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ESPN will reportedly undergo massive layoffs again 03.06.17 at 10:13 am ET
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ESPN laid off roughly 300 workers in October 2015. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

ESPN laid off roughly 300 workers in October 2015. (Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

For the second time in three years, it looks like ESPN will undergo significant layoffs. But unlike the purge in 2015, which primarily affected workers behind the scenes, faces that appear in front of the camera will likely be casualties this time around.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, ESPN management has been ordered to trim tens of millions of salary from its payroll over the next four months. The company will reportedly buyout contracts in order to fulfill the mandate.

In a statement sent to SI, ESPN said these anticipated moves are a part of the network’s evolution.

“We have long been about serving fans and innovating to create the best content for them,” it reads. “Today’s fans consume content in many different ways and we are in a continuous process of adapting to change and improving what we do. Inevitably that has consequences for how we utilize our talent. We are confident that ESPN will continue to have a roster of talent that is unequaled in sports.”

It’s no secret that ESPN has been hemorrhaging subscribers in recent years. In February 2011, the network was available in more than 100 million households. As of December 2016, that number was down to 88.4 million. With soaring rights fees –– ESPN now pays $3.3 billion annually to broadcast the NFL and NBA –– and a decreased customer base, the company’s business model is being challenged. The decreased advertising revenue coming out of Bristol is one of the reasons why Disney, ESPN’s parent company, reported lower-than-anticipated first quarter earnings last month.

ESPN remains the dominant force in sports broadcasting. But in a changing media landscape, the challenges it faces aren’t going away. These expected layoffs are another reminder of this grim reality.

Read More: ESPN,
Tuesday’s Morning Mashup: Connecticut aquarium names seal after Trey Flowers; ESPN reportedly looking to woo Katie Nolan from FS1 02.28.17 at 9:30 am ET
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Good morning, here is your Tuesday Morning Mashup. For the latest news, start at our WEEI.com home page or click here for the top stories and scores from our news wire.

TUESDAY’S BROADCAST HIGHLIGHTS:
MLB: Exhibition: NY Yankees at Boston, 1 p.m. (WEEI-AM 850)
MLB: Exhibition: Baltimore at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. (MLB Network)
NHL: Arizona at Boston, 7 p.m. (NESN)
NHL: Colorado at Philadelphia, 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
NBA: Golden State at Washington, 7 p.m. (NBA)
NBA: Charlotte at LA Lakers, 10:30 p.m. (NBA)
College basketball: Buffalo at Ohio, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)
College basketball: Georgetown at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
College basketball: Maryland at Rutgers, 6:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
College basketball: Florida State at Duke, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
College basketball: Indiana at Purdue, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Mississippi State at South Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: St. John’s at Creighton, 8 p.m. (CBSSN)
College basketball: DePaul at Providence, 8:30 p.m. (FS1)
College basketball: Ohio State at Penn State, 8:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
College basketball: Oklahoma State at Iowa State, 9 p.m. (ESPN2)
College basketball: Pittsburgh at Georgia Tech, 9 p.m. (ESPNU)
College basketball: Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
College basketball: Fresno State at Boise State, 10 p.m. (CBSSN)

AROUND THE WEB: 


— Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium is honoring the Patriots’ Super Bowl win by naming a rescued seal after a member of the championship team.

Each year the aquarium has a naming theme for its rescue seals and this year’s theme is flowers. Fittingly, it decided to name one of the seals Trey after Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers. Trey is expected to be released back into the wild after he completes his rehabilitation in two to three weeks.

Before the Super Bowl, Mystic Aquarium made a bet with the staff at the Georgia Aquarium that whichever aquarium’s team lost the Super Bowl, the staff must perform the sea lion show in the opposing team’s jerseys. Georgia’s staff fulfilled the bet while the sea lions performed “Under the Boardwalk” last week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: ESPN, Katie Nolan, Trey Flowers,
ESPN’s Max Kellerman rips Patriots fans, says they need to get over Deflategate 02.24.17 at 10:17 am ET
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It seems as if Max Kellerman is trying to be the ESPN’s No. 1 Patriots troll. It’s no easy feat, but after declaring last year Tom Brady is “going to be a bum in short order,” he’s on the fast track.

The “First Take” co-host went on a rant against Patriots fans Thursday, shouting at the top of his lungs about New England’s persecution complex.

