After five months in charge at ESPN, company president Jimmy Pitaro got up in front of a bunch of reporters on Friday and revealed his big new vision for the network. Based on Piatro’s comments, ESPN will stride boldly into the future by sticking to sports and playing lapdog for the NFL.
Pitaro all but pledged he wouldn’t do anything to make the NFL mad, so the league will keep selling the broadcast rights to its increasingly shitty and confusing product to ESPN, allowing ESPN to continue to clinging desperately to dwindling cable subscribers. The partnership is likely doomed for a variety of reasons (chief among them is cord cutting), but no one told Pitaro that, and he has dutifully and enthusiastically heeled to his self-appointed master. The Washington Post covered his remarks.
Here’s Pitaro talking about ESPN’s relationship with the league:
“I’ve spent a lot of time with league executives,” Pitaro said Friday. “The relationship is incredibly important to us. That programming cuts across everything we’re doing on the studio side, on the original content side. And we’ve made that very clear to the NFL.”
Here he is showing his ass about the inherent and inextricable relationship between sports and politics:
“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.”
Piatro is so willing to demonstrate what a “good partner” ESPN is to the NFL that he has told the league that ESPN will not air the national anthem ahead of Monday Night Football broadcasts:
Pitaro also has told the league that ESPN does not plan to air the national anthem ahead of its Monday night telecasts. The policy is not a change from previous seasons, but the network articulated its plans directly to the league for the first time.
“They have not asked,” Pitaro said. “But we have proactively just as a courtesy and as good partners let them know what our plans are.”
You’d think an ostensible news outlet would be interested—compelled, even—to provide coverage of ongoing protests being staged by athletes in the most popular sports league in the country, but who has time for journalistic matters when there are wheels to be greased.
Earlier this year, it was reported that the NFL and ESPN were feuding over a number of issues. ESPN was mad that the NFL kept giving them shitty Monday night games; the NFL was mad that ESPN reporters were doing their jobs by publishing investigative reports on issues that are unflattering to the league. It’s clear that Pitaro is going out of his way to play nice and soothe whatever problems the NFL and ESPN have with each other, even if he has to debase himself to do so. The strategy seems to be working so far:
Pitaro said he is pleased with the slate of Monday night games ESPN will broadcast this season. In Week 1, ESPN has the Oakland Raiders vs. the Los Angeles Rams in Raiders Coach Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline. Later in the season, it will broadcast the Kansas City Chiefs and the Rams from Mexico City.
“We have 11 out of the 12 teams that made the playoffs last year,” Pitaro said. “We are very pleased with the schedule.”
ESPN will always find itself in the paradoxical position of having to cover and report on the very leagues it is in partnership with. The network’s opposing interests will never exist in harmony, and the best the reporters and commentators who work at ESPN can hope for is that those in charge value their reporting more than they value keeping the NFL happy. That doesn’t seem to be the message Pitaro is sending.