ESPN and Mike Ditka confirmed that the Pro Football Hall of Famer’s duties at the sports network have been realigned. In an announcement Wednesday, ESPN said Ditka inked a two-year extension to take on a new role as a year-round contributor to “SportsCenter” beginning in September.
Meanwhile, Ditka was dumped from the marquee NFL program “Sunday NFL Countdown,” with some media outlets suggesting that the move is related to Ditka’s high-profile support of Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
Ditka stressed the positive in the ESPN announcement, saying: “This new role is really a blessing. It’s something I asked for. 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. I enjoy being part of the game and part of ESPN. I really do. So this is a great solution.”
The Big Lead reports that Ditka, who has been with ESPN since 2004, will be replaced by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on “Sunday NFL Countdown.” Media outlets previously announced that Charles Woodson is replacing Keyshawn Johnson on the program.
“Ditka is not leaving ESPN — he’s just departing ‘Countdown,'” The Big Lead reports. “Sources say he’ll have an unspecified emeritus-type NFL role at the network.”
Daily Caller notes that Ditka has given a number of interviews in support of Trump throughout the election cycle. “He first endorsed the real estate mogul back in September 2015, and in an interview last week, Ditka said Trump exhibits the type of leadership President Obama has failed to bring to the White House,” Daily Caller notes.
The Daily Caller report adds: “In January, a Deadspin report uncovered a leaked ESPN memo, urging on-air talent to avoid making political statements. The memo — which ESPN claims was circulated in early January — requires employees to ‘refrain from political editorializing, personal attacks or “drive-by” comments regarding the candidates and their campaigns (including but not limited to on platforms such as Twitter or other social media).'”
ESPN reportedly declined a request from The Daily Caller for a comment on the record.
Commenting in the ESPN announcement Wednesday, Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer, NFL studio shows, said: “Mike talked with me late in the year about his role for next season. Thankfully we were able to come to an agreement that works for him and keeps him a part of our ESPN family. This announcement is great news for us and for our viewers, as Coach Ditka continues to be someone NFL fans everywhere respect and admire.”