It’s July 4th, a day when Americans from all different backgrounds take a day to celebrate our good fortune to all live in the greatest country in the history of the world.
Unless, that is, you work at ESPN, when July 4th represents an opportunity for you to trot out a woke albatross of a column on the front page of your site arguing that America is awful.
I haven’t been writing as much at Outkick of late because I’m working on a new book, but today’s ESPN July 4th column was such a perfect distillation of everything wrong with sports in America — and ESPN in particular — that I couldn’t resist sitting down and writing this column before I head out to the beach with my kids.
Before I systematically destruct today’s woke ESPN column, some background: this column was written by Howard Bryant, a man currently being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to opine on sports for ESPN, despite having no discernible talent whatsoever. That’s fine, it’s a testament to the greatness of American exceptionalism that no talent chumps like Bryant can make a boat load of money in sports media despite having no ability in writing, radio or TV.
But while Bryant’s fealty to woke politics is all too common at ESPN, Bryant is unique in one way: he’s been previously arrested for assaulting his wife in public, in front of his six year old son no less, and also charged with assaulting a police officer who arrived to protect his wife, after he was observed choking her in public. Bryant, a black man married to a white woman he was accused of choking in public, initially offered as his defense that racism was to blame for his arrest before pleading the charges down to six months of probation. Nevertheless you’d think someone making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year despite (allegedly) choking his wife and attacking a police officer and pleading down the charges with six months probation, might be inclined to think America is an incredibly forgiving place. After all, does Disney employ that many (alleged) wife and police assaulters? Not to my knowledge.
But, alas, despite the forgiving nature of a country that has made a woke imbecile like Bryant fairly wealthy compared to the average American, Bryant flails away impotently for thousands and thousands of words without ever managing to strike any target, before collapsing in a final spasm of incompetence.
We will return to these facts in a moment. But first, let’s begin at the top of ESPN.com. The tagline at the top of ESPN.com is "Serving sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere." That’s not my tagline, that’s their own. That’s the reason they exist, their statement of purpose. As you read this systemic destruction of this woke garbage ESPN published on July 4th, I want you to ask yourself: how does this piece serve sports fans in any way?
Okay, now to the column, which is titled: "Baseball, barbecue and losing freedom this Fourth of July."
The column was published at 6:55 am eastern on July 4th, meaning it was planned for weeks, maybe months, to be published as a feature piece on this particular day. It has likely been read by many editors at ESPN and refined to this jumbled mess. That is, as awful as this column is, it was probably, at one point or another, even worse. This is, in essence, a polished turd.
The opening of the column is a meandering wistful reminiscence about July 4th’s past, Bryant literally begins a paragraph arguing July 4th was the best day of the year in his childhood.
"July 4th was the best day of the year. Everything was centered on family. In some ways it was even better than Christmas because the entire family showed up — the Fourth was a de facto family reunion. The massive barbecue, the pool at one uncle’s house, even though you nearly drowned in it not once, but twice. All the cousins. The older ones who brought the cherry bombs and bottle rockets, the younger ones like you who were content with a strip of firecrackers. The Boston fireworks displays at the Esplanade, or later, at Stephens Field in Plymouth. The touch football games. The math reminds you just how young everybody was. When you were 40, your boy was in preschool. When your mother turned 40, you were a freshman in college."
Since Bryant was born in 1968, this dates these best July 4th’s ever as occurring in the 1970’s and 1980’s. For those who have even a rudimentary knowledge of history, Bryant’s wistful recollections encompass Watergate, a president’s resignation, the highest inflation since Biden under Jimmy Carter, and the landslide election of Ronald Reagan, twice. It also includes the Cold War with Russia and boycotts in both 1980 and 1984 of the Olympics by either the Soviet Union or the United States. My point in bringing all this up is simply to reflect that far from everything being perfect, the 1970’s and the 1980’s were filled with political tumult and difficulties as well. Yet America was great then in Bryant’s mind.
Bryant’s nostalgic reveries of of July 4th’s past even includes a 1983 holiday game between the Yankees and Red Sox, when he would have been 14 or 15 years old. Bryant believes that 1983 game, squarely in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, was near perfection. Up to this point in the column, that is, for several hundred words, he’s been fond of July 4th.
Then, out of nowhere, he suddenly pivots to the present day and writes this:
"Last month, Major League Baseball and its partners again released Independence Day-themed baseball hats that each of the 30 teams will wear. This year’s version features a flush of stars across the front against a blue and white backdrop, offset with a shaggy shock of red. The Toronto Blue Jays, located in a country that does not celebrate American independence, were also issued the caps — even though the Canadian flag does not contain stars nor the color blue. Public outrage prompted a redesign of the Toronto caps. Next is the USA-themed socks, the marketing, the freedom-inspired spikes, gloves, wristbands, the inevitable paeans to the armed forces.
