Monday morning, amidst countrywide buzz over NBA Washington Wizards center Jason Collins coming out as gay, the first male American athlete in a major pro sport to do so during his active career, ESPN.com has remained unfazed.
In fact, they’ve barely touched the story. For much of the day their website’s front page more prominently displayed stories about former Jets Quarterback Tim Tebow, and upcoming Giants QB Ryan Nassib; meanwhile, the Collins story was relegated to the mini-feed right of center. Like an over-anticipated chorus, the negative press for ESPN began rolling in. “An active NBA player coming out of the closet? And doing so in the pages of a rival outlet? That could wait,” sniped Deadspin. I say c’mon internet, homophobia is bad, but witch hunts are bad too.
This borderline omission of the Jason Collins gay news is not the sign of homophobia that others are making it out to be. Maybe ESPN.com’s millions of visitors don’t … really … care as much about the sexual preference of an ancillary character in the NBA as they do about more relevant sporting matters. It seems to me that the popularity of this story is based on the interest of non-sports fans.
Moreover, ESPN.com’s homepage has some of the most expensive ad-space on the internet, largely because its inoffensive and non-political headlines are safe for any sponsor willing to pay for it. Perhaps this gloss-over of Jason Collin’s coming out is monetarily motivated. Surely that is not exactly as damning as reporters wished it was. ESPN is not as motivated as other news sources to flock to politicized news events, and that is how it should be. They are a more soft news source than their more forward-thinking peers in broadcast journalism.
ESPN, and even more so, ESPN’s parent company, Disney, often fall under criticism for supposedly white-washing their media, which would go hand-in-hand with their alleged conservative agenda. This view of Disney is a bit antiquated. The last time Disney ratted out its animators for being communists was also the first time, and that was in 1947. It was considered unacceptable then and now. This example of prejudice occurred only one year after the release of Song of the South, the controversial film that portrayed slavery as happy and whimsical. Needless to say however, this was a long time ago, way before Disney became a modern media giant. Those anti-Semitic, racist, and generally bigoted views are now frozen in time past, much like they head from which they emitted.
At around 3:20 p.m. ESPN finally did follow suit and gave Collins the front-and-center treatment on their home page. And it only took four hours. Can we move on now?