With the name Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk written across his right palm, Jon “Stugotz” Weiner marched up and down the line wrapped around the corner of Gramercy Theatre. He offered exorbitant amounts of money for tickets and hugs, ranging anywhere from $200-$10,000 to see a show. Stugotz — master bullshitter — was only partially bullshitting, this time. There was indeed a show to watch.
The show was Le Batard Live at Gramercy on May 18, 2019, where the Dan Le Batard Show did find a temporary home in New York City, grossly underestimating their impact in the process. Le Batard often refers to the show as a “Marching Band To Nowhere” for their consistent inabilities to see ideas through, so there was doubt they’d even make it to NYC, let alone host a successful event in the 23rd Street venue.
They sold out 500 seats in 30 seconds. (The FOMO was real, according to comments.)
Miraculously, my guy Joe somehow survived the blitz and secured an extra ticket, which I paid him for to tag along. The show probably would’ve sold out elsewhere, but in many ways, the cosy setting Gramercy provided was the best scenario possible. Fans lined up to meet the show members, Greg Cote, along with Shipping Container members Michael Ryan Ruiz, Roy Bellamy, Billy Gil, and Chris Cote. (We’ll get to some of the others later.)
Le Batard told me to keep talking as we posed for pictures. Knowing we had three minutes if we were lucky, we let him know how long we’d been following the show. I informed him, as efficiently as I could, about his impact on fellow creatives, especially of color, which has seen a continued increase over the last several years.
Le Batard, a Cuban-American son of exiles, based out of Miami, Florida, was a prominent voice for ESPN on not solely sports, but the social issues that intersect and transcend them. He never willingly evaded sobering subject manner, even as the network attempted to water down such commentary in the age of World Wide Leader’s president Jimmy Pitaro. Le Batard was part of a group, including those like Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, and once upon a time, Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, who were among the company’s pillars of modern-day ‘more than sports’ commentary. The network tried to downplay said content, but it became increasingly difficult in a COVID-riddled and socially-conscious era. Le Batard’s always challenged the network to lean into these social constructs, while also thanking them for allowing his show to rise to unforeseen heights in the same breath.
But his advocacy for social change also bears the much-needed visibility of a prominent Latino voice in sports media. In a country where Latinos accounted for America’s second-largest voting block, you have a better chance of hearing an insightful Tekashi69 song than finding an English-speaking prominent Latino featured in sports media. People in leadership positions at said networks are often conservative white folks who don’t see the benefit of having voices representing other communities. That’s not to say this was or wasn’t the case with ESPN in this particular instance.
The reason the English-speaking Latino voice is so vital is because, in our communities, we’re often encouraged by our friends and families that if we’re going to pursue sports media, “Why not get on ESPN Deportes?” There’s nothing wrong with that, but what I often explain to others is that it limits our overall impact. Just because Black people are Black doesn’t mean they should only strive to be on BET or Revolt. For us, our ceiling shouldn’t be limited to Telemundo or Univision. That’s not to say our minority-owned platforms are insignificant, but in order to achieve social change, some people of color are needed to tear down the normalized white walls at established companies. It (should) provide an olive branch for others in our communities, bridging the gap toward a more inclusive media landscape. In our case, by only speaking Spanish, we won’t connect to other communities and remain secluded amongst our own, thus, limiting our overall influence.
Then, there’s the other route, the one more-traveled because of necessity in many cases. Here, it’s by choice. It’s clear that Le Batard and his team — a mixture of a Latin-American, white and Black — are willing to do what most minority creatives seemingly must in order to achieve their most desired balance of enjoyment and labor: Bet on yourself.
This is how we’ve had Telemundo, BET, Futuro Media, Revolt, Latino Rebels, and other minority-owned media conglomerates provide additional voices in the constant battle for social equality that Le Batard’s has tried to lead in the sports world. To not have that prominent English-speaking Latino voice at ESPN is a loss, but one that will be Le Batard’s independent gain. Unless he decides to take his Marching Band to another large sports media entity, and that future home will likely need the representation as well.
Le Batard’s mutual departure from ESPN is symbolic of the fight between creatives versus corporate, the call for inclusivity, and the need for the diversity companies have claimed to want throughout 2020. But it also shows that you can come to a point in not needing the company you’ve worked with for so long, even as a minority. That you can work yourself into a position of freedom. That you don’t have to abide by structures that don’t work for you anymore. And that there’s power in exercising your choice to act.
At Le Batard Live, it also wasn’t just the show: Bomani Jones, Pablo Torre, Katie Nolan, Stephen A Smith, Mike Golic Jr, Nick Wright, and Randy Scott were among many peers in attendance. Le Batard has also provided a platform for countless other co-workers like Jorge Sedano, Israel Gutierrez, Mina Kimes, Sarah Spain, Domonique Foxworth, Amin Elhassan, Marty Smith, and Elle Duncan on his show, on Highly Questionable and on his podcast, South Beach Sessions. He’s also branched out to numerous other people outside of both sports and ESPN, which will likely heighten in their new venture.
So as the show says, “Thank you, Dan.” Thank you for being a leader in an industry of followers, for paving the way for fellow Latinos trying their best to figure it out, and for always being your authentic self as you leave ESPN to continue doing so. ¡Sigue así!