By now, we’re all numb to the spectacle. At least publicly, the emphasis on the Fourth of July shifted from family to symbols years ago — Sept. 11 did that. Two decades of paid patriotism has made it ever harder to center the Fourth on reconnecting with your favorite aunts and uncles. No backyard barbecue and badminton game could compete with 20 years of military tributes and unquestioned nationalism. You think back to Righetti. Cosmetically, there was nothing about that July 4, 1983, that said patriotism. All Yankee Stadium said that day 39 years ago was baseball. Ninety-four degrees. Sox-Yankees. The Stadium looked as it did every other day. The crowd came because it was July 4, a Monday day game — a great day for baseball and family — and, along with Bat Day, the biggest giveaway day of the year: Yankee Cap Day." (I added the italics here because it appears to be Bryant acknowledging sports were better before they went political, which is an irony he doubtless missed given the rest of this column.)
This pivot is fascinating because Bryant is directly arguing that the 1970’s and 1980’s July 4th celebrations weren’t about patriotism, that it was only after 9/11 that the 4th of July became draped in American symbolism and patriotism. This is, quite clearly, 100% wrong. The very reason the 1983 baseball game Bryant loved so much was being played in the afternoon at all on Monday July 4th was because it was July 4th. Crazily, Bryant is upset that American teams are celebrating America in red, white and blue uniforms and that Americans responded to a 9/11 attack on our nation by embracing patriotism more fervently than before.
This is the beginning of the column becoming unhinged.
Now I’m not an expert on 4th of July celebrations all over the country, but I did grow up in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, before 9/11 occurred, and everywhere I ever went on the 4th of July was a massive celebration. Everywhere. When I was in college in Washington, D.C. and hundreds of thousands of people packed the national mall to watch fireworks, it had nothing to do with 9/11 because it hadn’t happened yet.
Put plainly, Bryant’s pivot here from loving July 4th to hating it, and the rationale behind it, is a made up fiction. The 4th, thankfully, hasn’t really changed for most Americans over the past several generations. What has changed, however, is the opinions of people like Howard Bryant, who have decided they hate America.
Let’s continue in the column.
We’ve already had one incredibly awkward transition, now here comes another one:
"Grilling, baseball and fireworks, first replaced by symbols — and now by a country tearing itself completely apart. July 4, 2022, falls in the midst of devastation. It is Independence Day in America with independence under current and relentless assault. From Miranda rights to the environment, to the separation of church and state, to guns — so many guns — people are reeling. The U.S. Supreme Court has run a chain saw through what two generations of Americans had known to be the legal baselines of their lives. Tens of millions of women today do not feel freedom and certainly are not celebrating independence. The people who can become pregnant who feel celebratory toward the Court may do so from the victory of their position, but it nevertheless remains true that the power of choice — and the right to privacy — has been taken from all of them."
The first sentence in this paragraph isn’t even a sentence. It’s an awkwardly connected string of words that furthers a lie — symbols replaced the halcyon fourth of the author’s memory — followed by straight politics. But, again, it isn’t a sentence at all. It’s a thought bridge to nothingness, vapidity disguised as depth.
In particular this phrase: "Tens of millions of women today do not feel freedom and certainly are not celebrating independence. The people who can become pregnant who feel celebratory toward the Court may do so from the victory of their position…"
The people who can become pregnant?! You mean women? Is ESPN’s official position now that men can become pregnant? Do you think that anti-science belief is embraced by your average sports fan? Of course not. But it’s indicative of the degree to which woke politics has infested sports.
From here comes a long list of political grievances, with no rhyme or reason, centered on, what else, January 6th. If you’re thinking to yourself, why do I care about some random dude’s opinions of January 6th on a sports website, shut up and read, you deplorable insurrectionist!
"YOU WATCH TV, even though you swore to not pay attention to the Jan. 6 congressional hearings. It was not a decision made from the perch of elegant privilege, of too rich to care, but from a full dissidence — a weariness of the gaslighting and false equivalencies, the whataboutisms, the goalposts moving that have defined the past several years. The spectacle of all-white juries acquitting proud, admittedly guilty white killers of Black people largely predated your birth, and thus for the past 18 months you’ve held on to a truth: The events of Jan. 6, where Americans stormed the most symbolically important legislative building in the free world — and a sitting president reportedly enraged he was not taken to the Capitol to join them — are the most unforgivable betrayals of the American ideal in your lifetime.
