Officially speaking, ESPN suspended Dan Le Batard for 2 full days for renting billboard space saying “You’re welcome LeBron — Love, Miami” in Cleveland.
But that’s the problem with this story. Everything is too official. To put it in human terms, Le Batard was suspended for doing something that people didn’t completely like and ruffled a few feathers, and The Worldwide Leader is not going to stand for something that a handful of their viewers might not like, because they have a track record of not acting, but reacting.
Now, I think that a lot of shots at ESPN are ridiculous. With just about any organization that dominates its industry, as does ESPN with sports media, people are quick to launch grenades at all the wrongdoings that a company exhibits. This is especially true in 2014, when sports as a whole are on the rise and any jackass can get a Twitter account and a blog through something like wordpress.com. (Yes, that was a shot at myself. Just trying to show that everyone lives in a glass house with this kind of stuff.) But, while many like to get on ESPN’s case a little too much, what happened here with Le Batard represents a situation that Bristol’s very own has often demonstrated.
In one of Jason Whitlock’s best pieces, he properly criticized ESPN (Whitlock criticizing ESPN before working there again? I’m shocked.) for how they handled the Rob Parker “RG3 isn’t black enough” controversy. As Whitlock pointed out, ESPN had no issue with the opinion that Parker expressed right up until the internet started calling Parker out. They even reran the segment later in the day during their highlights of the morning show. Despite my feelings that Parker’s comments were not only asinine but also detrimental to race issues in America, it would be nice if ESPN stood by him during the backlash like they had when he originally said those stupid words.
The Parker and Le Batard situations also remind me of how ESPN handled the Brent Musburger – Katherine Webb controversy. While it’s fair to say that Musburger went out of line — I’m not saying I agree with that, but see the logic behind the point of view — ESPN might care to remember the fact that they chose to have 1 of their 40,000 cameras for the National Championship Game on AJ McCarron’s smokeshow of a girlfriend… and Musburger seemed to now know that. I sorta kinda feel like if ESPN had a problem with what Musburger, their number 1 college football announcer, said, then they might wanna shoulder some of the blame for creating a situation in which Musburger would make such a remark.
Note: For my opinion on the Musburger-Webb controversy, please refer to Fred Toucher’s wonderful rant in the aftermath. I don’t think that anyone who disagrees with Toucher and me is a moron, as I do see the logic, but his points of debate are clearly better than the other side, in my view. His rant is also germane this Le Batard situation.
The final example is the recent Stephen A. Smith fiasco. While I obviously think Smith’s comments on how a woman can provoke a beating were stupid, wasn’t it a little weird that Smith was suspended only after the apology? Suspending a guy for making comments that dumb, especially about such a sensitive gender issue as domestic violence, is only fair, but didn’t it seem like they were suspending him for people not accepting Stephen A.’s apology as much as ESPN had hoped.
What Dan Le Batard did didn’t break any rules, and I don’t think it was “in bad taste,” which is the kind of phrase that is used by people who are way too sensitive about everything approximately 90% of the time. ESPN suspended Le Batard just because the stunt didn’t help ratings, and it rubbed some of these “in bad taste” ultra-sensitive people the wrong way. According to ESPN, that’s enough of a reason to suspend a guy. But the fact that he was suspended a grand total of 2 days should show you that ESPN doesn’t really have a huge issue with what Le Batard did — they are doing it just because you can’t color outside the lines at all when you work for the worldwide leader. Having a personality and being a tiny bit unexpected isn’t right for corporations of America in 2014, and ESPN is a prime example.