ESPN host Dan Le Batard broke from his company's policy of avoiding politics Thursday, arguing on the air that President Donald Trump was instigating “racial division” in the United States and calling his network's policy of avoiding political discussion “cowardly."
“There's a racial division in this country that's being instigated by the president, and we here at ESPN haven't had the stomach for that fight,” Le Batard, 50, said during "The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” which airs on ESPN.
Le Batard, the son of Cuban immigrants, spoke out against the chants of “Send her back!” from the crowd at a Trump rally Wednesday in the wake of the president’s racist tweets aimed at four minority Democratic congresswomen.
“This felt un-American, what happened last night,” he said, describing the chants. “What happened last night at this rally is deeply offensive.”
ESPN declined to comment on Le Batard's remarks.
At the rally, in Greenville, North Carolina, Trump criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Somali refugee and U.S. citizen, when the crowd began chanting “Send her back!” The rally followed Trump's tweets over the weekend that "'Progressive' Democrat Congresswomen" should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Trump has since tried to distance himself from the chant, falsely claiming he quickly tried to stop it and saying he was "not happy" with the remarks.
ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro, who took over in March 2018, has said the network has moved away from covering political angles in sports. Pitaro's stance is a departure from the position of the company's previous president, John Skipper, who had embraced a mix of sports and politics.
Two senior sources at ESPN who declined to speak publicly said that the matter would be handled internally and that the company had no plans to change its policy.
Le Batard took aim at ESPN’s policy of avoiding politics while mentioning Jemele Hill, the former “SportsCenter” anchor who called Trump a “white supremacist” on social media in 2017 and was briefly suspended. Hill moved to work at The Undefeated, an African American-centered sports and culture website owned by ESPN, before leaving the network in September 2018.
“Here, all of the sudden, nobody talks politics on anything unless we can use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss the subject,” Le Batard said.
Hill weighed in on Twitter Friday, saying Dan’s commentary was “courageous, accurate.”
“I’m sure stick-to-sports-Guy/girl is having a meltdown somewhere, but one of the many reasons I left is that I was tired of the pretense Dan discusses here,” she said on Twitter.
NBC Sports’ Peter King also weighed on Le Batard’s remarks, saying in a tweet, "it must be said."
ESPN's shift away from politics also coincided with the company's efforts to stem a decline in its core cable subscription business and launch a digital subscription product. Pitaro has publicly stated that it is in the company's best interest to avoid politics.
“Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics,” Pitaro told The Los Angeles Times in May. “My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.”