“Dear citizens of New England: I am here on behalf of a beleaguered sports nation with a message for you. No one, anywhere in this country, feels any sympathy whatsoever for you and your teams,” he said. “There are sympathetic characters, and then there are all of you. Want to know? Every single one of your major sports franchises has won a championship in the last 10 years. Yet somehow, you still play the persecution card.”

Kellerman was reacting to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who said this week on “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” he’ll remember everybody who disparaged his organization during the Deflategate saga. The Patriots went on to win their fifth Super Bowl this year after Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season.

“First, your best ever quarterback did or did not cheat on the way to your fourth Super Bowl title,” Kellerman said. “Next, there was an investigation during which said incredible quarterback destroyed evidence. Then, the league commissioner suspended the quarterback. The quarterback fought the suspension, and lost. The commissioner did indeed have the power vested in him, in part by owners like Robert Kraft and also by the players’ union.

“So the 39-year-old quarterback sat the first four games of the season, the team went 3-1, and the backup quarterback increased his potential trade value to first-round pick level. The rested healthy star quarterback returned, and basically ran the table, giving a fifth chip to Mr. Kraft and all of stubbornly self-pitying New England.”

Kellerman’s thesis about Deflategate working out well for the Patriots is correct. Given Brady’s health at the end of the year and the possibility of trading Jimmy Garoppolo for a first-round pick this offseason, it may have even been a blessing in disguise.

But it’s asinine for Kellerman to question why Kraft would still be bitter about seeing his star quarterback get his reputation sullied for playing with slightly under-inflated footballs. He also, unsurprisingly, is wrong about the details of the investigation. While Brady destroyed his cell phone, he offered to help the NFL collect missing text messages. Roger Goodell declined that overture.

Facts can’t get in the way of a good rant, of course. Kellerman closed with an exclamation point, saying people aren’t jealous of Boston sports fans. They just hate their attitude.

“There’s a reason why everyone hates you guys. It’s not that your teams are so good, it’s that you handle it all so badly. Get over yourselves. Sincerely, everyone else,” he said.

Read More: ESPN, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
ESPNers are calling Dan Le Batard racist for his Magic Johnson criticism, and it’s glorious at 9:25 am ET
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The Lakers hired Magic Johnson this week to be their president of basketball operations. (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

The Lakers hired Magic Johnson this week to be their president of basketball operations. (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN host Dan Le Batard has flippantly accused others of racism throughout his career. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s glorious.

On his radio show Thursday, Le Batard lambasted the Lakers for naming Magic Johnson president of basketball operations. In his opinion, Johnson doesn’t have the credentials for the job.

“What you’ve got here, though, is a testament to the power of fame. And a testament to the power of a modicum of charm, because Magic Johnson is charming,” Le Batard said. “But Magic Johnson was given a late-night television show because he’s famous and charming. Failed in 11 shows. Magic Johnson was given a head coaching job of the Lakers because he’s famous and charming. Failed in 16 games. Magic Johnson, not interesting as a broadcaster, given broadcasting opportunity after broadcasting opportunity, because he’s famous and charming.

“And now, he gets to run the entire Lakers organization because he’s famous and charming. But he wasn’t good at any of those jobs I just mentioned, and he got all of those jobs, bypassing a whole lot of people who are more qualified, because he’s famous and charming.”

That’s a reasonable position for Le Batard to hold, considering Johnson doesn’t have any significant basketball front office experience. He’s a part of the Dodgers’ ownership group in MLB, but doesn’t appear to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the club.

Former Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, however, has a different view. He defended the Lakers’ decision to hire Magic Johnson, and condemned Le Batard for disparaging the NBA great.

“I can’t tolerate this dude! I can’t tolerate him saying these things about Magic Johnson because his facts are completely wrong!” he said. “He got a talk show coming out of the NBA because they were trying a late-night talk show with African-Americans, and he’s a guy in the city of LA who everyone liked. The talk show business is hard! How many people fail at it?”

Later in the segment, Keyshawn Johnson suggested Le Batard’s comments were racially motivated.

“I’m going to read between the lines, I’m going to read between the lines on this one,” he said. “To me, he saying because he’s a black dude, that’s the way I look at it.”

Keyshawn Johnson’s co-host, Jorge Sedano, who’s worked with Le Batard in Miami, tried to defend the ex-newspaper scribe. But then one of Magic Johnson’s former teammates, Mychal Thompson, called in and pushed back against Sedano.

