Kenny Mayne Says ESPN Was “Clearly Threatening” Some Employees Over Pervasive Political Talk

Delco guy John Gonzalez has been on fire recently. He wrote that good column about Ben Simmons, Carson Wentz, and Bryce Harper, and he’s back at The Ringer with a Kenny Mayne interview.

Mayne, you’ll recall, left ESPN this past Spring after the broadcaster reportedly asked him to take a “significant” pay cut. He was one of those O.G. Sports Center anchors known for his dry humor and wit.

Gonzo spoke with Mayne at length, and there’s a lot of good stuff in an article titled Kenny Mayne’s Second Act, but this passage about political anxiety at ESPN stood out:

He admits that since he left ESPN he’s been more “forthright,” which anyone reading his tweets or talking to him would take to mean blunt and even confrontational when it comes to politics. At ESPN, he often held back. He says he called it “shooting from beyond the Jemele line”—referring to his former ESPN colleague Jemele Hill, who left the company after several well-publicized run-ins with management over her frequent, unapologetic, and unsparing criticisms of Trump and the GOP.

Mayne admits that he didn’t have the same courage as Hill. He says he didn’t want to get fired, and besides, “They were clearly threatening some of us, me particularly.” He says he was “definitely on the watch list. They told me so: ‘There’s a group of people that watch your Twitter.’”

Mayne doesn’t think ESPN wanted to get rid of him because of his percolating political leanings, but he’s pretty sure it didn’t help. He says he remembers (ESPN executive vice president Norby) Williamson asking him one time, “Why do you have to do the politics?” And he replied, “Because I have four daughters and a wife and I want to look at myself in the mirror.”

This stuff is interesting. Of course, ESPN is a private company and its their prerogative to guide social and political talk coming from their anchors. Not saying any specific approach is right or wrong, but they’re well within their right to set guidelines for employees.

Most people in the journalism world went through some kind of personal crisis during the Trump era, because they were getting the urge to cross over the threshold of objectivity and “take a stand” for what they believed in personally. It was quite the four years for the news business, as you well know. Kenny Mayne and Jemele Hill are just two of the seemingly bazillion people who came out and said what was on their mind, eschewing the “stick to sports” mentality that a portion of people believe in.

Anyway, it’s a good Gonzo read.

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