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  • A group of media members from all across the political spectrum talk about social media in the age of Trump.
By Richard Deitsch
August 20, 2017

I’ve long been interested in the topic of whether sports media members should discuss politics publicly. For those in the profession who forward politically-oriented stories or offer thoughts on social issues—most reading this know I do on social media—the discourse can be fierce and exhausting. The heated climate has also given many of us who work in the sports media pause for what our colleagues in news have faced, including death threats and unfettered messages of racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism. It makes discussing whether Lonzo Ball will be successful in his rookie season seem angelic.

In May 2016 I paneled a group of sports media people on whether those in the profession should make their political viewpoints known, and how their employers felt about political opinions made public by staffers. I followed that panel up with one 19 days after Donald Trump’s Presidential victory last November. That group—featuring a mix of conservative and progressive sports media staffers — focused on their social media feeds during the Presidential election season.

Given the divisive daily rhetoric in our country, especially after the recent events in Charlottesville, Va., I wanted to check in with the panel from November to see how things had changed on their social media feed over the course of the last eight months. Some were unable to do the questions this week so I added some new panelists that I am familiar with who actively talk politics on their feeds.

The panel:

Shireen Ahmed, freelance sports writer and sports activist.

Bruce Arthur, sports columnist, Toronto Star.

Tim Brando, national sports broadcaster and commentator, Fox Sports and FS1.

Chad Dukes, host of Chad Dukes vs. The World, 106.7 The Fan Washington D.C.

Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN’s “SC6 with Michael & Jemele.”

Bomani Jones, ESPN Radio host (The Right Time) and ESPN commentator.

Jose de Jesus Ortiz, sports columnist, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Spencer Tillman, NFL and college football analyst. Tillman is an analyst on Texans preseason games.

John Walters, freelance writer, former staff writer at Newsweek and Sports Illustrated.

Damien Woody, NFL analyst, ESPN.

Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports and author of Fair Play: How LGBT Athletes are Claiming their Rightful Place in Sports.

Dave Zirin, sports editor, The Nation.

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The panel was asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. I hope you’ll find this enlightening.

How (and why) would you evaluate the tenor of your social media feeds since our last panel (so from Nov. 26, 2016 to today)?

Ahmed: Every realm of existence online—from sports to music to business—has started connecting social and political issues in their reporting. I have never seen anything like it. Before I replied heavily on independent journalists and media but I see networks with clear biases. The idea of media being "unbiased" and "objective " is a notion I have always rejected. I wrote about it for Paste Magazine this year. I have seen far more privileged folks start speaking out. A few of the most poignant takes on politics have been from sports media persons. This is a great thing in my opinion. Our lives intersect with our society and our communities and politics shape that. Of course we should write about it. Some say it took Trump to have people mobilize. I don't know if he was a catalyst since racist and misogynist systems have always existed. But there are so many people critiquing him so openly, even white, male cishet athletes speaking out in a way I hadn't seen before. I have also had more people from the alt-right attack me viciously. I am not shy about my opinions. I get abuse along gender and racial identity lines. Social media is so great for helping people amplify but it is also hard to control abuse against you. It comes as a deluge and is exhausting. I see attacks on others as well. Twitter can be a cesspool of xenophobia and sexism. Same as Facebook. But navigating through those systems is impossible and engaging in Twitter fights is not my thing. I am happy to block, and offer a simple "LOL".

Arthur: In some ways it's hard to say, because it's the water you swim in, and sometimes it boils, and sometimes it calms, and sometimes it's filled with chemicals that make you want to claw your eyes out, but it's the same water, somehow. I guess it's a little like the Rob Ford Twitter cycle: there is more exhaustion, more accumulated anger, more experience rather than innocence. There is the natural flow from incredulity to depression to fighting to horror, and we've all seen so much more. I've seen more people who didn't talk politics before weigh in more often—look at [Deadspin’s] Drew Magary, who has seamlessly transitioned from being one of the funniest writers and tweeters to someone who writes and talks about politics with skill and feeling. Conversely, I've seen people feel like they have to unplug because everything's too much. And some people, bless 'em, have just kept on keeping on, which is probably a good way to stay sane and happy.