“Sedano, you’re pissing me off. You gotta stop defending this Le Batard,” the ex-Lakers center said. “How dare he question Magic’s credentials and qualifications, when this man is a basketball genius. What does he want? … That ticked me off when I heard that, I’m with you, Key, that was some kind of veiled racist comment there.”

Le Batard didn’t only take a beating on Keyshawn Johnson’s radio show. “Pardon the Interruption” co-host Michael Wilbon sent out a series of tweets Thursday, accusing Le Batard of misrepresenting Magic Johnson’s post-career resume.

Since officially retiring from the NBA in 1996, Magic Johnson has taken part in a number of business ventures. His entertainment company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, has a net worth of $700 million. Magic Johnson did coach the Lakers at the end of the 1993-94 season, finishing with a 5-11 record.

Read More: Dan Le Batard, ESPN, Keyshawn Johnson, Magic Johnson
ESPN’s ‘The Six’ with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith is a boring flop 02.23.17 at 12:27 pm ET
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Michael Smith and Jemele Hill previously hosted "His & Hers" on ESPN2. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Jemele Hill and Michael Smith previously hosted “His & Hers” on ESPN2. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

When ESPN first launched “The Six” with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, it was billed as a hipper version of “SportsCenter,” set to reclaim weeknight viewers who have fled the network’s outdated signature program. But in reality, the show is unimaginative and boring. There’s nothing edgy about it, unless you consider Smith’s proclivity to wear sneakers with his suit jacket to be wacky instead of forced.

Despite weeks of incessant on-air promotion, including a corny video that features Hill and Smith boogying to the 1988 hit, “It Takes Two,” ratings for the refurbished “SportsCenter” leave much to be desired. On Monday, three weeks after its debut, the show drew 568,000 viewers. That’s less than the 574,000 people who tuned into the 6:00 p.m. airing of “SportsCenter” on the same date one year ago.

Ratings for other ESPN programs are suffering as well. The audience for “Pardon the Interruption” was down 16 percent over the first two weeks of February compared to last year, giving “The Six” a depressed lead-in. But still, with all of the effort spent publicizing the show, the numbers are underwhelming –– just like the product.

At the start of Wednesday’s episode, Hill and Smith spent some time discussing DeMarcus Cousins’ debut press conference with the Pelicans. The most notable tidbit from the conversation was their insistence on calling him “Boogie,” as if they’re close pals. Smith went on to say he’s president of the “Free Boogie Fan Club,” while Hill giggled awkwardly.

Following a staid segment about Paul George’s future with the Pacers –– Smith kept calling him “PG” in a contrived attempt at informality –– the two moved on to Magic Johnson, who didn’t interview a black candidate for the Lakers’ general manager position before hiring agent Rob Pelinka. On The Undefeated, ESPN’s black-interest website, columnist Marc Spears quoted a couple of league executives who criticized Johnson for bypassing potential African-American applicants. Instead of responding with their own takes, Hill and Smith equivocated. They both said they “understand the frustration,” but also believe Johnson must do what he thinks is best for the organization.

“Jeanie [Buss] fired her blood brother. So if you don’t win enough games, she will fire her brother from another mother in a second,” Smith said.

It’s insulting to expect black sports commentators to feel strongly about race relations. But both hosts, especially Hill, have spoken passionately about the subject in the past. Last year, she hosted a televised town hall on ABC with President Barack Obama about race in America.

One of the apparent reasons why Hill enjoys a prominent role on ESPN is her willingness to engage on social issues. But yet, on “The Six,” she plays it down the middle.

And therein lies the biggest problem with the program: there’s nothing memorable about it. The discussions are stale, with Hill and Smith regurgitating talking points that are heard on ESPN throughout the day. Neither take a particularly strong stand on anything, and when they do, they usually side with the athlete in question. Somewhere along the line, ESPN decided to become a promotional vehicle for the players it covers. Hill and Smith, with their insistence on referring to NBA stars by their carefully branded nicknames, feed into that.

