It seems as if there have been more athletes and leagues taking political stands in recent months. Whether it was LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade at the ESPYs, Colin Kapaernick’s protest, the NBA moving the All-Star Game, asking Tom Brady if he supports Trump because of his Make America Great Again hat, or ESPN airing a special with President Obama, it seems as if there has been more political discussion in regards to sports than in recent history. That probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. With the entire country wrapped up in the 2016 presidential race, it makes sense that media outlets will try and leverage the excitement.
Is it really sports news that a backup QB who might get cut didn’t stand during the national anthem? Many people would say no. But the timing right now is different. ESPN is about entertainment. They are about producing content that people will watch. Whether that is tracking down Brett Favre after he comes out of retirement for the 15 time, or having full-time Tebow or Manziel watch, if people will tune in ESPN will air it. Now the country is wrapped up in the election, there is a lot of emotion and momentum building. If ESPN, Fox, NBC Sports, The Ringer, USA Today, and other media outlets want eyeballs and clicks, they have to move in lockstep with what their customers want. In this way, politics and sports crossover is a huge play. Otherwise Kapaernick may not be as big of a deal in a non-election year, versus what we have now.
News outlets have transitioned more and more to entertainment outlets. CNN and MSNBC have their own biased viewership they have to program content to. Fox News viewers probably aren’t big into Obama success stories. The sports news networks and media companies are no different. If an athlete or league is willing to state their political affiliations of opinions it is very likely to get coverage because everything is focused on the U.S. political races.
This could be a good and bad. Sports have a habit of bringing political discussion to the forefront even when some fans claim people in the sports media realm should stick to sports. Just furthering the discussion — any discussion — could be seen as beneficial to society. It could also create more of a divide. Some people already see ESPN as the MSNBC of sports. If any of the sports media companies are seen as leaning too far one way or another it could alienate future viewership. One thing is for sure, it doesn’t look like the politics/sports crossover is going away until after the election.