This wasn’t the first time Miami-based ESPN star Dan Le Batard defied his network and faced consequences. It happened in 2014, when the radio and television host was suspended two days for buying billboards in Cleveland that needled LeBron James — “You’re Welcome, LeBron. Love, Miami” — after he’d left the Heat.
That was playful.
Le Batard on Thursday took on the president of the United States and his own network’s no-pure-political-talk policy in a fiery, four-minute rebuke of both Donald Trump and ESPN management’s stick-to-sports edict except when sports and politics intersect, such as Colin Kaepernick or Trump’s tweets to Megan Rapinoe.
He faced a possible suspension for violating the policy, but, after taking the day off from Monday’s Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz, he returned to the air to host Monday afternoon’s Highly Questionable show as usual. An ESPN spokesperson said Le Batard is expected back on radio Tuesday as well, although the network continued a “no comment” policy when asked if Le Batard still might be suspended.
His voice emotional, Le Batard called it “deeply offensive” that a Trump crowd chanted “send her back” at a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday night, a chant directed at Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee who now is a U.S. citizen representing Minnesota. Le Batard accused trump of instigating racial division and called the chant “un-American.”
Trump has been openly critical of Omar and three other first-year Congresswomen, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib. All are women of color. All but Omar were born in the United States. Yet Trump tweeted that all four should “go back” to their home countries.
Although Le Batard apparently will not be suspended, The Associated Press reported that ESPN management sent an email to all employees on Friday reminding them of its no-political-talk policy. Neither ESPN nor Le Batard have publicly commented on the matter.
Le Batard’s own parents fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba so he and his brother might find better lives in America.
His comments were made on the Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio. He also hosts Highly Questionable on ESPN.
As if addressing Trump, Le Batard’s voice rose as he said: “Send her back? How are you more American than her? You’re whiter? You’re richer? You’ve had every privilege afforded you by America. Every privilege. And now what you do with that power is you go after black people and brown people and minorities?”
Le Batard referred to and praised a tweet by FS1’s Nick Wright, who wrote, “I don’t talk politics on here but this isn’t political, this is obvious: This is abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric and not calling it out makes you complicit. The “send her back” chant and the “go back to where you came from” are so antithetical to what we should be.”
ESPN’s policy, emphasized when Jimmy Pitaro took over as ESPN president in 2018, was called “cowardly” by Le Batard. He mentioned that on-air personalities are only supposed to talk politics in reaction if a sports figure such as Warriors coach Steve Kerr or Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson do so and it makes news, calling that “a weak-ass shield.”
There is an irony to ESPN’s policy that seeks to separate sports from politics and racial issues. Le Batard correctly noted on-air that sports figures always have tended to be at the forefront of the off-field push for equal rights. He mentioned older icons Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Colin Kaepernick today.
In real life, sports and the coverage of sports have become interwoven with politics and inseparable from issues of race and equality.
Le Batard dared to defy ESPN to remind us of that.