Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this story misstated that Keith Olbermann is an only child.
Dan Le Batard passed along a theory today from the “highest levels” of ESPN management that it tends to be children without siblings who find themselves embattled at the company. He said he’s had a lot of conversations with other parents about the “fairness of having only children because in the formative years you’re not taught correctly how to share, you’ve got all your parents’ attention, and sort of how that distorts the adult prism.”
He appeared to think for a split-second about whether what he was thinking was appropriate for him to say, and then went for it: “Because ESPN has theories about its big talent that has gotten in trouble and how it’s always only child syndrome. Like, the big talent that has gotten in trouble that hasn’t felt supported usually it’s — ESPN at the highest levels of management, they’ve noticed sort of an only child viral strain in adulthood.”
Le Batard wondered if this extended to the behavior of professional athletes “viewing things through their prism and only through their prism.” Le Batard’s producer Mike Ryan brought up Jeff Bagwell, Joe Montana, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as only children who might go against this theory, but then Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods as two that may confirm it.
“There can be greatness from only children,” Le Batard said. “I’m not saying that you can’t get greatness from only children. I’m saying you get a distorted worldview from only children. I’m not saying that only children can’t be great. I’m saying that only children are people who are used to being selfishly getting all their parents’ attention from a young age, and if you never have to share any of that love over the first 14 years, it’s gonna shape how you are as an adult.”
Regarding what Le Batard said in the first part of the conversation, three ESPN talents (and, in the segment he did not name names) who have gotten in trouble with management over the years who are only children include Bill Simmons, Jemele Hill, and Tony Kornheiser. (Jason Whitlock, who is not an only child, could be held up as a counterexample. So could Keith Olbermann, who it should be noted did not have issues with ESPN management during his second stint at the company.)
Kornheiser has generally stayed in management’s good graces since he was last suspended in 2010.
Simmons covered some of the similarities and differences in the issues he and Jemele have had with the company’s social media guidelines (or lack thereof) in a column a couple weeks ago. Hill’s agent, Evan Dick, told The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis this week that “People saying [ESPN President John Skipper] is not supportive of Jemele is categorically false.”
Nevertheless, this segment was an interesting glimpse into one of the theories of ESPN management.