ESPN’s new boss talks about anchors taking political stances: ‘We are not a political organization’

  • ESPN’s new president Jimmy Pitaro discussed the contentious issue of ESPN anchors taking political stances on social media in an interview with Variety.
  • ESPN set new social-media guidelines for its employees in November, after controversy surrounded political Twitter posts from some of its anchors, including former “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill.
  • Pitaro referenced the guidelines in the interview and said of ESPN: “We are not a political organization. We are a sports-media company.”

ESPN’s new president Jimmy Pitaro gave his first interview since he was hired to the role earlier this month, in a Variety Q&A published Tuesday.

In the interview, Pitaro discussed a handful of topics, including the company’s upcoming streaming service, ESPN+, as well as the contentious issue of ESPN anchors taking political stances on social media.

ESPN set new social-media guidelines for its employees in November, after former “SportsCenter” host Jemele Hill was suspended for advocating that advertisers boycott Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who said in November that players who kneeled during the national anthem would not play for his team. Hill had earlier sparked controversy for calling President Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter.

“We are not a political organization. We are a sports-media company,” Pitaro said in response to a question on the company’s social-media policy. “And our focus is on serving the sports fans. There will always be intersections between sports and politics. When that news happens, we are going to cover it.”

“I will tell you, regarding our employees specifically, we provided them with guidelines. There is general understanding and alignment in terms of what our best path forward is within the company,” Pitaro continued. “I’m a big believer in the value of social media, and we need to engage with our fans through social media in a thoughtful way, and we are doing that.”

The social-media guidelines the company set in November included phrases like, “Think before you tweet, post or otherwise engage on social platforms,” and, “Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues’ work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy.”