non-athletes at women’s marches?
We Don’t Want Politics In Our Sports
From private memos to the clockwork apologies every time an on-air announcer blunders against the general population’s opinions, ESPN’s feeble attempt to hammer down on aggressive political rhetoric has in fact profiled just how much the network has changed. Viewers are seeing less of “Top 10 Plays of the Week” and more of screaming quasi-analysts pitted against each other to argue if Colin Kaepernick has a right to sit down during the National Anthem. On ESPNW it’s Caitlyn, Caitlyn, Caitlyn. We’re all beginning to feel a little like Jan Brady here!
As has been widely observed, sports fans aren’t necessarily politicos. Many Americans use sports to escape from the whiplashing news cycle. While parents and their kids might disagree on everything political, they’ll bond on Thanksgiving over the big game. Americans make a concerted effort to separate their exposure to sports and politics, women included. Nobody turns on the evening political news to hear the anchors’ faulty takes on projected draft picks.
ESPNW needs to couple the tone that they want their audience to perceive with their commentary. If that means skirting the line and venturing into issues that presumably have nothing to do with sports, as Wednesday showed, it will continue to fail. If sports sites continue to follow ESPN’s formula of gambling away the money of paying customers on products they don’t want, sports journalists should anticipate another round of layoffs.