As ESPN prepares to launch it’s new morning show “Get Up,” the question of how to tackle politics as it relates to the sports world is once again a question the network will have to answer. But it’s an issue the network says it’s well-equipped to handle.
“This particular political cycle is unusual by the standards of history,” Bill Wolff, ESPN vice president of studio production, said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday, adding that he believes the network is “well prepared” to navigate this new era.
Not only has politics seeped into sports coverage in the Trump era, but the rise of social media has made ESPN hosts even more vulnerable to saying something that could stir outrage. ESPN knows this tenuous era well, following widespread criticism both of “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill’s anti-Trump tweet and of the network’s decision to punish her for it.
“I think that company-wide there is a really good understanding that we really are in the business of sports and that our responsibility is entertainment as it regards to sports,” Wolff said, adding that the new social media guidelines instituted by the company following the uproar over Hill’s tweets have been “effective.”
“People come to use to be diverted from the issues of the world at large and focus on basketball or football,” he said. “Something where the stakes aren’t quite as high as they are in the rest of the world. It is an adjustment that involves hundreds of people who are outward facing public people. Each of the people has to make the judgment every time about what to do … I think people understand what the message of ESPN is.”
Mike Greenberg, one of the hosts of “Get Up” alongside Michelle Beadle and Jalen Rose, said that he understands that his role as the host of a sports talk show means that his audience isn’t looking to him for political commentary.
“Everyone has to approach this to whatever degree they feel comfortable with,” he said. “[But] the people who have been listening to me on the radio or watching me on TV or follow me on social media, are there because they want my opinion on sports. That’s what they’re coming to me for. They go other places when they want other things.”
Rose, for his part, said that his followers expect slightly different, and he doesn’t feel “muzzled” by ESPN in speaking to that.
“My audience … does expect me to be politically, socially conscious, not only as it relates to sports,” he said. “I’m really passionate about giving back to my community, being a leader of my community and being outspoken about injustices that I see in our country and throughout the world.”
“There is a fine balance to that level of discipline and being able to articulate yourself, but I don’t feel constrained at all,” he said.