Sport can unite people from all walks of life. It can bring together all races, colors, creeds and orientations; it can bridge the gap between the most polarized political opponents.
It’s the kind of pablum we hear every time the Olympic Games or World Cup rolls around. But there’s some truth to it, too. During the Christmas ceasefire along the Western Front, German and allied troops engaged in football matches. And then there was that time you high-fived a complete stranger at a sporting event without knowing his complete voting history, let alone the last time he washed his hand.
It is with this idealistic sense of community that I always endeavor to watch sports, if for no other reason than to gain a brief escape from the rest of our hyper-partisan culture. But then I happened to discover that there is something called Breitbart Sports. Yes, Breitbart.com, the flagship website of the nationalistic, alt-right. The angry white man to the New York Times’ old gray lady, the publication whose headlines (and longtime publisher) have somehow come to inform the most powerful and misinformed man in the world, is slinging sports news and takes with the rest of us.
The idea of sport as a uniter made it through the first world war, but could it withstand an association with Breitbart? The site, remember has produced such headline hits as “The Solution To Online ‘Harrassment’ is Simple: Women Should Log Off”; “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”; and “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews”.
In fairness, Breitbart has also produced headlines that are anti-other-people-than-just-women. It has also never claimed to have a goal of uniting people, as proven by the outlet’s longtime championing of professional “provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos. How would the media organization that welcomed Curt Schilling from ESPN cover the world of ball and stick, hits and kicks? I decided to find out by reading Breitbart’s sports section for an entire week.
The first story in Breitbart’s sports section for the day is the news that the University of Minnesota is removing the King and Queen titles from their Homecoming Court in order to be “gender neutral.” Homecoming is only tangentially related to football, and the article doesn’t address the Gophers’ chances of taking the Big Ten West under new head coach PJ Fleck, but it’s on the sports page nonetheless. One of the top comments on the story reads: “Boys have a penis. Girls have a vagina.” We’re off and running.
The next story of the day is about former NBA center Amar’e Stoudemire saying that he would refuse to shower with a gay team-mate, a story covered later by the Guardian. Breitbart also followed up on a story that ran first in the Guardian about New Orleans Saints players being turned away from a London nightclub for being “too urban,” and highlighted the club’s statement that the denial of entrance had anything to do with race. Then it was time for an article on Breitbart’s sports muse: Colin Kaepernick. In a piece about how anthem protests could hurt free agents, we get the line: “Will GMs be crying out for [his] services after he disrespected the flag in 2016?”
As anyone knows who has heard Kaepernick or other NFL players speak out their protests, they said kneeling was in no way to disrespect the flag or the military, but to bring attention to issues that concerned them in America. But maybe Breitbart mentioned that in one of the other 14,400 mentions of the middling QB on their site.
Last Thursday featured 10 posts on Breitbart’s sports section, four of them about Kaepernick. This was the day the free agent announced he would not kneel for the anthem in 2017. There was the bare-bones news on Kaepernick ending his protest, a clip of Stephen A Smith calling him “incredibly opportunistic,” a clip of Colin Cowherd dubbing him a “sellout” and, to complete the yelling head trifecta, video from Skip Bayless’ debate show.
When not covering Kaepernick or the plight of the straight, Christian white man in America, Breitbart can often be counted on to lead the “stick to sports” movement. This crowd has now gone all-in on the narrative that ESPN is losing subscribers because the network has shifted to a liberal voice. This is a stunningly ludicrous idea. Not that ESPN has shifted left. It has. But that a sports network’s politics would cause anyone to decide to stop watching sports entirely – and also every other TV channel they have, including Fox News. Only a madman would do that, and it’s a fact that the impact of cord-cutting is being felt throughout television and across sports. While the right blamed Kaepernick for lower NFL television ratings at the start of the 2016 season, there was no explanation of how the 49ers quarterback caused a ratings plummet in Nascar, a racing circuit that has a Trump-supporting CEO and millions of Trump-supporting fans.
Ten more posts on the website’s sports page, six of them related to politics. For an outlet that so wants everyone to #StickToSports, Breitbart Sports struggles to meet that demand.
On the weekend that opened with President Trump going on a Twitter tirade before hitting the links at his Florida resort, the president’s golf game didn’t get any coverage on Breitbart Sports. (However, you can still read this story from October on how President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods cost taxpayers $3.6m. Sad!) The weekend sports coverage was light – perhaps due to the poor work ethic of millennials? – with only nine total posts over two days, a third of which were from news wires. Of the six original posts, two were about politics and and a third was about Tim Tebow and American opinions on him are as divided as any issue, so let’s just call it an even three.
Nine posts to open the week, with ESPN getting the heavy focus. Breitbart is very much not a fan of ESPN. But it’s not for the reasons millions of others might find the network grating, such as contrived, time-filling debates and storylines or Chris Berman’s sweaty buffoonery. No, Breitbart’s demo has come to see ESPN as the symbol of the liberal media trying to shove its viewpoints down the throats of Real America. The Breitbart audience wants sports to be a safe space for their worldview and ESPN has not complied, making many an alt-right snowflake irate. The most commented-on story of the day is a piece celebrating a round of layoffs set to come to the network – and that’s followed up two posts later by more coverage of how ESPN’s politics have supposedly led to cord-cutting, a viewpoint pulled primarily from a blogpost by proud sports media troll Clay Travis.
There is no coverage of how cord-cutting has hit right-leaning sports network FS1, how that network just failed to renew the contracts of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, or how FS1’s ratings remain abysmal and a fraction of what ESPN pulls on its most liberal day.
The final day of Breitbart Sports immersion and the rhythm and viewpoint was now expected. A Tebow article, a couple pieces touching on politics, a Kaepernick article and an anti-ESPN piece that brought up anthem protests again. There was also one piece that #StuckToSports and did a good job informing me on the NFL left tackle free agency market. It got one Facebook share and one comment, a good bit below an article earlier in the day on Nike releasing a line of hijabs that received 8,583 shares and more than 1,300 comments. The Breitbart audience clearly isn’t into anything celebrating the left, even if it’s left tackles.
My journey into Steve Bannon’s sports man-cave complete, I can say that regular readers of Breitbart Sports likely will never be overcome by any unifying feeling from sports – not when a former 49ers backup, ESPN and the left are so clearly dead-set on destroying the American way of life. There will be no friendly game of soccer during the war for America’s soul, especially considering soccer is so loved by liberals. That could be seen as caving to the left.
Like countless other sites on the cluttered web, Breitbart’s sports page just yells to its choir. While liberals might be delicate snowflakes, Breitbart Sports is as predictable and boring as can be. At least sports themselves are still fun and exciting.