Brando: I'll admit I've grown tired of the vitriol that's out there on all fronts. While I wish I could offer substantive dialogue with those that have opposing views, it's obvious that's not what those on Twitter want. I did sports talk radio for 15 years and I attempted to have conversations with fans with opposing views. That's not what happens today—embrace debate and hot takes have taken over, or congratulating callers for verbal beat-downs of this coach, general manager, owner or even sports personality have won the day. I pride myself on a willingness to adjust and adapt and God knows I engage almost to a fault, but it's changed my tweeting philosophy for the future. I assure you that's my approach moving forward.

Dukes: It's insane what people feel comfortable saying on Twitter. The only thing more baffling to me is how much more unhinged it all seems to be from the last time we answered these questions. I would not have predicted that.

Hill: Some of it depends on the medium. Twitter is more anxiety-ridden, for sure. Facebook is a complete shit show (but wasn't it always?) It feels like people are overwhelmed, and little bit sad. I don't want to read too much into it because I realize social media represents such a small part of the world, but while there is routinely great sources of inspiration that can be found on social media, it feels like people are having a hard time coping with everything that's happening.

Jones: There is a lot more WTF reactions now than before. That's probably the biggest change. Discussing politics, from what I've seen, has become less of an exchange of ideas than people trying to make sense of exactly what the hell is going on. And that's not proving too fruitful, as most of the people with first-hand experience with this sort of thing are long dead.

Ortiz: Sadly, and unbelievably, the tenor is nastier. I tend to block all the racists, but I also don't put too much weight on their racist insults. A day after a guy on Twitter told me to eat a taco and go back to Guatemala last week, I actually made my mom's tacos dorados and posted a video of the cooking process on my Twitter feed. I used to remind folks that I was from California, but I've learned that I don't need to justify my citizenship to Twitter trolls.

Tillman: Clearly the current of our discourse in social media has quickened. It has predictably increased its pace and direction toward issues heretofore deemed taboo. This is, according to Dr. Harry Edwards, part of the "Struggle that must be." Thirty years ago Dr. Edwards and I discussed these very events taking place today—political and racial unrest. It was prophetic in hindsight. Here's what I learned: Understanding "process" prepares you for these difficult periods. It's like a quarterback that sees the blitz before it fully develops. An experienced signal caller redirects protection in advance because they've seen the film in advance. You've studied history and therefore can make informed decisions about where you think we'll be as a nation. I suspect that you're looking for an unprecedented intersection of politics in discourse. It will only increase. This is a good thing. It is necessary in order to heal. Have you ever noticed that a scab is not very appealing? But you will agree that it is better (safer) than an open wound? It is part of a process of healing. What this nation is experiencing is predictable and necessary. Therefore, I am at peace. I would love to unpack further if you are so inclined.

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Walters: Far more civil, far fewer antagonists who are pro-Trump (makes you wonder who all those Twitter handles belonged to and now that the battle is won, they have returned to their homes in the Moscovian suburbs). Even the Yanks who fought me hardest on Trump can muster nothing better than "at least he's not Hillary" or "Pence will do a good job."

Woody: My social media feeds are the equivalent of a civil war over the hearts and minds of Americans. The civility of these conversations have definitely fallen by the wayside because of the sharp divides in our country. What I will say is democracy is at its finest because it’s forcing us to have conversations that we're not comfortable with as a nation. The broad spectrum of thought and ideology on my timeline forces me to come correct when it comes to defending my positions.

Zeigler: Generally my Twitter feed has become more enjoyable to follow because I simply unfollow most people who post about politics. Of course there are some people, like [Chicago sports host and writer] Julie DiCaro, who I simply can't unfollow because, despite there being lots of politics on her feed, she's way way too important to not listen to.

Zirin: I wasn't part of the last panel, but yes, Trump has changed everything. He is exhausting and has aged all of us with the daily and sometimes hourly scandals as well as his revival of issues—not all Nazis are bad—that many of us thought no longer required our mental energy.