You said you were not going to watch, but inner conflicts aside, you are an American — so you watch. You revisit the images of police barricades being knocked down, of Americans climbing through windows trying to breach the U.S. Capitol, of elected American officials sheltering in place and of police running from Americans lest they be trampled by them. Think about the people chasing them, the ones over past decades who always told your people to obey, the ones so quick to call others anti-American. You tell yourself to not think about the utter, enraging hypocrisy, to resist the useless and flaccid equivalencies. (Imagine if Black people did that…) It all falls flat. We are post-hypocrisy. The equivalencies don’t hold up. They never did."
The January 6th takes eventually, and awkwardly intersect with sports takes, but not before Bryant lies and says cops were killed on January 6th. This feels like an intentional error, since as I said above, many people likely edited this piece for weeks before it was published.
"When the barricades were overrun, and elected officials of both parties hid under their desks, and the cops were killed, and the very people who told Black people to respect the law and obey did not obey, where was La Russa? Where was Tortorella, who believed so much in America? Where was Esiason, and Ray Lewis and all the commentators who demanded law and order and respect?"
Again, there were no cops killed on January 6th. The only person killed on January 6th was Ashley Babbitt, an unarmed veteran, who was shot and killed by a police officer.
On to Jack Del Rio from here, of course.
"One man who wasn’t silent was Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who lit the gas lamp — and dismissed Jan. 6. He called it a "dust-up." There was the outrage. Internally. On Twitter. But you get it. If the past several years have reinforced anything, it is that there has always been a separate set of rules, a concierge lane, a front door exclusively for white America. Jan. 6 crystalized this truth."
Bryant is a black guy who was arrested for assaulting a police officer and currently works for Disney owned ESPN, where he makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to tell us how awful America is. On Independence Day, no less. If anyone benefited from a "separate set of rules, a concierge lane," it was him. Can you argue white people are privileged when you, a black guy, were arrested for assaulting a police officer — who arrived after a witness said you were choking your wife — and accepted six months of probation, which is far less of a punishment than most white people who participated in January 6th are receiving? Does Disney employ anyone arrested on January 6th? Hell, does any major media company in America? And yet Bryant lectures us about privilege? He’s one of the most privileged people in all of American media.
Next we get random Roe v. Wade takes from a guy arrested for allegedly choking his wife in public.
"Some prominent male athletes offered public support, as did the social media accounts of some teams, but you think about the players, the teams, the games, and all of the performative nature of support. Just the word support is incorrect, for it suggests the abortion option did not affect men, was not their fight. You think of the hideous mendacity of it all, that Roe saved the futures of as many men as it did women. Careers continued. Dreams were not derailed. Privacies were maintained. You think about the enormous gap between the fashionable statements, where the adversaries profit by saying the right things, and the actually committed people who will march and support and do the work. And while you contemplate another example of gaslighting in this country, it reminds you of USA Today columnist Nancy Armour’s piercing question the day Dobbs replaced Roe: Where are all the girl dads?"
Ah, yes, just what we needed, a man arrested for assaulting his own wife standing up for women’s rights. I have an idea for all men, how about we listen to the opinions of men who haven’t been arrested for hitting women first when it comes to abortion? We can get to the opinions of arrested domestic abusers a few years from now. Or maybe never.
But we’re not done with Bryant’s privileged takes.
Then comes the requisite covid takes that every good wokie must share.
"You think about the pandemic, when so many of the girl dads, in the clubhouse, the press boxes and in the stands, gaslit their girls by stealing their language because they did not want to wear a mask or be vaccinated. "My body, my choice," they would insultingly say. The term of empowerment that belonged to the pro-choice movement for a half-century became a rallying cry for people who could not bear the horrors of wearing a mask."
Yes, how dare people in sports not be willing to take a covid shot that offered them virtually no additional protection or wear a mask, which has been shown to be worthless at stopping covid? How dare they think for themselves and look at the data. Next comes a truly unhinged paragraph, which is really saying something given what Bryant has already written.
"There are two rules in the United States, never directly articulated but rife with consequence when broken: Beyond what the mainstream, which is to say white America, determines to be acceptable, it is forbidden to express humanitarian compassion and concern for the people of Palestine — just ask Dwight Howard. And it is unacceptable to unequivocally advocate for Black people. The former is in general violation of the nation’s foreign policy, the latter is universally understood to be career threatening for the simple fact that any Black athlete that stands up for his people is routinely referred to as "brave."
This first "rule," "it is forbidden to express humanitarian compassion and concern for the people of Palestine," is barely disguised anti-Semitism. People express support for Palestine all the time. Huge parts of the Democratic party, in fact, now make it one of their baseline beliefs. And this is certainly not a big issue to most Americans, who spend little to no time thinking about Israel or Palestine on a regular basis. Certainly it’s not a political belief that is so unacceptable to have that it’s unacceptable to say. Again, this is thinly veiled anti-Semitism, published on ESPN, with nary an editor’s change? Yikes.
