ESPN’s gender identity crisis meets Barstool, and it’s sad

I know this news is a few days old, but I think it’s worth talking about how feminized our sports coverage has become, and how while political talk (and late night talk shows) has become more coarse, that same tolerance is out the window for men in the sports arena. Hence, ESPN’s sad tale.

ESPN is so conflicted, and so stupid about it. They’re facing an existential crisis where men, who want to watch and talk about sports, are saying “to hell with this” and tuning out, while women, who make up just under half of their viewers, don’t watch a lot of the prime sporting events (where advertisers pay big bucks).

So the network decided to add some late-night testosterone with “Barstool Van Talk,” featuring Barstool Sports podcasters Dan Katz and “PFT Commenter.” Now if you haven’t experienced a Barstool Sports podcast, it’s not what you’d call politically correct, or suitable for children, or something your wife would listen to. But it’s funny, like having your best friend over to talk smack over beers (with no wives or kids).

The problem is, ESPN has been overrun by the types of prudes who listen as if they’re the wives, and don’t like guy-talk (“locker room talk”), especially when it’s about them.

One episode is all it took for ESPN president John Skipper to yank the series.

“Effective immediately, I am canceling Barstool Van Talk,” John Skipper, the ESPN president, wrote in a statement. “While we had approval on the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.”

Sam Ponder, who hosts “NFL Countdown,” was very upset from the beginning that Barstool Sports got the greenlight. All the females were highlighting sexual harassment and Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly claims.

Yes, Barstool is juvenile, high-school locker room humor. It’s also serious sports talk with a lot of pepper thrown in. What did ESPN expect when they added that to their female-friendly mix? Did they think these two worlds could coexist? They threw it on ESPN2 with a 1 a.m. air time. But even that wasn’t enough distance.

They should have put it on espnW, and let women respond in real time on the air. That would have been brilliant. But instead they simply backed out, proving they have long ago shed any originality or courage to see things through.

This highlights the network’s existential problem and gender identity crisis. If you’re going to have a network aimed at men watching men’s sports, then women are not going to be viewed as “one of the boys.” It’s a fact of life. But ESPN wants to be all things to all people.

That means they’re quickly becoming nothing to nobody.

About the author

Steve Berman

The old Steve cared about money, prestige, and power. Then Christ found me. All at once things changed. But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

I spent 30 years in business. Now I write and edit. But mostly I love. I have a wife and 2 kids and a dog and we live in a little house in central Georgia.

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