ESPN has always struggled with addressing politics. Traditionally, the president coming on SportsCenter for a lighthearted segment picking a March Madness bracket represents the far edge of its political engagement, and even FiveThirtyEight, the network’s boldest experiment in this area, is more about politics as sport than about the life-or-death consequences of policy. Certainly, ESPN prefers for employees to avoid all political talk, and to act as if they’ve been very narrowly lobotomized. But it is a huge company with thousands of employees with a range of viewpoints and access to 24/7 social media megaphones, which makes this an impossible edict to enforce. Last year, a memo went out urging talent to avoid commentary on the presidential election; it was violated daily by dozens of ESPNers.
Over the weekend there were nationwide protests at airports and other locations against Donald Trump’s thinly-disguised Muslim ban, which was and is tearing apart families, preventing permanent residents of the United States from entering the country, subjecting toddlers to detainment, and causing a near-constitutional crisis as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers flagrantly violate federal court orders.