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Covering the debate: ESPN’s King talks intersection of sports and politics

Covering the debate: ESPN’s King talks intersection of sports and politics

By John Ourand, Staff Writer

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King
Four days after ESPN anchor Jemele Hill published her tweets about President Trump, ESPN President John Skipper put out a company-wide memo reiterating the company’s guidelines in dealing with politics on air and via social media. “When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that,” he wrote.

Last week, I spoke with Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president of original content, newsgathering and digital media, about how ESPN has been covering that intersection of politics and sports.

What are ESPN’s guidelines?
KING:
We have pretty well considered political commentary guidelines that have always stated that where sports intersect with politics, we have not only the leeway but the responsibility to thoughtfully bring that intersection into our coverage. Our guidelines have always talked about standards of conduct and trying to do things in a thoughtful, reasoned, reported way that is credible and fair.

How has that played out over the last two weeks?
KING:
From where we started two weeks ago, we’ve all been pretty clear that we could have been better in that moment. If you’re talking about last weekend (Sept. 23-24), everybody recognizes that there was a tremendous collision between politics and sports that began Friday night. That weekend and the beginning of this week, a lot of people did really fine work to try to be what people needed us to be in a really confusing and different time. Our coverage was excellent, in large part because we recognized that we were getting ready to go into more treacherous waters that would evoke a lot of emotion among our audience. But that was also within our guidelines in that there was a clear connection.

Has the intersection of sports and politics become blurrier?
KING:
I don’t like the term blurrier. No question that over the last couple of weeks, it’s never been more important to have thoughtful conversations about everything we’re doing.

How seriously do you take the accusation that ESPN is too liberal?
KING:
We take that very seriously because we don’t believe it to be true.
John Ourand


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