ESPN radio host Dan Le Batard became emotional reading Michael Bennett's harrowing account of his arrest by Las Vegas police for "simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Michael Bennett. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
What Le Batard read next made him furious.
During a commercial break on the Wednesday edition of his radio show, Le Batard said he received a stream of text messages from irate fans accusing Bennett of embellishing, or fabricating the story.
"Calling total BS on that story, video or lie," one text reportedly read.
"Don't believe this story. Back it up with a police report or an eyewitness," read another.
"Shut up fat face Leba-tard," another began. "I still haven't found the racists who spray painted LeBron's gate. This is all made up. Liberal sheep liar. Shut the [bleep] up.'"
In a righteous, five-minute response, Le Batard called out his listeners for reflexively doubting the Pro-Bowl defensive end.
The host rattled off a list of other athletes who have identified racism in their daily lives — including Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who reported racist taunts at Fenway Park, and NFL players attributing teams' refusal to sign Colin Kaepernick to the quarterback's national anthem protests last season — and the skeptical responses he's received from listeners.
"I'm just hurt by it man," Le Batard said. "'Prove to me that racism exists.' 'Adam Jones, you got called the n-word. Prove to me that you got called the n-word.' 'Colin Kaepernick, look at the starters in the NFL this week. Prove to me that he's blackballed.' 'Where's the proof?' 'Prove racism to me.' Well, how can I prove it to you if when Michael Bennett comes out and tells your story, you're gonna tell him, 'Not true.' How? How can I prove it to you if every time I come to you, you're gonna say, 'Fake news'?"
The ESPN host went on to express shock at the intensity of the blowback.
"The reaction was too strong," Le Batard said. "Man, who hurt you? Who hurt you? Because I know who hurt black people. It was white people." He speculated that black Americans and the police often feel threatened by one another — making rational discourse impossible.
A March Quinnipiac University poll found that 39% of white Americans believed that racism against whites was "very serious," compared to 66% of non-whites. ESPN's radio audience is 80% male, most between the ages of 25 and 52. Barrett Sports Media, a sports media consulting company, estimates that listeners skew 70-90% white across all stations.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Le Batard frequently analyzes the intersection of race and sports on air. The host has voiced support for Colin Kaepernick's activism and dismay that the quarterback remains unsigned by the NFL.
"He is good enough to be paid by that league and the only reason he's not paid by that league is because that league is run by cowards," Le Batard said on a July 19 edition of his radio show. "I shouldn’t say it’s the only reason. It’s one of the reasons."
The sportscaster also recently criticized Kaepernick for wearing a T-shirt with Fidel Castro's image on it. (Le Batard is Cuban-American.)
He concluded the monologue with an appeal to his listeners' empathy.
"You don't know what it's like to be on the end of those handcuffs for no reason," he said. "Because if you did, there's no way you would respond to that Michael Bennett story by calling BS and wanting to fight me for reading the story to you."
Five days a week, thousands tune in to listen to Le Batard. Now, he's asking them to listen to others whose experiences differ dramatically from their own.