Hill and Smith don’t need to turn into screeching hyenas to have a successful talk show. But there must be some elements of provocation. The demonization of “hot take culture” has caused people to forget that nearly every popular sports pundit in history, from Howard Cosell to Michael Wilbon, has routinely shared strong opinions. Hill, who once said cheering for the Celtics is akin to calling Adolf Hitler a victim, is no stranger to controversy. While nobody is clamoring for Nazi analogies, it’s bizarre to see her play an even-tempered role. The show desperately needs a shot of adrenaline.

In order to generate interest, programs must give their audience something to reach to. Tedious segments, like Wednesday’s interminable discussion with analysts Jeff Goodman and Ryen Russillo about NBA trade rumors, don’t accomplish that. Those kinds of dry interviews are staples on indiscernible sports talk shows across the country. They shouldn’t be featured on a supposedly groundbreaking show that ESPN is counting on to help resurrect its “SportsCenter” franchise.

“The Six” is billed as innovative. But the truth is, you’ve seen it a million times before.

Read More: ESPN, Jemele Hill, Michael Smith,
Donald Trump refuses to fill out NCAA tournament bracket for ESPN 02.15.17 at 4:09 pm ET
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Donald Trump won't be filling out a bracket this year. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool Photo/USA Today Network)

Donald Trump won’t be filling out a bracket this year. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool Photo/USA Today Network)

Throughout all eight years of his presidency, Barack Obama filled out NCAA tournament brackets on ESPN. Donald Trump is discontinuing the tradition.

According to the Washington Post, Trump declined ESPN’s bracket offer. In a statement provided to the Post, White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks didn’t provide many details about the reasoning behind the President’s decision.

“We look forward to working with ESPN on another opportunity in the near future,” she said.

Obama, a basketball enthusiast who frequently played pick-up games with staff members and other politicians, filled out both men’s and women’s brackets for an annual special on ESPN. Basketball analyst Andy Katz, who guided the President through the process, told the Post Obama’s passion for the game made the arrangement work.

“He wasn’t as dialed in to every player or team but had conversational knowledge to offer his own analysis on the NCAA tournament for the men’s and women’s game. Baracketology was a success because it was clear he was a fan of the sport and the NCAA tournament, like millions of other Americans,” he said.

Though Trump holds an apparent reverence for athletes, it’s unclear how closely he follows sports (he bailed on his beloved Patriots during halftime of Super Bowl LI, missing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history). While Obama was known to watch SportsCenter in his free time, Trump opts for cable news. He often live-tweets the morning talk shows, offering his unfiltered analysis on Twitter. Wednesday morning, Trump pleaded with his followers to watch Fox and Friends and ditch CNN and MSNBC, which were covering the fallout from Gen. Michael Flynn’s resignation.

While ESPN likely would’ve caught flak for collaborating with Trump, much like Saturday Night Live did in 2015 when he hosted an episode, this is a negative development for the WorldWide Leader. In recent months, the network has been criticized for its apparent left-wing bias. Featuring a softball segment with Trump may have helped change that perception –– at least for one day.

Read More: Donald Trump, ESPN,
ESPN’s public editor is at war with WEEI at 12:44 pm ET
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In a recent column, ESPN public editor Jim Brady said he thinks it’s acceptable for media personalities to fire back at folks on Twitter. He’s taking his own advice.

Following a discussion on Kirk & Callahan Wednesday about his piece, which features interviews with ESPN personalities about their approaches to social media and political commentary, several listeners messaged Brady with their complaints about the story. Most notably, Brady failed to admonish hosts who have insinuated Boston is a racist city, such as Bomani Jones and Israel Gutierrez. After Celtics fans briefly applauded potential free agent forward Gordon Hayward before tip-off when the Jazz visited the T.D. Garden last month, Jones strongly hinted on “Highly Questionable” that race played a role in the warm reception.

“Is there another arena in the whole country that would get this charged about Gordon Hayward maybe coming as a free agent?,” he asked. “Clapping for Kevin Durant is one thing. But if you put Gordon Hayward on the same level as Kevin Durant, you might be the city that had the Kevin Love welcoming tour when he wasn’t even a free agent yet.”

Israel Gutierrez followed up on Around the Horn, saying the Celtics are “famous for having Larry Bird on their team.”

After failing to respond to an invitation to join K&C, Brady took his fight to the Twittersphere.

Even though the article was about ESPN’s social media policy, it failed to mention Curt Schilling, the most high-profile employee who’s ever been terminated for his behavior on the Internet. On Twitter, Brady said he omitted Schilling because the right-hander was a multiple time offender. He was suspended in 2015 for comparing radical Muslim jihadism to Nazism, roughly seven months before he was canned for sharing an anti-transgender picture on Facebook.