What percentage of your social media feeds today (both what you put out and what comes in) falls under the category of politics?

Ahmed: I would say easily 80 percent. The other 20 percent is evenly split between cats and coffee. I consider everything to be how most would define "political" but I file it under social justice. As a Muslim women of color, my experience is often critically analyzing things with a lens from the margins. I studied political science and women's studies in university and I always had an interest in women's issues and grassroots movements. The work I do now, and the people I follow, look to and learn from are just a continuation of that.

Arthur: So much more than I'd like. I don't want to tweet about Donald Trump as President all day. I don't want to think about it. I'm so tired of all the stuff that comes in—I follow nearly 2,000 people, and many are political reporters or thinkers, and that's before almost everyone else in the world talks about it—and I'm tired of me tweeting all the insanity, the evils, the lies, the damage. It's exhausting. But right now, during my summer vacation, though I'm on Twitter less, the number is maybe 90 percent for my output, and maybe higher. It's partly because I'm trying to take a break from my job, and because it's a deader time in sports. Input? Maybe 30-50 percent, more when the crazy stuff happens. It's not healthy, but it can feel like it's strange, or even irresponsible, to talk about anything else in the world. It's not, but a four year old with anger management issues and a fragile ego can end life on earth if he decides to, so it can feel that way.

Brando: I've tweeted politics very little since our last conversation. But when I did? Soon I found myself in peril. It was last Tuesday and it caused a near firestorm that almost got me in trouble. If not for [SI and Fox Sports reporter] Bruce Feldman (a friend and trusted colleague) reaching out I might not have recovered. I was watching the Big Ten Network’s “Bus Tour” in Lincoln as I've got the Huskers twice in September and I was intently watching, getting some homework done. I took a break, looked at Twitter, and everyone was tweeting about Donald Trump. I watched the news that morning and didn't think there had been a press conference. Trump’s infrastructure meeting took a drastic turn over questions about the Charlottesville tragedy and news was made. My tweet was something I had been thinking for some time and I made it without knowledge of the kind of news he was making. So I appeared to be supporting statements I had no idea he had made. Bruce first called me, pointed out what had happened, (he could have just tweeted and that would have been hurtful). I turned away from the Big Ten, caught the news and immediately apologized for my tweet. I then deleted the original tweet that came with a sense of sarcasm about those in sports that seem carried away with politics. It was yet another great lesson learned. I thanked Bruce and while my ideology may be different from many in our business, I respect opposing views, and learned again how critical self awareness is when operating in the social media landscape.

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I'm a public person so I don't mind admitting who I vote for or supported at anytime in my life. I was a Marco Rubio supporter, and Hillary Clinton simply put was not an option for me. Trump ultimately got my vote, but unlike others, I have a mind of my own and will never simply be a follower. The President disappointed me, and I wrote that. It's not the first time it's happened. I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 but he embarrassed my generation with his actions within the White House. It happens. People make mistakes. This is more than you wanted from the question but I needed to give you context. It's really hard for compassionate conservatives whether in the public eye or not, in these tumultuous times. You'll see less and less from me I'm afraid. There's no need to lose friends or loved ones over politics. Emotions are so high, and I don't presume to walk in the shoes of those that have backgrounds that have experienced oppression. Many of my closest friends are in this business and are minorities and they know my character. Those following me on Twitter may think they know but probably don't.

Dukes: Because I lean conservative, I put out next to nothing political on Twitter, lest I be inundated with all manner of pugnacious, outlandish accusations. I would say roughly 60 percent of my feed seems to have something to do with politics, no matter how much I attempt to curtail it.

