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Jimmy Pitaro on Era of Outspoken ESPN Talent: 'Like Many Other Media Companies, We've Oftentimes Struggled'

Kyle Koster
Meg Oliphant/GettyImages
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For its second episode, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast went all the way to the top of the ESPN masthead to procure its guest, scoring a sitdown with chairman Jimmy Pitaro.

Pitaro was asked about company talent being public with their opinions, and the challenges that presents in today's climate, most recently rearing its head with the Sage Steele controversy.

"We understand, of course, that these are human beings," he said. "and they have points of view. One of the things that I love about ESPN is the fact that we embrace all different points of view. What we don't embrace and what we don't accept is when points of view are conveyed disrespectfully. That is where we draw the line. When points of view are conveyed in a way that is inconsistent with our values."

Pitaro praised his trusted talent group he relies on to negotiate the tricky space, but revealed that his personal involvement in such decisions is significant.

"This is a meaningful percentage of my time in terms of me getting involved, especially over the past year and a half where we're living in a world that is incredibly divisive."

The chairman was candid in his assessment of ESPN's track record adjusting to a more publicly opinionated staff.

"We've struggled. Like many other media companies, we've oftentimes struggled but I do believe that we've put the right people on these assignments and we've made the best decisions we can during incredibly complicated times."

It's the easiest thing in the world to armchair quarterback and mete out punishment from afar. ESPN remains the biggest sports media brand and The Big Lead has a bevy of competitors in covering the inner machinations. Myself and others can quibble with decisions and opine on what we'd have done differently or not done at all depending on the specific situation.

But fairness requires an admission that Pitaro, ESPN, and every other public company that warrants interest is playing catchup on a world moving at warpspeed in terms of politicization. A person can believe that they've been shaky in their responses in comparison to other outlets, yet it should be clear — even to an outsider — that these judgment calls are complex and there will always be a segment of the public left unsatisfied. Throw in an added element of bad-faith actors and it's reasonable to conclude that almost all of the scenarios that crop up land on important desks are no-wins.

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