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The Dan Le Batard–ESPN Relationship Couldn't Be Salvaged After One Specific Incident: TRAINA THOUGHTS

1. The Dan Le Batard–ESPN marriage will come to an end Jan. 4, when the popular host does his last radio show and last episode of Highly Questionable.

For anyone who pays attention to sports media, the breakup isn't a shock. The relationship between Le Batard and the network seemed fractured for a while. 

The latest incident occurred last month when ESPN laid off Chris Cote, one of the producers of the The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz

"We were blindsided by him being let go," Le Batard said on his show. "It's the greatest disrespect of my professional career, that I got no notice, no collaboration, that [producer] Mike Ryan told me that Chris Cote had been let go. I would have loved to work something out, if anybody had told me, to protect him." 

Le Batard ended up hiring Cote as his assistant, which was not only a great gesture, but also sent a message to ESPN.

Shortly before the Cote controversy, ESPN had moved The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz off of television and onto ESPN+, while also chopping an hour off the show.

Clearly, this was not a kumbaya relationship.

Things between ESPN and Le Batard always seemed bumpy, though, which never seemed to make sense given Le Batard's popularity. You'd think ESPN would value someone with such a loyal following, but instead, the network gave the impression it was nervous about Le Batard being a wild card. 

This is a man who once gave his MLB Hall of Fame ballot to Deadspin and paid for billboards that took a shot at LeBron James for leaving Miami. But in the world of sports talk radio nonsense, these are not things that should ruffle many feathers. Plus, both incidents happened years ago.

In my opinion, the real turning point in the Le Batard–ESPN relationship happened in the summer of 2019, when the network made a big stink about Le Batard taking President Donald Trump to task on his radio show for supporting chants of "Send her back" directed at U.S. Representative for Minnesota Ilhan Omar.

After saying Trump was "instigating racial division," Le Batard, whose parents came to the United States from Cuba, said, “We here at ESPN haven’t had the stomach for that fight, because Jemele [Hill] did some things on Twitter and you saw what happened after that, and then here all of a sudden nobody talks politics on anything unless we can use one of these sports figures as a meat shield in the most cowardly possible way to discuss these subjects."

Le Batard added, “The only way we can discuss it around here—because this isn’t about politics, it’s about race; what you’re seeing happening around here is about race and it’s been turned into politics—we only talk about it around here when Steve Kerr or [Gregg] Popovich says something. We don’t talk about what is happening unless there’s some sort of weak, cowardly sports angle that we can run it through, when sports has always been a place where this stuff changes.”

While the Le Batard–ESPN relationship came to an end Thursday, it really ended when Le Batard made these comments. ESPN's reaction to his comments was so over the top. ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro had a face-to-face meeting with Le Batard to talk to him about what he said, even though Le Batard said nothing wrong and nothing that should be considered even remotely controversial.

The bottom line is ESPN values vanilla, don't-rock-the-boat, stick-to-sports hosts over creative, authentic, original hosts.

ESPN wants its hosts arguing about who the NFL MVP is and whether LeBron or Jordan is the best player in NBA history. The network doesn't want its hosts dipping outside of the sports world.

Who cares if the person running the country has botched the pandemic response in epic fashion, and who cares if the same person is trying to steal a presidential election? Don't you DARE mention those things on a three-hour radio show. STICK TO SPORTS!

Once Le Batard made those comments last year—again, in my opinion—it put a target on his back. So his show loses an hour. His producer gets fired. And now the company parts ways with him.

Le Batard will sign with another company instantly and, hopefully for his fans, it will be with a company that doesn't muzzle him.

2. In what should be a fun watch, NBC Sports will have map wizard Steve Kornacki on its Sunday Night Football pregame show and at halftime of the Broncos-Chiefs game to break down the playoff picture.

After hearing the news, a lot of people on Twitter made the same joke.

3. ESPN's Dan Orlovsky revealed Thursday that he's never seen an episode of Seinfeld. I have nothing else to say. 

4. NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson will work his 200th episode this Sunday. Here is a clip, featuring Brett Favre with the Vikings, from the day RedZone launched in 2009.

5. This week's SI Media Podcast features a conversation with Chris Long. The Super Bowl champion, who now hosts the Amazon Prime pregame show on Thursday nights and the Green Light podcast three days a week, shared his insight into what NFL players are going through this season while trying to play through a pandemic.

Long also talks about what's going on with Tom Brady and the Bucs, and why he thinks people shouldn't sleep on the Packers.

Non-football topics Chris and I discussed include our hatred of shaving, UGGs, celebrity-scented candles, the funniest TV/movie death or funeral scenes and much more.

You can listen to the podcast below or download it on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play.

You can also watch the podcast on YouTube.

6. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: The WWE has released a great tribute video to Pat Patterson, who died Wednesday.

7. SPORTS VIDEO OF THE DAY: If you're a young person who has never seen this play, sit back and take it all in. 

Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.