Hill: This is where it’s very important to make the distinction between politics and commentary, information and discussion of social issues. I find that the majority of what comes into my timeline is related to social issues. Nobody is dying to engage in a discussion about repeal and replace, at least not with me. The percentage of people who want to discuss social issues has, however, increased substantially. Everyone is consumed with what's happening in our country right now. I don't tweet a lot about politics. I do tweet more about social issues, which I consider to be issues of morality. Racism isn't politics. Racism is an issue of right and wrong. Tweeting about significant issues that impact marginalized people isn't politics. That's right and wrong. If I had to guess, I would say I've increased my tweets about social issues about 20 percent. I've tried really hard not to let these issues consume my feed, because there are a lot of days where I just want to have fun on Twitter. I want to debate with Power and Insecure fans about what's happening on the show. I want to make jokes and have silly sports arguments, but unfortunately those days feel like they happen less.

Jones: I'm sure I could quantify this in some way, but I'm too lazy. I don't think that much has changed by percentage on my end, but I do notice more people talking politics who weren't so inclined to do so before. It's hard not to, as American politics are the biggest story in the world right now.

Ortiz: I try to keep my Twitter feed on sports, but I must admit that I've found that goal impossible to meet. I've actually found myself staying off Twitter to avoid all the political madness, but I would bet that perhaps at least 30 percent of the social media that comes into my feed is political, and perhaps at least 10 percent of the tweets that I make are about social justice in some way. Now is not the time for people of color to remain silent about Nazis and white supremacists and the people who defend them, so I do tend to share my opinion on those issues from time to time. After a follower complained, I found myself telling him that I wouldn't apologize for believing that slavery was evil. I never imagined that would be a controversial opinion.

Tillman: I'd say between 25 and 30 percent.

Walters: I would say 50 percent.

Woody: I would say around 50 percent of my timeline is politics related. I believe we're in such a phenomenon as it relates to the political landscape in our country, especially as it relates to social activism by players.

Zeigler: Twenty-five percent, because I have unfollowed most people who post primarily about politics.

Zirin: The word "today" is critical to this question. Given the anthem protests in the NFL, even many of the sports comments in my feed are political. It's overwhelmingly politics or the collision of sports and politics, baked together to make a different kind of cake than we consume in more normal times (and I think we can all agree, regardless of our politics, that these times are damn far from normal).

How, if at all, has your social media feed changed regarding politics since the date of our panel?

Ahmed: It has intensified and become very focused on experiences of women of color. I follow very few privileged men and I like to amplify those people from LGBTIQ communities, PWDs (persons with disabilities) and people of color from different religious communities. There have been fantastic attempts to change narratives and take control of sharing our voices. There has been a shift in my feeds toward sharing more and more folks expressing disdain and frustration with mainstream media. They don't represent so many of us.

Social media provides a space for amplifying those who don’t have huge platforms. This solidarity matters. I have made such good friends and met allies but I’ve also been so hurt and anxious about innocent people being attacked mercilessly by an administration that is supposed to care for them. I have watched "Bend It Like Beckham" for self care at least 50 times this year. I look to a quote from Audre Lorde to keep me focused and centered: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."

Arthur: I was, as [The Ringer’s] Bryan Curtis once put it, at the barricades before the election, and am there now. I should try to be more positive, and try to make people laugh more. I should laugh more. I mean, I'm not this wretched ever-outraged madman constantly tweeting every single thing. But sometimes, my Twitter feed can make it feel like I am, and I try to mix in some stuff that isn't that. Because I'm not that. I think about lots of other things. I laugh a lot. We're all more than our social media feeds, thank goodness. It's just ... I dunno, like my friend [ESPN writer] Kevin Van Valkenburg put it in a beautiful thread about Baltimore, the fight is worth having.

Brando: I remain a Republican that believes at the end of the day that those we debate hardest against, we should buy a drink for late in the day. Perhaps I'm only proving my age by that statement but I believe it to be what's best to change the narrative in Washington.

Dukes: More and more people that I assumed to be level-headed have made public decrees about wanting nothing to do with followers or fans of theirs with more conservative ideologies.