Perhaps the most puzzling line in the piece came when Brady was introducing Jones, who he says is “never shy at [sic] mixing it up with fans or with critics.” That characterization contradicts the accounts of dozens of Boston sports fans who Jones has blocked on Twitter. He also refused to come on WEEI last month to further explain his point.

This isn’t the first time the public editor has mixed it up with WEEI personalities and listeners. Earlier this year, after Brady declined a request to join the station to discuss Jones’ inflammatory comments, Kirk Minihane called him a “coward.” He responded by calling Minihane a “clown.”

Read More: ESPN,
ESPN still ignores apparent double-standard that resulted in Curt Schilling’s firing 02.14.17 at 4:12 pm ET
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Curt Schilling was dismissed from ESPN last March. (David Manning/USA TODAY Sports)

Curt Schilling was dismissed from ESPN last March. (David Manning/USA TODAY Sports)

ESPN public editor Jim Brady published a column this week about the company’s policy when it comes to social media use and political discourse. He addresses a wide swath of controversies, including a recent string of comments from ESPN hosts who have insinuated Boston is a racist city. But he fails to mention Curt Schilling, who was fired from the network last year after sharing an anti-transgender post on Facebook.

The omission is significant, and it’s not just because Schilling is the most high-profile employee who’s ever been terminated for his behavior on social media. It also provides a glimpse into the apparent double-standard that exists at ESPN when it comes to who’s allowed to speak out, and who must stay silent.

In his piece, Brady says the WorldWide Leader should let its personalities express themselves with few restrictions.

“Barring something truly beyond the pale, it’s unlikely any ESPN personality would be terminated over a single comment or social media post,” he writes. “And, in a world where patience for opposing viewpoints seems to be evaporating, I think that’s a good position for the company to take.”

When asked why Schilling wasn’t included in the article, Brady said on Twitter it’s because he was a multiple time offender, having served a suspension in 2015 for comparing radical Muslim jihadism to Nazism. That’s fair, but several of his colleagues habitually make inflammatory statements, only to see their profiles rise.

Jemele Hill, who co-hosts the highly promoted “SC6″ with Michael Smith, was reprimanded in 2008 for saying rooting for the Celtics is akin to calling Adolf Hitler a victim.  Last summer, in the wake of the Orlando Massacre, she admonished Americans who condemn homophobia in Islamic cultures, because gay people face discrimination in the U.S. as well. While that may appear to be a nuanced take on the issue of LGBTQ rights, it’s mindless and insulting.  In at least 10 majority Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa, homosexuality is punishable by death. It’s difficult to see how that equates to the U.S., where same-sex marriage is legal and federal contractors are barred from discriminating against LGBTQ workers.

While gay rights in the U.S. can still be expanded, and are in danger of being rolled back during Donald Trump’s administration, the comparison Hill made is invalid. Or, at the least, it’s not any less nonsensical than comparing Islamic jihadism to Nazism.

But Hill is now one of the most visible hosts on ESPN, free to label Boston as the “gold-standard of racism” during a recent podcast with NBA analyst Amin Elhassan. In that same episode, Elhassan called Boston the most bigoted city in the country north of the Mason-Dixon line.

It seems to be acceptable at ESPN to smear Bostonians and call them racist. When Celtics fans cheered Jazz forward Gordon Hayward last month, Bomani Jones implied on “Highly Questionable” that race may have been a factor in his warm reception. (Never mind that Celtics fans have also applauded Kevin Durant and other potential free agents in recent years, as an apparent effort to recruit them to Boston.)

“Is there another arena in the whole country that would get this charged about Gordon Hayward maybe coming as a free agent?,” he asked. “Clapping for Kevin Durant is one thing. But if you put Gordon Hayward on the same level as Kevin Durant, you might be the city that had the Kevin Love welcoming tour when he wasn’t even a free agent yet.”

On “Around the Horn,” Israel Gutierrez issued a similar statement.

“It’s Boston. They’re famous for having Larry Bird on their team. Gordon Hayward looks more like Larry Bird than other players in the league. So maybe there’s that Boston connection there,” he said.

