Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Barack Obama, Politics and Sports Fans

UPDATE to yesterday's late post about ESPN cancelling a scheduled podcast interview between Barack Obama and Bill Simmons.

There's a theory that fans don't want to mix politics and sports. First of all, a conversation with Obama could/would have been entirely about basketball, because the interviewer is a basketball fan -- it is why Obama's hoops passion has been a popular meme for bloggers for the last year (or more).

Second, I disagree with that premise -- I'm a politics junkie AND a sports fan. And there is more interest in politics now -- among the public at large -- than there has been in a long time, and I presume that there are at least a few sports fans who also care about politics this year. Do fans want me to mix "David Ortiz is struggling" with "McCain's economic plan is sketchy?" Of course not.

But given Obama's passion for basketball (and sports more generally -- as a fan), I think talking about the intersection of Obama's interests (sports) and fans' interests (sports) is no more out of bounds than talking with Will Ferrell about his love of USC football while Ferrell is trying to promote his new movie. Everyone has an agenda -- it's up to the interviewer not to blindly play to it... and up to fans to recognize it.

(Last point: I haven't seen anyone else pick up on this, but please note that there was no apparent problem with "politics" when leveraging Obama's popularity by putting him at the beginning of that Monday Night Football broadcast back in the fall of 2006.)

-- D.S.


DougOLis said...

How is it any different that Bush sitting in the booth on the opening Nats game? Which was on ESPN no less. They didn't really talk about politics while he was on and focused on baseball.

bird said...

Dan, I wish you could schedule an interview with Obama. I know the questions you'd ask would no doubt be 1000% better than the ones that were asked at last night's debate!

Natsfan74 said...

Dan, I am sorry, but I completely disagree and am glad that ESPN is not going to mix politics with sports in this case. I am a huge sports fan, and a politics junkie, but I think that those two things do not have the same intersection for everyone. I, for one, hate when ESPN includes any politics talk in their stories because the ones I have seen thus far have had a much more liberal slant than necessary. ESPN should stick to what it does well -- cover sports.

A purely sports discussion between any candidate would be ok, but really, what would be the point? Fine, Obama is a sports fan. DOes this mean that McCain isn't a sports fan at all? Why do I care what team either of them follows? I won't choose a candidate because of his/her sports affiliation.

This is coming from a political science major who lives in DC and worked on the Hill.

pv845 said...

The problem with the WWL allowing this on their news or radio is the equal time that they would have to grant both Hillary and John McCain, not to mention other candidates. Think back to Al Sharpton and Fred Thompson.

It is a headache the ESPN doesn't want.

Joey said...

I don't want politics mixing with my sports...

Your Humble Correspondent said...

There is no such thing as the "fairness doctrine," or equal time that is mentioned here.

Odd circumstance about Obama, but I don't watch anything on ESPN except live events and occasionally, PTI, so I wouldn't watch anyway.

People that get so mad about politics encroaching into sports are living in denial about the "real world."

Dave Kern said...

Agree wholeheartedly. ESPN did themselves a huge disservice and at the same time admitted that their readership is too ignorant (which looks to be accurate based on this small group of comments) to realize that an interview with a presidential candidate doesn't mean that espn, abc, the mouse all support the candidate or are some how being unfair by letting their columnist interview him.

As an aside, if Simmons supports him, SO WHAT? He's been saying he supports him in his columns for the last 6 months.

Lastly, the idea that if you interview one guy, you have to interview all of them or "give them equal time" is bullshit. You don't have to give anyone anything. Only in the case of a moderated public debate should each candidate get equal time. Otherwise, if Clinton or McCain don't know a thing about sports or don't care, why would ESPN want to interview them?

Unknown said...

pv845, I don't think the equal air time applies in this case. It oddly impacted TNT & TBS earlier in the year because of Fred Thompson being a key figure in Law & Order. But having Obama appear in the B.S. podcast is different because it isn't television or radio. To the best of my knowledge campaign laws don't account for podcasts, only traditional media outlets, so there's no issue of providing equal time for ESPN there. While the merits of whether a presidential candidate should be given a platform from a sports network is debatable, I doubt the equal time provision was an obstacle because a podcast fits nicely into a loophole in the law.

jhawkjjm said...

pv nailed it. Equal time is required (by law?) and that means by having Obama now, they need to involve Hillary before the DNC. And also need to get McCain. Then if they wanted to have the nominees from each party before November. You're in the situation where you've given time to each candidate twice already.