Hill: It's much harder to avoid. I have to talk myself out of sending certain tweets several times a day. When you're under the leadership of a President that refuses to condemn Nazis and racism, how am I supposed to function the rest of the day and pretend as if I give a shit about Blake Bortles losing his job? That's the conversation I'm having with myself on daily basis. I know there are sports fans looking for me to provide them with an "escape," but as a woman and person of color, I have no escape from the fact that there are people in charge who seem to be either sickened by my existence or are intent on erasing my dignity in every possible way. So today, my feed is probably a little edgier than it was. It's reflective of all the emotion and conflict I feel. I think others feel the same way.

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Jones: I think I'm a bit less inclined to discuss politics than I was during the election. Part of it is my employer's preference that we not directly disparage the President, which cuts into a lot of the things I'd be inclined to say. The other reason is what's happening now isn't particularly interesting. The 2016 election was objectively fascinating, even if it was unsettling at points. What's happening now is frightening in many ways. There aren't many jokes left to tell. There isn't much room for legitimate intellectual exchange and exploration. There are but so many variants of "holy sh*t" one can offer before it gets boring. Plus, it doesn't take much to figure out what I think about the most recent events. I'm not inclined toward public indignation just to demonstrate that I'm indignant. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say I'm a bit scared. I typically work through my fears in private. I do tweet “LOL” a lot about politics, though. Cuz what else can I do?

Ortiz: I don't think my social media feeds have changed much. My professional Facebook page has always remained 100 percent devoted to posting my columns. I'd have to go back and look, but I'm almost certain that I never made comments about the Presidential election on my Twitter feed. I have, however, commented on social issues, whether in terms of national news, or in sports when Latino ballplayers are being treated unfairly. I was challenged during one of my weekly live chats last month to speak about more social issues, but I told the reader that it wears me out. I also noted that it's unfair for that reader to expect the one person of color in the sports department to speak on social issues.

Tillman: My social media reflects what is happening in the broader context of society. The people I engage tend to be brave and opinionated. They are thoughtful. About five percent or cowards and afraid of change. They exhibit protectionist ideology; all of it motivated by fear.

Walters: I follow more political writers now. There are people who are making names/careers for themselves based on reporting in past nine months. I cannot wait to see the books that will emerge from this.

Woody: I don't think my social media feeds have changed at all because I follow so many different kinds of people that I could literally see what was building up.

Zeigler: Other than unfollowing people who post primarily about politics, it's changed two-fold: People who never posted about politics before are suddenly emboldened to do so and have become totally obsessed not with policy, but with politics. The tenor of their posts have become more negative, more mean-spirited and more nasty, which seems virtually impossible but true. I wish there was more discussion of policy and important news; Instead people seem more committed than ever to politics of personal destruction.

Zirin: The biggest difference is that the sportswriters that I am in daily dialogue with on social media are more political. Before Trump, we would be talking sports or at most, talking the politics of sports, the impact of Colin Kaepernick, the push for NCAA reform, the Brazil Olympics. But now a lot of folks are raising it straight up with me about what this administration is doing and what the role of the sportswriter even is at this time of crisis. I get the vibe that a lot of us are wrestling with that right now. Our work can feel mighty small when nuclear war and American Nazi killers are overwhelming the news. But when athletes are using their hyper-exalted platform to also say something, there is suddenly a logic and importance to what we do. Michael Bennett said to me that his greatest fear is not the death threats or losing sponsors, but being misunderstood. We have a role to play in making sure that does not happen.

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THE NOISE REPORT

(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)

1. Turner Broadcasting announced last week that it was launching a stand-alone sports streaming service in 2018, with the UEFA Champions League and Europa League rights as the centerpiece of the service. Here are the details via Turner including more than 340 UEFA matches per season across the company’s television and digital platforms. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand reported Turner paid $60 million for the English-language rights deal to carry games from the two leagues in the U.S. through 2020-21. (Univision has the Spanish-language rights).

But here is the rub, much like NBC’s recent Premier League over-the-top package: The diehard soccer consumer is getting screwed unless they have both a cable subscription and subscribe to the OTT service. It’s particularly galling to pay big money for a cable sub and get only 60 games or so, even if that content features the premium games such as the semifinals and finals. But this is the future, a hyper-fragmented mess as Kevin Roose of the New York Times analyzed smartly here.

