Jim Brady

ESPN doctrine: Politics and 'social issues' are part of sports, but what about religion?

ESPN doctrine: Politics and 'social issues' are part of sports, but what about religion?

I'm sure there are lots of GetReligion readers who are familiar with the old etiquette rule stating that there are two things people are not supposed to talk about in polite company -- religion and politics.

However, we now know that the same rule -- or half of it -- does not apply to sports talk at ESPN.

This is complicated. The other day, our own Bobby Ross Jr., followed up on a great tip from a reader about some North Caroline State football players who volunteered some of their time to do mission work in Kenya. The headline on that piece stated: "Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter."

You see, despite all kinds of social media references to the fact that this was a Christian missions trip (Do secular groups use the word "missions" in this context?), the ESPN team went way out of its way to avoid any references to religious faith. At the end, Bobby said:

Please don't misunderstand me: I think it's great that ESPN decided to report on a "life-changing experience" that made a "profound impact" and "inspired (one of [punter A.J.] Cole's teammates) so much."I just wish ESPN would go ahead and tell the rest of the story -- the one that involves those unmentioned words above.
Seriously, why is ESPN -- seemingly -- so afraid of religion?

As the video at the top of this post notes, Cole has been doing this generic missions work for quite some time now.

Anyway, we have received emails from readers claiming that ESPN has an actual policy forbidding discussions of religion on the air -- but have never been given direct evidence of this. There has also been talk (think Christmas wars) about ESPN banning adds that mention Jesus, etc.

Meanwhile, ESPN ratings have been in a dangerous spiral that some, in addition to the obvious ties to young viewers cutting cables to their screens, have linked to the sports giant airing more and more commentaries backing progressive cultural and political causes, some of which have implications for traditional religious believers.

Now, ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady has written a very interesting essay about new ESPN policies affecting political speech during news reports. The headline: "New ESPN guidelines recognize connection between sports, politics."

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Culture wars at ESPN? Maybe there's more to these tensions than mere politics

Culture wars at ESPN? Maybe there's more to these tensions than mere politics

If you run a search of the GetReligion site for "ESPN" you will, for the most part, find exactly what you would expect: A long list of stories about athletes -- famous and obscure -- that contain little or nothing about the role that faith plays in their lives, even if it's easy to read between the lines and spot the religion ghosts.

You can spend quite a bit of time simply reading about the Bible, the National Basketball Association and superstar Stephen Curry's inspirational sneakers.

But now there is something different to talk about. What we have here is a sort of think piece thing about ESPN and politics that is actually making news in some corners of the World Wide Web.

The big question is whether this story is really about "politics" or, well, you know what.

What we're dealing with here is a remarkable letter to readers and viewers from the pilots who steer the mass-media giant that ESPN insiders have long called "The Mother Ship." In other words, we're talking about a content issue on the prime ESPN channels, in the core shows and public projects that for a few decades now have helped drive the direction of how Americans interact with sports.

The headline on the piece by public editor Jim Brady states: "Inside and out, ESPN dealing with changing political dynamics."

Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start:

The 2016 presidential election season has been one most of us will never forget. The tone has been ugly, the controversies endless, the coverage unrelenting. Our social media feeds are full of politically charged statements, and what dialogue does exist between differing sides more often resembles a WWE match than nuanced debate.
Thankfully, I get to write about ESPN, where the focus on sports means I never have to deal with politics.
Ah, if only that were true.

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