On ESPN, Dan Le Batard calls his own network ‘cowardly’ for not addressing racism

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After Jemele Hill, ESPN has taken a “politics free” stance and anchors and commentators have mostly refrained from addressing hot-button topics. But host Dan Le Batard called that position “cowardly” on Thursday, noting that sports has for decades gone hand in hand with issues of race, civil rights and social change. ESPN’s silence on the topic has been matched with Corporate America’s ambivalence to wade into the issue of race.

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(CNN) — ESPN radio and TV personality Dan Le Batard called his network’s relatively new politics-free stance “cowardly” in the face of President Donald Trump and his supporters’ racist remarks about four Democratic congresswomen of color.

Jimmy Pitaro, who became ESPN’s president last year, recently told the Los Angeles Times that the sports network’s audience has no interest in the network covering politics and has publicly discouraged employees from talking about politics. But in a “Dan Le Batard Show” broadcast Thursday, Le Batard vehemently disagreed with ESPN’s stance.

In an impassioned response, Le Batard said it was the duty of sports broadcasters to comment on race relations — and in particular what he called the “un-American” chants of “send her back” directed at Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee and American citizen, during a Trump rally this week.

Le Batard, the son of Cuban immigrants, noted that civil rights activists have long used sports to address race, gender and other social problems in the country, pointing to former athletes Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Colin Kaepernick. But Le Batard said that now, ESPN personalities don’t talk about race in America “unless there is some sort of weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through,” like a tweet from an athlete.

Under Pitaro’s predecessor, John Skipper, ESPN had at times been more political, and during the Trump administration that sometimes made the network a target of criticism. In 2017, former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill criticized Trump on Twitter, calling him “a white supremacist.” She was suspended for the controversy and has since left the network.

Since Hill’s suspension, “all of a sudden, nobody talks politics, on anything, unless we can use one these sports figures as a meat shield, in the most cowardly possible way to discuss these subjects,” Le Batard said. ESPN declined to comment for this article.

Corporate America in general has been largely silent about Trump’s tweets Sunday, in which he told the Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their own countries. He doubled down at Wednesday’s rally, saying,”They don’t love our country,” and, “If you’re not happy here, then you can leave.”

Companies’ silence stands in stark contrast to corporate leaders’ choice to disband White House advisory boards in response to Trump’s defense of neo-Nazi protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

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