France, NASCAR’s president, stepped into a self-made mess with a political endorsement – and seemed puzzled when his shoes got dirty. ESPN caught flak from the perpetually cranky sports commentariat regarding Ditka’s changing role within the organization.
For much of the world, sports is entertainment. A diversion from the real world. A place to escape life’s drudgeries. Sports is a big tent. Sports doesn’t want to hear about your politics. So, if you work in sports, keep them to yourself.
As a sportscaster and American in the age of social media and instant information, I have my opinions and the means to share them widely. But I don't. It’s mostly because I understand the idea of sports as entertainment and want it to be a big tent, because there aren’t many places like that left. It’s partly because my opinions may drive away listeners, viewers and readers for – in the sportscasting sense – no real reason. Which is bad for business.
There's the story of a morning radio show that, after nearly two decades on the air, rose to #1 in a mid-major market. It was no mean feat, considering the station’s format (hard rock) didn’t appeal to a mass audience. But following a recent Presidential election, the show decided to become more political, and fell to #4. Proving that trying to alienate roughly half of your customer base is almost always effective.
So the advice to sports figures in and out of broadcasting is to hush up. Keep your politics private. You have a 1st Amendment right to an opinion but no protection from the perception of that opinion. Remember where you are and why you’re there. Know that "personal and private" won't stay that way when made public. Your livelihood depends on public perception. Give fans a reason to leave and they will.
Just … don’t.