ESPN’s Katie Nolan has become a rising star in sports media in part because of her ability to combine a sharp sense of humor with a willingness to be candid on just about any subject.
But after finding herself the center of controversy when she called President Trump a “f— stupid person” on Viceland’s Desus & Mero show last week, Nolan acknowledged that she underestimated the intense scrutiny her new network is under in the current political climate.
“I’ve recently learned the lesson that there is a lens on ESPN that I certainly misjudged or underestimated in this current moment that people are focusing on, looking for, interested in, seeing people confirm what they already think about this network,” Nolan told Richard Deitsch in the most recent episode of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. “Looking back on it, if I could just go back and not say it, I would, because it just didn’t mean much to me to have that in there.”
To Nolan, who started at ESPN in October, the comment was a flippant remark she made on a late-night comedy show known for not holding back when it comes to criticizing the president. But to many, her profane comment suggested that ESPN and its hosts are biased against Trump and his administration.
“Taken out of context, which I should have anticipated was going to happen, it does look really bad,” Nolan said. “I think if I worked at Fox when that happened, I don’t know this would have been this big of a deal. I don’t think it would have been that much of a problem.”
In a statement, ESPN said it had reviewed the totality of Nolan’s comments and considered what she said “inappropriate.” The network added that “we have addressed it with her,” but did not elaborate further.
Nolan’s comments come amid intense scrutiny from conservative media outlets over the network’s supposed liberal bent. The scrutiny has only intensified after the White House called on the network to fire SportsCenter host Jemele Hill for calling Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter.
He loves black people so much that he pandered to racists by using a flag that unquestionably stands for dehumanizing black people. https://t.co/ukbl3RodoP
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
“I’m not sure he’s aware but I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in September.
In response, ESPN issued new social media guidelines for its about 8,000 employees, which now read, in part, “Commentaries on relevant sports-related issues are appropriate, but we should refrain from overt partisanship or endorsement of particular candidates, politicians or political parties.”
Fellow ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, who has appeared as a guest on Fox News multiple times and has criticized the president for his “petty” and “vindictive” attacks on the NFL, has said there’s a distinction between personalities criticizing the president’s actions and personal attacks on Trump himself.
“Do I believe the president should be wasting his time commenting about stuff like that? No. Do I believe the president has been a bit juvenile in his behavior? Yes, he has,” Smith said in an interview with Sporting News’ Michael McCarthy. “Having said that, it’s one thing to attack what he does; it’s an entirely different matter to attack him. When you attack him, then we are stepping out of our lane.”
For Nolan, the toughest part of being at ESPN is figuring out where the sometimes-blurry line between politics and sports exists, and trying not to cross it. But she has learned one important lesson.
“If I’m going to say something that’s on the line or anywhere near the line, I’m going to make sure it’s a perfect representation of what I actually mean to say,” Nolan said.