Last week, in response to the President’s vile, racist attacks on four United States Congresswomen, Dan Le Batard, a sports commentator, took to his ESPN radio show and had the temerity to speak some basic truth:
“If you’re not calling it abhorrent, obviously racist, dangerous rhetoric, you’re complicit.” Yes. Amen. As Jamele Smith, another ESPN pariah, put it, calling out this President’s obvious racism is akin to “saying water is wet.”
Le Batard went on to directly call out ESPN’s meak “no politics” policy, and to reject the notion that the President fanning the flames of violent racism can properly be deemed “politics” in the first place.
This is ballsy stuff from a fellow who makes his living in the professional sports arena, a community which, based on demographic, is likely disproportionately *unconcerned* with the threat of Trumpism.
The guy had a platform – one that offered him the opportunity to speak directly to the people who need to hear this message the most – and he had the guts to deliver that message, despite the very real likelihood that he will pay a price, that one way or another his career will suffer, for his speaking out.
What’s unsettling is that it is news that Mr. Le Betard spoke out at all. What’s unsettling is that ESPN’s response to this small act of courage has been to hide, to engage in, as one commentator put it, “strategic silence,” and hope this blows over. This is an improvement, I suppose, over the way ESPN treated Ms. Hill earlier in the Trump presidency, but the cowardice is staggering.
Sport is, and has been for generations, both the ultimate American melting pot, and inherently political. Persons of color make up a disproportionate percentage of professional athletes, and a staggering 70% of ESPN’s cash cow, the NFL.
The President of the United States is unequivocally stoking racial tensions for political purposes, and ESPN has a massive, influential platform, an ability to cut through the noise and call the President’s behavior out for what it so clearly is: divisive, dangerous and yes, deplorable.
But ESPN – like so many others with immense power – practices “strategic silence,” because it is just too risky to potentially alienate customers, because, we’re told, “a corporate response to Trump is almost impossible.”
Setting aside the short-sightedness of that inane theory of corporate responsibility (trust me folks, a crumbling, fully kleptocratic America is not likely going to be great for your dividends in the long run!), it is striking how utterly accepting we are of this notion of strategic silence and indifference as not just defensible, but something so wise and prudent that it goes without saying.
If taking positive action might cost ESPN anything – in this case, the “cost” is the risk that a portion of its customers might throw a brief, noisy temper tantrum – then we can forgive them doing nothing.
“[I]f one thing is for certain, it’s that defeating Trumpism will have a cost, and we all have a responsibility to share some of the burden.”
This silly, trivial situation at ESPN Radio has been rattling around in my head not because I want to pile on ESPN (although, fuck ESPN), or to lionize Dan Le Batard (if it’s righteous sports journalism you seek, check out Dave Zirin!), or even to beat up on the other powerful, influential people and entities who are wholly and shamelessly committed to “strategic silence” (although, fuck them too).
This situation has stuck with me because I fear that the notion of absolute self-preservation as a virtue – the notion that not risking any of your own skin is somehow prudent, and wise – can be an appealing one in times like these, and in a broken, battered society like ours. It’s a notion that we all have to push back against, both internally and in our interactions with the world, every damn day. Because if one thing is for certain, it’s that defeating Trumpism will have a cost, and we all have a responsibility to share some of the burden.
“Because rest assured, whatever sacrifices we’re willing to make over the next year and a half, whatever cost we can commit to paying now, will pale in comparison to what we’ll pay if we don’t win.”
It is clearer now than ever that authoritarianism is on the rise in the United States of America. The bad guys hold a considerable amount of power, they are consolidating, corrupting and shamelessly abusing that power every way they can, and they have made it abundantly clear that they would sooner burn it all down than surrender that power willingly. It’s going to cost something, an awful lot, to turn back those forces.
Dan Le Batard, to his credit, recognized this, and risked real sacrifice to speak plain truth. Countless others recognized the threat sooner, and have sacrificed infinitely more.
But it’s on every one of us to share the load, to give careful thought to what we’re willing to sacrifice, and to follow through.
How much money are we willing to give – not just to our favorite presidential candidate, but to down ballot races all over the country, to social justice groups fighting the good fight day after day? How many hours, days, weekends are we willing to volunteer, and how can we start that work tomorrow?
And what are we willing to sacrifice in our personal lives, what type of hit are we willing to allow our personal brand to take? What level of discomfort can we endure, what relationships can we risk, if it means even the possibility of changing some goddamned minds?
The tug of war between sacrifice and self-preservation is a feature of every fraught historical moment. It can be a complicated calculus, and I’m not advocating that we should all be willing to give up everything to defeat Trumpism. But we should all be willing to give up something. And once we’ve done that, once we’ve put a little skin in this very dangerous game, we should all be willing to constantly contemplate and reassess what else we have to offer.
Because rest assured, whatever sacrifices we’re willing to make over the next year and a half, whatever cost we can commit to paying now, will pale in comparison to what we’ll pay if we don’t win.