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Whitlock: Maria Taylor is waiting to exhale while ESPN and the rest of America can’t breathe

Op-ed
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ESPN's mission statement is "to serve sports fans in the community. Anytime. Anywhere."

Over the past decade, the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" has been forced to deviate from its mission. Its mission statement unofficially became "to serve liberal sports fans in every community. Anytime. Anywhere."

The Maria Taylor-Rachel Nichols controversy will spark a different ESPN mission statement. "To serve angry and easily offended black women in every community. Anytime. Anywhere."

I know I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed to shout "Yass queen" and pretend that Taylor's fight for an $8 million-a-year contract is the equivalent of Rosa Parks refusing to take a back seat on a bus.

Sorry, I'm not going to tell that lie. We can't construct a country and a workplace culture centered around satiating the egos, emotions, and economic demands of women or people who claim to be offended by everything.

America promises freedom and opportunity. America does not promise its citizens freedom from offense. That's a make-believe utopian world created and promoted by Marxists determined to cast America as the most evil place on earth.

In her bid to improve her contract leverage, Taylor and her enablers are casting ESPN as one of America's most racist work cultures. Because Nichols asserted that Taylor's dark skin contributed to Taylor getting a job promised to Nichols, Taylor, the National Association of Black Journalists, a Los Angeles Times columnist, and many others are pretending Bristol, Connecticut, is Mississippi Burning.

It's not true. I worked at ESPN twice. ESPN is not hostile to black employees. It's hostile to employees who don't toe the Democratic Party political line.

In 2017, I wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal spelling out how the radical website Deadspin bullied ESPN to adopt a far-left bias. Here's a short excerpt from my piece. You can read the whole thing here.

Deadspin significantly elevated the price of implementing change at ESPN. The often-caustic blog mastered search-engine optimization and Twitter's ability to gin up faux outrage. Its writers trolled ESPN talent and executives, getting plenty of attention along the way. The site particularly delighted in exposing alleged sexual malfeasance among ESPN employees.

Deadspin's bullying of ESPN happened between 2007 and 2015. By the time of my WSJ piece, Deadspin had justifiably declared victory over the Worldwide Leader. In 2016, Deadspin expat Kevin Draper, now the New York Times' sports media reporter, wrote a post celebrating ESPN's progressive agenda and point of view.

Sports fans were far less enthusiastic. ESPN's ratings dipped at a rate that couldn't be explained solely by cable-cutting. Rebel bloggers such as Dave Portnoy and Clay Travis enhanced their followings by pointing out and capitalizing on ESPN's political correctness and blandness.

By 2018, the Walt Disney Company recognized its mistake and used ESPN president John Skipper's cocaine-induced departure as a pivot point. ESPN's new president, Jimmy Pitaro, took over the sports network and promptly pushed to remove its political bias. Donald Trump troller in chief Jemele Hill was pushed out of her prominent role as a host of the 6 p.m. SportsCenter. Pitaro instructed the network's broadcasters and opinionists to avoid politics and Donald Trump.

Ironically, another drug-induced departure — the death of fentanyl activist Rev. George Floyd Luther III — sparked a new ESPN pivot. When St. George died, Maria Taylor emerged as the second coming of Jemele Hill. She used St. George's death as a springboard to launch herself as the pretty face of ESPN.

She turned the Worldwide Leader into the sports marketing arm of Black Lives Matter. She verbally beat up Saints quarterback Drew Brees for stating support of the national anthem. In the pages of the New York Times, in stories written by Kevin Draper — the former Deadspin writer — Taylor smeared a white co-worker, Dave Lamont, as racist because he was overheard saying black employees were griping on a conference call.

Taylor told Draper, "It was such a slap in the face. When I was in it, that was horrible. But now, looking back, it was an awakening moment. This is part of our culture. There are people that feel this way."

This week, Taylor's awakening has brought ESPN to its knees. She's now offended because in a private conversation, Nichols told a white man that ESPN's crappy record on diversity forced the network to give Taylor a hosting job that had been promised contractually to Nichols.

ESPN removed Nichols from NBA Finals coverage and took her daily show off the air for one day. The blowback on Nichols is preposterous and unfair.

But what's worse will be the damage done to ESPN's work culture. Everybody — black and white — can see what Taylor is doing. It's all a money-grab. ESPN broadcasters have been getting slapped with hefty pay cuts the past two years. Taylor wants her salary elevated from $1 million to $8 million, according to reports.

She's framing ESPN as racist to get the money. In this cancel culture environment, she might cost Jimmy Pitaro his job.

Yesterday, a column in the Los Angeles Times called Taylor the "perfect journalist." I'm not kidding. Here's the excerpt:

Taylor was described to the Los Angeles Times by current and former ESPN employees as a "perfect journalist." In addition to her talent on camera, she is known internally for working hard, mentoring young journalists of all backgrounds and establishing a foundation to support women and journalists of color.

Do newspapers even know what journalism is? Mentoring young journalists and establishing foundations of support for women and journalists of color sounds more like charity than journalism. Journalism is breaking news, probing news sources for interesting insight and perspective, developing sources.

Maria Taylor sounds like an activist. Or a character from Terry McMillan's book-turned-movie "Waiting to Exhale."

I bet Jimmy Pitaro can't breathe right now.
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