It’s the Worldwide Leader vs. the world.
As with any dynasty, and that’s what ESPN has become in sports media, there are going to be battles.
The latest for the network was against another dynasty, Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees.
It began when ESPN chose to televise one of the Yankees’ games to a national audience on “Sunday Night Baseball.”
Most teams would have been be grateful for the exposure. Although the Yankees don’t need it, already reaching double figures this season in national television appearances, they like it as much as any other team.
In this case, it was the date that they didn’t like.
ESPN selected the Yankees’ game at Toronto on July 8 for a prime-time telecast, which meant the start would have to be moved from 1:07 p.m. to 8:05 p.m. (EDT)
The Yankees already had a day-night doubleheader scheduled for July 9 at Baltimore to make up for a game postponed on May 31.
That would be three games within 24 hours for the Yankees, with travel and little rest between.
They are paid well for the inconvenience, you might be thinking. “Poor Yankees,” no one ever said.
But what about the fans in Baltimore? They were spending top dollar to see at least one competitive team — not the Orioles — which would be likely sleepwalking through two games.
The Yankees were furious at ESPN, reportedly threatening to boycott the network by not granting interviews to its commentators, analysts or reporters for the remainder of the season.
That would have included Aaron Boone, who became the Yankees’ manager this season after seven seasons in the booth for ESPN.
Told the game at Toronto was locked in, the usually congenial Boone said, “Unlock it.” He wasn’t joking.
“It’s not good for the product on the field or the safety of our guys, having to go from a night game and a flight right into a doubleheader,” he added. “Anyone who would argue that is not being truthful.”
He was right. But was ESPN wrong?
No. Like the Yankees, network executives were protecting their own interests. The contract with MLB gives ESPN a few flex dates during the season to determine which games it wants for national telecasts, even if it means changing times for the opening pitch.
As the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader, ESPN often finds itself on the defensive. Last week, the network was caught in the controversy over Roseanne Barr’s tweet about former White House aide Valerie Jarrett.
After “Roseanne” was canceled by ABC, ESPN felt compelled to remind employees to be careful on social media, according to the New York Post.
The Post reported that ESPN reached out specifically to the “most politically outspoken of the broadcasters, Jemele Hill, Keith Olbermann and Kenny Mayne.”
Based on their public social media accounts, they got the message.
“Please God, let me mind my business today,” Hill said in a tweet.
Hill’s outspoken political posts were among reasons ESPN established strict social media guidelines stating that employees should focus on sports.
But it was the recent expansion of Olbermann’s role that inspired a new round of charges that the network’s focus is too often political, even if he hasn’t been particularly so since he assumed his new duties. About half of his posts on Twitter include photos of puppies that need to be rescued.
Are you among those that still hate Olbermann? Probably so.
Old grudges die hard.
Most of the critics are conservative. Olbermann has made no secret in the past of his liberal leanings, and, until his recent change in employment status, has been more virulent than ever in his anti-Trump sentiments.
When ABC removed Barr from its payroll, some said ESPN should take similar action against Olbermann. Disney owns both networks.
As U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked on Twitter, “How could ABC fire Roseanne but keep Keith Olbermann?”
Graham later clarified in a post that he had no issue with the decision regarding Roseanne, adding, “But it does raise questions about how the same company HIRED Keith Olbermann.”
It’s not clear how anyone would equate the two situations, given that one involves commentary that is deemed to be racist and the other merely commentary that is political.
ESPN didn’t try to answer that question or any other about last week’s controversy. Or this week’s controversy. There will be another next week.
For the record, ESPN informed MLB in December that it was considering four games for “Sunday Night Baseball” on July 8, including the Yankees at the Blue Jays. It made its choice final this week, three weeks before it was obligated to do so.
The network gave MLB plenty of time to resolve this crisis, and on Tuesday Commissioner Rob Manfred negotiated a settlement. ESPN will televise the Dodgers vs. Angels on July 8. Initial reports were that the network caved.
“Poor ESPN,” no one ever said.