Politics and Sports: Keep Your Hands Off My Football

Nov 26, 2018

Sports has a unique ability to unite our communities and our nation. Until recently, that is. How did sports get so politicized? Clay Travis, host of Outkick the Show, tackles the country’s cultural divide and its effect on our favorite pastime.

Check out Clay's latest book: Republicans Buy Sneakers Too: How the Left Is Ruining Sports with Politics.

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Sports reporters are now as politically biased as their news desk colleagues. Over 80% of sports journalists voted for Hillary in 2016.

  • According to a survey from The Big Lead, over 80% of sports journalists voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Less than 4% voted for Donald Trump.View Source
  • Many high-profile sports reporters have increasingly used sports as an outlet to espouse their political opinions.View Source
  • ESPN’s move left alienates much of its core audience and is one reason the network has seen a steady decline in subscribers, around 2 million per year since 2011.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too: How the Left Is Ruining Sports with Politics” – Clay TravisView Source

ESPN’s politicizing of sports has cost them in ratings: the network’s lost about 2 million subscribers per year since 2011.

  • Since 2011, ESPN has been losing about 2 million subscribers per year.View Source
  • Sports leagues have also been affected by the politicization of sports. The NFL has lost 10 percent of its viewership since 2017. It had already lost 8 percent the previous year.View Source
  • Disney, who owns ESPN, CEO Bob Iger has admitted: “the pendulum may have swung a little bit too far away from the field.”View Source
  • “What should matter is talent and ratings, not diversity and inclusion,” writes sports journalist Clay Travis. “What matters at ESPN, at least under John Skipper, was cosmetic diversity instead of intellectual diversity.”View Source

Facing a shrinking market share, ESPN has turned sports into politics by another name, much of the sports media following its lead. 

  • ESPN began as the first 24/7 network, and for years it focused on sports, not politics.View Source
  • With the advent of smartphones and social media, ESPN began to lose its monopoly over sports information.View Source
  • ESPN’s primary market is shrinking rapidly. It is estimated 33 million Americans will cancel cable in 2018.View Source
  • ESPN’s plan to turn their business around was to mix sports with politics, which is exactly what most sports fans are trying to escape. Much of the sports media has followed ESPN’s lead.View Source

Amid the divisive NFL kneeling controversy, sports media leader ESPN made clear it sided with those protesting America.

  • ESPN and most of the their sports media colleagues have promoted America-protesting former backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his radical message.View Source
  • Kaepernick has openly expressed his support for Fidel Castro, even comparing him positively to the U.S.View Source
  • Even after comparing police to slave catchers, Kaepernick still receives praise and support from the network.View Source
  • Related video: “Everyone Should Stand for the Anthem” – Joy VillaView Source

ESPN has insisted on focusing less on sports and more on identity politics, alienating viewers and promoting divisive messages. 

  • After Tiger Woods made a comment about respecting the presidency, ESPN analysts Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith questioned Tiger Woods’ “blackness” and intelligence.View Source
  • ESPN gave left-wing analyst Jemele Hill, who accused President Trump of “racial pornography,” her own show.View Source
  • ESPN replaced an African-American conservative, Sage Steele, with Trump-bashing Michelle Beadle.View Source
  • Related reading: “Michael Smith Confirms Jemele Hill Was Forced Out at SportsCenter” – Clay TravisView Source

The sports media’s increasing politicizing of sports alienates fans, which is bad for business.

  • The president of ESPN, Jimmy Pitaro, has admitted, “every time we lean too much into that politically charged commentary we are alienating our fans.”View Source
  • Due to sinking ratings, the NFL made its TV partners agree to not cover players protesting during the National Anthem.View Source
  • ESPN has particularly embraced politicizing sports and, according to insiders, has created a culture of intellectual conformity. An anonymous employee said, “If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers.”View Source
  • Related reading: “MSESPN Doubles Down On Left Wing Politics, Bounces Sage Steele” – Clay TravisView Source

When did sports get so political? When did ESPN become MSNBC? When did Colin Kaepernick become Mahatma Gandhi?

I love sports. I always have. Growing up, I played every sport I could. Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson posters adorned the walls of my bedroom. Sports remains my passion, and for two decades has been my career. I love that sports allows us a break from daily worries, to lose ourselves in the game – where the rules are clear, where talent reigns supreme, and surprise is always possible.  

And I love sports not only for my own selfish reasons, but for what it does for the nation. Sports brings together people of all backgrounds to “root, root, root for the home team.” No other form of entertainment does this. Sure, a movie might be great, but you don’t see Democrats and Republicans hugging and high-fiving after watching Tropic Thunder.

I’m not done. Sports are a living civics lesson. Think about it. Every team represents its community—a city, a college, a high school. It is, after all, the New York Yankees. The player who wears the team uniform represents that community.

Now, let’s take it one step further: a soldier, also in uniform, represents his country. He is a member, in effect, of the nation’s team. The flag and the anthem are symbols of that team. That’s why every professional sports event in America begins with the national anthem. When you stand for the anthem you are not only cheering for the home team, but for the nation. In short, we begin every sports contest united. Then, of course, it’s game on. But the lesson has been taught. Unfortunately, the unifying power of sports is being trashed.  

Who is responsible? The worst culprits are, ironically, the very people who cover sports in the first place—the sports media. How did this happen? There are, of course, many factors. But a good place to start is with four letters: ESPN. 24/7 sports news and highlights—every fan’s dream.

That is, until a few years ago. That’s when ESPN realized that it was losing its clout. Their answer? A new approach: sports mixed with politics.

ESPN replaced ratings bonuses with diversity bonuses; gave “woke” analysts like Jemele Hill, Max Kellerman, and Bomani Jones their own shows; and an anti-American former backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, more airtime than he got playing time. And because ESPN leads the field, much of the sports media followed suit.

The result? When you go to the sports section of USA Today or Yahoo or even Sports Illustrated, you’re as likely to read about players’ thoughts on the president as you are about their thoughts on the game.

Here’s how insane this has gotten: In August 2017, ESPN pulled 40-year-old Asian American play-by-play announcer Robert Lee from calling a University of Virginia college football game in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Because in the wake of the violent Charlottesville protests surrounding the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, ESPN didn’t want to “trigger” its viewers. So, an Asian American named Robert Lee couldn’t comment on a game because of an incident involving a statue of Robert E. Lee.

No, I’m not kidding.

You’d think that sports reporters—the guys who eat, drink and sleep sports—wouldn’t put up with this nonsense, that they’d know politics has no place on the field. But you’d be wrong. They’re just as political as their news desk colleagues.


Because they’re afraid of being called “racist” or “sexist,” because they want to be friends with the athletes, because they want to think of themselves as “serious” journalists, and because they come from the same journalism schools as the political reporters.

And because, yes, they’re overwhelmingly on the left. Sorry—that’s just a fact. Over 80% of sports journalists, according to a survey from The Big Lead, voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Less than 4% voted for the other candidate—you know, the guy who actually won. And do we know who those 4% are? Of course not. They want to keep their jobs.

So, how’s this new business strategy working out for ESPN? Since 2011, the network has been losing about 2 million subscribers per year. It hasn’t turned out any better for the NFL. The league has lost nearly 20 percent of its viewership since 2016.

But you don’t see me celebrating.  

We need sports. We need that break from our everyday cares. We need its unique ability to unite our communities, our nation. We need the civics lesson.

What else brings Americans together?

It certainly isn’t politics.

I’m Clay Travis, host of Outkick the Show, for Prager University.

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