1a. Turner told the New York Times that the MLB and NBA would not appear on its OTT at the outset.

1b. Interesting piece by Anthony Cruipi of Ad Age that examined the remaining sports inventory for over-the-top streaming services.

2. Episode 132 of the Sports Illustrated Media podcast features Detroit Free Press sports columnist and best-selling author Mitch Albom

In this podcast, Albom discusses the piece he wrote for the Detroit Free Press on June 15, 2017, titled “Chika’s Story,” the story of the five-year-old girl Albom and his wife, Janine, brought to the United States from Haiti. Chika was diagnosed with a DIPG brain tumor in May of 2015 in Haiti, and lived 23 months before passing away last April; why he decided to write about Chika; how to approach writing a piece about the death of a child; the pain of writing about the death of a loved one; why Albom keeps a daily dairy; the decision to share videos of Chika with the public; who saw his rough drafts prior to publication; why he reads his work to his wife; the editing process of the piece; whether he will write a book on Chika; hearing from parents who had lost a child; operating a mission in Port Au Prince, Haiti; whether sports writing still holds an interest for him; why he will likely stop writing sports at some point, and much more.

You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Stitcher.

3. ESPN is planning to do a Megacast broadcast for Ohio State vs. Indiana on Aug. 31. Here are the details.

3a. SI.com's Mike Harris conducted a media roundtable on the Mayweather-McGregor bout.

4. Non-sports pieces of note

• Vice News’ report from the front lines in Charlottesville is the best video journalism I’ve watched this year

• Here is Michael Mann’s annotated script for the diner scene in Heat

• Via The Oregonian’s Bethany Barnes: How Portland Public schools helped an educator evade sexual misconduct allegations

• A group of Tampa Bay Times reporters investigated the death of five workers at Tampa Electric

• From Politico: The 8-page memo on how to chauffeur a congressman

• Sobering and remarkable work from Lisa Gartner and Zachary T. Sampson of The Tampa Bay Times about a 16-year-old car thief who can’t escape his surroundings:

• From Geoff Edgers of The Washington Post: How Ms. Pat overcame drugs, prison and abuse—and rose to comedy stardom

• From The New York Times: A 2:15 Alarm, 2 Trains and a Bus Get Her to Work by 7 A.M.

• Says The Economist: Donald Trump is politically inept, morally barren and temperamentally unfit for office

• From The Washington Post’s Karen Attiah: What if Western media covered Charlottesville the same way it covers other nations

Harper’s Seyward Derby, on the rise of alt-right women

New Yorker writer Raffi Khatchadourian profiled Julian Assange

• Via Rowan Jacobsen of Outside Online: Inside the Lab That's Quantifying Happiness

The New York Times writer Wil S. Hylton profiled Breitbart News editor Alex Marlow

• From Washington Post writer Terrence McCoy: The road to hate: For six young men, Charlottesville is only the beginning

Sports pieces of note:

• Mike Wise profiled the former professional wrestler and WWE broadcaster, Booker T

The Guardian’s Bryan Armen Graham examined where boxing is amid the Mayweather-McGregor event

• David Lagana directed a short film on pro wrestler Drew McIntrye

• Jeff Pearlman, writing for Deadspin, on one of the costliest practical jokes in sports writing history

• Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck on a confrontation with pro golfer Shaun Micheel

• Deadspin’s Laura Wagner received some sobering emails from former SB Nation employees on how little they were paid

5. Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf has been hired by SiriusXM to work as a college football analyst. He will be heard multiple times each week on SiriusXM’s 24/7 college sports channel, SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 84.

5a. The Big Lead’s Ryan Glasspiegel reported that former Today Show reporter Jenna Wolfe has been hired by FS1 to work on its new morning show.

5b. On Sunday Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy was honored by NESN and the team for his 30 years and 3,900 games in the booth. Remy is currently not working after having surgery to treat his fifth lung cancer diagnosis in less than a decade.

5c. If you missed it, here’s my ranking of the 10 best 30 for 30 documentaries ESPN has produced since the series began in 2009.

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