In an interview with Brady, Jones said he was talking about how Boston has a “particular affection for white players.” But it’s unclear how that’s different than other cities that support talented white athletes. Skin color isn’t the barometer for Celtics fan appreciation, or else Kelly Olynyk would probably be the most popular player on the squad instead of Isaiah Thomas. Rather than clarify his remarks, Jones fired off another cheap shot.

At ESPN, there appear to be different sets of rules for each personality. Stephen A. Smith, for example, was welcomed back after hinting in 2014 that women sometimes bring domestic violence upon themselves. Last summer, he strongly hinted that Stephen Curry’s outspoken wife, Ayesha, should know her place and not bring any negative attention to herself.

In isolation, none of these comments should result in anybody’s firing. Opinionated personalities should be allowed to speak their minds both on- and off-air. But it remains difficult to see how Schilling’s statements crossed a line, while others are deemed acceptable.

Schilling was politically outspoken throughout his tenure at ESPN, including when he got into a spat with Keith Law about the theory of evolution and said Hillary Clinton should be “buried under a jail.” So it’s unlikely his political leanings were the ultimate reason he was fired. It’s more plausible Schilling was canned for his crassness. The anti-transgender meme he shared featured a burly man in drag, and below it, he said the “men’s room was designed for the penis.” Classy stuff.

But then again, it’s not all that classy to compare Celtics fans to Nazi sympathizers or label Boston racist with nothing more than decades-old anecdotal evidence –– such as citing the break-in at Bill Russell’s house during his playing days in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

When it comes to ESPN’s policies on social media use and political commentary, Schilling stands out as someone who may have fallen victim to a double-standard. But apparently, it’s easier for ESPN to ignore that instead of address it head-on.

Read More: Curt Schilling, ESPN,
Dan Le Batard cowers after implying Patriots prefer white wide receivers 01.24.17 at 1:51 pm ET
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Dan Le Batard came close to saying the Patriots have white wide receivers because they’re a racist organization and Boston is a racist city. But then he stopped just short.

On his ESPN radio show Monday, Le Batard talked about the stylistic differences between the Patriots and Falcons, who will face off in Super Bowl 51.

“Is anyone going to, at any point in 2017 America, point out the contrasting styles we have in this Super Bowl? Two very different cities, the wide receiver cores for both teams are very different,” he said. “When is that going to become a thing as we head towards Super Bowl week and we’re going to have to talk about everything and people are going to get tired of the chess match. Is anybody going to dare to wander into that topic? You’ve got Julio [Jones] and Muhammad [Sanu] and [Julian] Edelman. No? We’re going to avoid that?”

Le Batard, like other ESPN personalities who have defamed Boston in recent weeks, refuses to defend his words when challenged. On Tuesday, he implied his comments were said in jest.

Given ESPN’s history of disparaging Boston, it’s difficult to give Le Batard the benefit of the doubt. Earlier this month, when Celtics fans cheered soon-to-be free agent forward Gordon Hayward during pregame introductions, several talking heads at the WorldWide Leader brought race into the conversation. Jae Crowder, who took exception to fans applauding an opponent, is black. Hayward, of course, is white. For some, the low-hanging fruit was too much to ignore.

On Highly Questionable, Bomani Jones appeared to say Celtics fans like Hayward because of his skin color.

“Is there another arena in the whole country that would get this charged about Gordon Hayward maybe coming as a free agent? Clapping for Kevin Durant is one thing. But if you put Gordon Hayward on the same level as Kevin Durant, you might be the city that had the Kevin Love welcoming tour when he wasn’t even a free agent yet,” he said.

Writer Israel Gutierrez made a similar connection on Around the Horn.

“It’s Boston. They’re famous for having Larry Bird on their team. Gordon Hayward looks more like Larry Bird than other players in the league. So maybe there’s that Boston connection there,” he speculated.

Never mind that Celtics fans also showered then-pending free agent Kevin Durant with applause last season or that Crowder said he was upset his remarks were interpreted as race-related. Don’t let context or facts get in the way of a good rant, like when NBA analyst Amin Elhassan said in a recent podcast Boston is the most racist city in the country north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

“Somebody asked me, ‘How would you kind of tabulate or kind of quantify how racist a town is?’ I said, ‘Oh that’s easy. Record scratches per square foot.’ Because I’m telling you, it’s a funny thing from movies, but it’s happened to me for real in Boston. You walk in, the music stops, and everybody who’s all in their individual conversations stops and turns to me. I’m talking places not a stone’s throw from the arena.”

