ESPN host Dan Le Batard minced no words Thursday, criticizing his network’s policy discouraging hosts from discussing politics as “cowardly” and “weak-ass.”
Le Batard lambasted his employer after President Donald Trump’s supporters at a rally chanted “send her back,” climaxing days of the president’s racist attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and three other women of color in Congress.
“So what happened last night, this felt un-American,” said Le Batard, whose parents came to the U.S. from Cuba, referencing Trump’s vicious rally in North Carolina on Wednesday. “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 because Jemele [Hill] did some things on Twitter, and you saw what happened after that.
“Then, 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.”
Citing ratings, ESPN executives have encouraged hosts to cut back on political commentary unless the topic involves a major sports figure since former host Jemele Hill made a series of comments about Trump in 2017, including calling him a white supremacist. Then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on ESPN to fire Hill, and ESPN sidelined her before she left the network last year.
Le Batard continued:
Le Batard went on to note how sports and politics have always been linked, citing the long history of athletes who have fought for political change, including Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Jim Brown during the civil rights movement.
More recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests against police brutality have caused him career consequences. Many right-wing figures, including Trump himself, have mischaracterized Kaepernick’s protests as disrespect for the flag and the national anthem, questioning Kaepernick’s patriotism.
“We’re taking this stuff and making it about the flag, when it’s not about the flag. It’s about race!” Le Batard said.
After again decrying Trump’s rally, Le Batard blasted ESPN for hiding behind a “weak-ass shield.”
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“Around here, we won’t talk about it. We won’t talk about it unless Russell Wilson is saying something about it on his Instagram page. Weak-ass shield,” the host said. “It is antithetical to what we should be — and if you’re not calling it abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric, you’re complicit.”
A spokeswoman for ESPN on Friday declined to comment on Le Batard’s remarks.
This article has been updated to include ESPN’s response.