USA Today Sports

New ESPN president says he wants network to focus less on politics during NFL season

Alex Reimer
August 20, 2018 - 11:41 am

One of new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro’s main objectives is to repair the WorldWide Leader’s seemingly frayed relationship with the NFL. In an apparent effort to do that, he says the network is going to move away from politics.

At ESPN Media Day last week, Pitaro announced the network’s plans to not air the national anthem prior to “Monday Night Football.” Though the MNF has never fixated on the anthem –– ESPN says it was shown three times last season –– Pitaro said he wanted to be clear with the league about his priorities. 

“They have not asked,” Pitaro said, per the Washington Post. “But we have proactively just as a courtesy and as good partners let them know what our plans are.”

In March, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported some NFL executives have categorized the relationship between the league and ESPN as “the worst they’ve ever seen.” The seeming frustration stems from ESPN pursuing negative stories about the NFL, including the concussion crisis and anthem controversy. ESPN’s investigative arms, such as “Outside the Lines,” have published multiple stories about the power struggle between owners on the anthem topic in recent months.

Though Pitaro says ESPN will continue to cover the intersection of sports and politics, he wants his personalities to stick to sports in all other scenarios. “If you ask me is there a false narrative out there, I will tell you ESPN being a political organization is false,” he said. “I will tell you I have been very, very clear with employees here that it is not our jobs to cover politics, purely.”

Given President Trump’s proclivity to lambast protesting players, Pitaro’s edict will likely be tested immediately. He wants to walk a delicate line.