Mike Ditka is out at ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown and there's a misconception out there that it's because of his conservative political views. Ditka recently called Barack Obama the "worst'' president in U.S. history and has indicated that he likely would vote for Donald Trump for president. Seeing as how ESPN took Curt Schilling off Sunday Night Baseball for comparing extremist Muslims to Nazis, many believe Ditka is being punished for his comments.
Simply not true. Ditka himself said moving off Sunday NFL Countdown was his idea. He will remain at ESPN in another capacity.
"It's something I asked for,'' Ditka said. "After many years of weekend travel, I'm thrilled I'll get to watch NFL games on Sundays and Monday nights in the comfort of my own home.''
Did Ditka jump off the show before he was pushed? Perhaps, but not because of his politics. It's more likely because he's now 76 years old, hasn't coached since 1999 and hasn't played since 1972. Think about that: the last time Ditka was active in the league, Peyton Manning was in his second season. Tom Brady was still at Michigan. That's a generation ago.
Murmurs are the show is trying to get younger and it simply makes sense to ease out Ditka in favor of Matt Hasselbeck, who just retired from the game. It's also why Countdown jumped to hire the just-retired Charles Woodson to replace Keyshawn Johnson.
In fact, don't be shocked if Countdown, over the next couple of years, phases out long-time panelists Tom Jackson and Cris Carter in favor of former players who played more recently. The show simply can't completely overhaul the cast at one time. It takes time and moving on from Ditka is the first step.
As far as ESPN and its stance on talent making their political views public, it should be noted that the network did send out a memo asking its on-air personalities to refrain from political commentary.
Ditka and Schilling disobeyed that memo with Schilling recently criticizing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, both remain employed by ESPN.
Many conservatives question whether those with conservative views are more harshly punished that those with liberal views. But, again, Ditka and Schilling have not been fired. The network did once hire conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and only fired him after he ventured into the dangerous area of race. However, Limbaugh's political views were certainly well established when he came aboard the network. ESPN also recently let go Keith Olbermann, who leans left, although not renewing Olbermann's contract had nothing to do with his political views.
This column likely will stir up those who have had enough of the "liberal media'' and see this as one outlet sticking up for another.
But this is a fact: do you know what ESPN cares most about, what it cares only about? Ratings. That's it. It will hire anyone who will help those ratings. And it will let go of anyone who hurts its ratings.