Well, it finally happened. Curt Schilling was let go by ESPN last night after sharing a meme on Facebook about transgender people and accompanying commentary on which bathrooms he thinks they should use. Curt went on the radio yesterday morning and said he was blindsided by the backlash from his post, which is an odd thing for him to say, seeing as how in the aftermath of his Muslims/Germans post he tweeted :
I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part.
Curt Schilling made a choice. He knew he was on thin ice with his employer and he knew that continuing to post hyper-political views and memes on his social media was something they’d warned him more than once to stop doing. In all walks of life there are times where someone’s personal life butts up against their professional responsibilities and a choice has to be made. Just a few weeks ago we saw Jessica Moran resign from CSN after the Boston Globe reported on the terribly kept secret that was her long standing relationship with Red Sox manager John Farrell. In Schilling’s case, it wasn’t a personal relationship, but a relentless desire to opine on the hot political topic du jour. He was suspended by ESPN once, was warned to knock it off, and simply couldn’t help himself.
The thing is, this wasn’t the worst thing Curt Schilling has ever posted. Not even close. Don’t get me wrong, this is a lousy thing to post and I would imagine any TV baseball analyst who posted something like this would get a talking to from his or her boss, but it’s not Curt’s worst. I made a long post last year about some of Curt’s more outwardly hateful posts (such as when he shared this: http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/blackvet.asp – which calls Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and pretty much all the Ferguson protesters the N word). He’s posted images of people on 9/11 leaping to their deaths, he’s posted memes defending the confederate flag. As an American, Curt Schilling has the right to hold these opinions and post these things, but the way his defenders have raged against the stifling of Schilling’s first amendment rights would suggest that we were talking about a tenured college professor, not a TV baseball analyst.
When I was in college at U of Colorado there was a professor there named Ward Churchill. Churchill was a professor of ethnic studies whom you couldn’t miss him on campus. He was a big guy with long black hair, wearing big Roy Orbison sunglasses and was often having loud, animated conversations outside the building his office was in. After 9/11 Churchill wrote a scholarly essay called “Some People Push Back”: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens which compared the people who died on in the World Trade Center to Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. His essay was heavily criticized, launching it to the forefront of cable news debates. In the wake of some serious public backlash, Colorado lead a scholarly review of all Churchill’s work which uncovered discoveries of plagiarism and fabrication in his works as well as falsifying his own native background, which led to his eventual dismissal. Because of his tenure and the fact that academic speech is fiercely protected, no matter how offensive it may be, CU couldn’t fire him until they had a better reason than “he just pissed a lot of people off”. In the interest of full disclosure, I lost a close family member on 9/11, and the Churchill debate in Boulder was a tough one for me. The guy called my dead cousin a Nazi. I was happy when he got fired.
In a lot of ways, the situation with Schilling is completely different. He was warned several times to cut the shit and decided it was more important that he share his dopey memes on facebook than draw a steady paycheck. Also, ESPN is not held to the academic standards that a university would be held to and because of that they were well within their rights to give Schilling the ax. If Schilling was a talk show host who was getting paid to give his opinion on a broader range of topics this conversation would be a very different one, but he was not. He was paid to comment on baseball and he was getting paid by a company who’s mascot is Mickey freaking Mouse.
The question I’m most interested in is will Schilling get another shot? Controversy sells, and while ESPN may not be down with Curt dropping his conservative truth-bombs on Facebook you can’t tell me that if he was scooped up by another cable sports network and given a soapbox to say whatever was on his mind that people wouldn’t tune in. Or is Schilling just too toxic right now? Fox hired Pete Rose for the playoffs last year, I would not put it past them to take a run at Schilling. The elephant in the room, however, is that if Curt Schilling was given a position or a daily talk show where he could go on about whatever he pleased, he would (in my opinion, of course) be terrible at it. Most of the things he posts on social media are memes, when he has to speak for himself (on non-baseball related topics) we get stuff like his posts on his 38pitches blog including his latest rambling, facile rant about how people just looooooove to get offended and how if you were offended by Curt posting this :
Or the 9/11 jumpers, or a post calling protesters n-bombs or *insert offensive Curt Schilling post here* – that it’s your fault, not his. Fox would be taking a major risk bringing on a guy who has the critical thinking ability of a goldfish and giving him free reign to say whatever he wants. You might not agree with Jason Whitlock, Katie Nolan, Clay Travis or Colin Cowherd but there is clearly more to their commentary than The Conservative Hammer’s meme of the day. Curt Schilling’s non-baseball takes are about as deep as a birdbath, and once the initial pop from his re-hiring wears off and all that’s left is Curt Schilling and his personal brand of political commentary, whoever it is that takes a chance on hiring him is likely to regret it.
With all that said, I think ESPN is on shaky ground here when it comes to limiting the expression of their on-air talent. They hired Schilling knowing exactly what kind of person he was and what sort of social media presence he had. They either need to define exactly what their people can and can’t say when they’re not on the air or they need to detach themselves from it, because Schilling is not the only ESPN personality who has said or posted wildly offensive things off the air. Handling these things on a case by case basis just opens up the door for accusations of political favoritism, double standards, and lawsuits.
However, in this particular instance, Curt Schilling defied a direct order to stay away from political commentary, and ESPN decided to swat him off their back before he could sting them anymore.