As for the second rule, it is "unacceptable to unequivocally advocate for Black people." Are you kidding me? We had an entire NBA season played with "Black Lives Matter" emblazoned on the court. Player names on uniforms were replaced with social justice slogans, every major brand in America fell all over itself to donate as much money as possible to BLM causes. Colin Kaepernick has like 18 different documentaries he’s being paid for, including an entire production deal with ESPN. Far from suffering economically, no one in the history of American sports has made more off of racial grievance theater than Kaepernick.
And, lest we forget, ESPN is paying Bryant hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to write this crap attempting to unequivocally advocate for black people. (He’s failing, but they’re still paying him for it.) What Bryant is arguing here isn’t brave or bold, it’s the mainstream sports media opinion, that’s why it’s being published on ESPN in the first place.
From this point forward, the article is all left wing political grievance and victim culture. That’s fine, his self-defeating woke arguments are his own, but what’s important here is they are also ESPN’s own opinions. Even if you feel Bryant’s rambling screed serves ESPN’s stated goal of "Serving sports fans. Any time. Anywhere," what’s important to recognize is an opinion arguing the exact opposite of this column would never be permitted or published anywhere at ESPN.
ESPN wouldn’t allow any columnist to publish a piece saying this is the greatest July 4th in American history because the Supreme Court has protected unborn children and gun rights. If any editor even pitched this idea, he or she would be fired. And no columnist with this opinion would be permitted to be published. That’s despite the fact that many of the people consuming ESPN’s content daily — and employed at ESPN itself — believe in both of these things.
In the past several months ESPN had a moment of silence ON AIR during the women’s NCAA tournament to protest a Florida state bill that bans the teaching of sex related issues to kindergarteners, first and second graders. Opinion polls have shown that substantial majorities of white, black, Asian and Hispanic people agree with this bill. Yet ESPN stopped game programming to have a moment of silence.
Last week ESPN stopped coverage of the NBA Draft to feature an on air talent lecturing the country, while she was nearly in tears, about the Roe v. Wade decision.
These were on air ESPN broadcasts, not outside statements of opinion offered by "talent." These were ESPN endorsed and ESPN produced content segments distributed with their backing.
Just this week an ESPN talent taped herself inside of ESPN studios arguing dads should fight to ensure their daughters can have abortions in all fifty states. Imagine the reaction if an ESPN employee taped herself inside of ESPN arguing that all fifty states need to ban abortion. That talent would be immediately fired. On the spot, no questions asked.
Not one ESPN opinion piece argued sports needed to overcome covid and find a way to play. Not one ESPN opinion piece in over two years has argued covid testing athletes makes no sense or that athletes should have the freedom to decide whether or not to get the covid shot. That’s because ESPN won’t allow these opinions to air on its network, radio shows, or websites. And unlike many of the political opinions Bryant addresses here, covid directly impacted sports in a massive way.
And it’s not just that ESPN refuses to share these opinions at all in its own content, it’s that it punishes anyone who shares these opinions outside of ESPN’s content walls. In fact, according to her lawsuit ESPN suspended Sage Steele for merely expressing her opinion that covid vaccine mandates were wrong on a outside ESPN podcast hosted by Jay Cutler. (Steele is currently suing ESPN for this disparate treatment.) ESPN also previously fired Curt Schilling for opposing transgender people being able to use the bathrooms of their choice. Each of these opinions weren’t uttered on air, they were made in the private lives of these employees. So ESPN’s position is its conservative talent doesn’t even have the freedom to express their opinions off air, but its far left wing talent can use the network’s own broadcasts to share their opinions.
ESPN is so monolithic in thought that it not only publishes and features far left wing opinions on its platform, while policing what talent with conservative or mainstream beliefs say off air. Plainly, this is the actual issue as we all gather to celebrate July 4th, not that America is a horrible place filled with awful people and their scary ideas, but that many of our most powerful media outlets have abandoned content neutrality and the marketplace of ideas. We need more free speech, not less.
ESPN published this awful, pathetic and racist piece by Howard Bryant, alleged wife beater and police assaulter, but it wouldn’t publish the same type of opinion piece from Sage Steele. Indeed, worse than that, it wouldn’t even let Steele share her own outside of work. The fact that ESPN, and most of the mainstream media outlets in our country, would make the same decision is the true tragedy of July 4th.
And the fact that Outkick is the only sports media site in the entire country that would even publish a piece like this, is why we are thriving and 2022 will be our best year ever.
But for now, I’m headed off to the beach with my kids to celebrate the fourth with them.
May god continue to bless the greatest county in world history, a country so amazing that even an untalented hack like Howard Bryant, a black man arrested for assaulting his white wife and a police officer, can make a living writing about how awful and racist America is.
What a country!
Happy fourth of July, y’all.