For a moment Friday night, it seemed that ESPN might have been interpreting the MVP award won by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game, to mean “Manage Verbal Problem.”
For certain, ESPN reporter Sage Steele stifled Butler faster than shot block king Tim Duncan can reject a jumper once Butler strayed from the narrow path prescribed on high by the network.
ESPN last month had put its staff on notice that it did not want employees to editorialize about politics or allow what it called “drive by” comments regarding the quagmire of America’s 2016 elections.
So Steele was just following policy when Butler, a transplanted Texan who moved to Canada in 2000 and currently lives in Montreal, went into forbidden territory Friday night after being presented with his MVP trophy for being the Most Valuable Player in the game.
“I just wanna say as an election year in the U.S., the U.S. has a lot they can learn from Canada: health care, taking care of people … ” Butler said.
“We’re talking about celebrity stuff, not politics! Congratulations on your MVP!” Steele interjected, cutting off Butler and ending the interview.
Steele’s actions may have been good policy for ESPN, but she rubbed Dave Schilling of The Guardian the wrong way.
Butler “took his golden opportunity to speak to the millions of sleepy, bored fans who tolerated two hours of horrible flailing alleged to be basketball and relayed a political message about the relative merits of Canada’s public health care system,” Schilling wrote.
“The last thing I want from my novelty basketball game is anything that actually matters to the fate of the planet. Hopefully Sage gets a raise for her quick thinking,” he added sarcastically.
“It should … not come as a shock that ESPN would shut him down as soon as he got too vocal about something that doesn’t involve topics like whether or not Cam Newton is a leader or if LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan. … they (ESPN) … run screaming from anything unexpected or potentially problematic for their position as the Worldwide Leader in Sports.”
“Would letting Win Butler finish whatever he had to say about health care really damage the lofty status of the ESPN brand? Doubtful,” Schilling added.
“Of course, if you flip over to TNT on a Thursday night, you might see Charles Barkley ranting freely about politics, race, culture, and all manner of other controversial topics. TNT pays Barkley a lot of money to be himself, to work without a muzzle, and to stir up trouble. ESPN, on the other hand, remains content to stifle anything resembling a real, honest moment,” Schilling wrote.