Eyebrows were raised last week when a story by Marisa Guthrie in The Hollywood Reporter wrote the following headline about Get Up with Mike Greenberg, Michelle Beadle, and Jalen Rose: “ESPN Plans to Wake Up Woke With New Morning Show.” Given that this story was intended to be a soft landing spot from an ESPN PR perspective, it was a very odd focal point, considering ESPN executives keep swearing up and down they want to be all about sports and not politics.
Mike Greenberg, in an interview with Michael McCarthy, pushed back on both the story and the idea that the show will be political. He analogized ESPN talking politics to going to McDonald’s and being told they were out of burgers, and had this to say about the THR story:
I don’t want to call anyone out, OK? I don’t know how that happened. I can tell you I was on that call, I was in that interview. What Jalen said was, “If the president tweets something about sports while we’re on the air, then we will talk about it.” Somehow that became a headline that we’re going to be a “woke” talk show. I don’t even know what that means, much less how it relates to what we were talking about. That, in my opinion, was a very misleading headline relative to the intention of the show. . . . If you read the article, we talk at great length about how our plan is to do a sports show. That is 100 percent what we are going to do.
Just based on what their content has been like before, there is going to be an inherent conflict on topic selection between Greeny and Beadle on this show. Beadle, who shared the THR piece on Twitter in what amounts to a tacit endorsement, will feel more comfortable straddling the gray area of the sports/politics intersection than Greeny will.
From the unveiling of the new social media policy in November to new president Jimmy Pitaro emphasizing to a town hall of hundreds of ESPN employees that they are a sports network, we know on which side the outwardly stated preference of Disney and ESPN bosses lies.
Nevertheless, it feels like ESPN misunderstands the point of its critics when these discussions arise. It’s not that people want ESPN to stay out of politics and create a platform like this straight news and highlights app CBS boss Les Moonves is bragging about. This does and would make for very boring television, and there’s a reason ESPN is perpetually overhauling traditional SportsCenter to find the right mix of information and personality. However, the critics want more opinionists than just Will Cain to represent the sensibilities of middle America.
Greeny isn’t going to be the conservative counterbalance for Beadle’s social opinions, so it’s no surprise that he’d rather avoid these discussions altogether whenever possible. However, the social and political realms intersect with sports every day now. How the NFL handles protesting during the National Anthem, for example, is an unavoidable conversation topic. So is whether Colin Kaepernick is employed, and interviews of Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, and thoughts shared by LeBron James.
Get Up is coming into this world with a bullseye on its back. That comes with the territory when Greeny, Beadle, and Jalen are making nearly $15 million combined. Navigating this present world in a way that is politically satisfying to all parties is going to be an immense challenge for them, and I guess we’ll have to see how it all plays out.