Presumably, Elhassan is referring to the T.D. Garden, the place where Celtics fans cheered for Hayward and within a stone’s throw of where they once cheered for Larry Bird. Apparently, it’s improper for fans to like multiple white players per half-century. They can only choose one. (Jones, Gutierrez and Elhassan all declined invitations to appear on WEEI, by the way.)

There’s no ignoring Boston’s repulsive history when it comes to its treatment of African-American athletes. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate and Bill Russell endured a disgusting amount of hardship. One night, vandals wrote racial slurs on his walls and smeared feces on his bed.

While these shameful episodes shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s reckless to use them as ammunition to support the lazy narrative about Boston being unwelcoming towards black athletes. David Ortiz might be the most beloved Red Sox player of all-time, with Pedro Martinez finishing a close second. Kevin Garnett, who originally didn’t want to play for the Celtics, now says Boston will always have a special place in his heart.

Few black athletes are more outspoken than Martellus Bennett, and he’s seemed to embrace Boston with open arms. This week, in fact, he made a t-shirt that says as much.

If Bennett spoke ill of Boston, race-baiting provocateurs like Le Betard and Jones would probably discuss his comments ad nauseum for the next two weeks. But since he didn’t, his shirt and accompanying tweet likely won’t be mentioned on their respective shows.

At ESPN, slandering Boston sports fans and teams seems to be part of the mission statement. And instead of defending his wild insinuation about the Patriots preferring white receivers, Le Batard decided to deflect. It’s par for the course.

Read More: ESPN, New England Patriots,
SB Nation’s Charlotte Wilder goes unchallenged in ESPN Radio interview 01.16.17 at 10:31 am ET
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SB Nation’s Charlotte Wilder turned down an interview with Kirk & Callahan last week, but she did pay a visit to the cozy confines of ESPN Radio following her controversial article about Patriots fans having a problem with the team’s affiliation with President-Elect Donald Trump.

In an appearance Sunday on The Morning RoastWilder reiterated her claim that the team is experiencing a significant amount of Trump-related backlash. “I heard from people who were like, ‘Man, I can’t believe they like this guy –– they like Trump. I hate Trump.’ And sort of up in arms,” she said. “But the majority of people I talked to or that I saw leave comments on Brady’s Facebook page –– there were thousands, hundreds –– the people that struck me the most, somebody put it really eloquently and I quote him in my story, he was like, ‘Look, I don’t care what they do off the field. I don’t care who they vote for.’ … But there’s this deep hypocrisy to some fans who think, ‘Here’s Belichick, who’s famously gruff with the media, who says, ‘We’re onto Cincinnati. We’re onto Cincinnati. We’re onto Cincinnati.’” And then, they felt that when it was beneficial for him, or when he felt like he didn’t have to follow his own rules, where the rules have been the media policy and the no distractions and the ‘do your job’ has been something that fans have really bought into. They feel sort of betrayed. It’s like, ‘Wait, you’re not following the one thing that we thought we all agreed on was our thing.’”

Hosts Domonique Foxworth, Clinton Yates and Mina Kimes didn’t challenge Wilder’s conclusion, despite the fact she only quotes one fan, Susan Pease of Lincolin, who says Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s friendships with Trump propelled her to stop watching. Wilder declined my request to be interviewed for this piece.

Later in the conversation, Wilder says many Patriots fans are experiencing an existential crisis in the wake of Trump’s victory. “Some people have stopped watching. As I said in the piece, the majority of people aren’t going to stop watching or stops supporting. But what I was focusing on are the people who are having issues with this, not the people who aren’t,” she said. “If you don’t care about this, great. I’m glad there’s a way some people are able to compartmentalize. But I think when you have an identity –– being a fan is so much about identity –– and your identity is tied into that of your team. And then when you team gets tied up into an identity that fundamentally breaks from yours, then it’s this real kind of moment of crises where you’re like, “Wait, where are the venn diagrams here? Where can I separate myself, how can I compartmentalize this?” And it might seem silly, because it’s sports, but it’s not silly, because sports are kind of everything.”

It seems as if most Patriots fans were able to put their supposed mental distress aside and watch Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans. The contest drew a monstrous 42.2 rating in Boston.

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