When ESPN announced the hiring of Keith Olbermann, they knew more than anyone about the baggage that comes with employing the former SportsCenter anchor, but now that ESPN's ombudsman (yes, ESPN has an ombudsman) has emptied his inbox, it's one bit of baggage in particular that have viewers furious: his past as a political talking head.
Olberman spent 16 years away from ESPN before singing on to return with a nightly talk show on ESPN2 that is set to debut in late August. His departure was a legendary television personnel meltdown — the sort that makes his rehiring at ESPN in any capacity a shock to observers. In the intervening years, Olbermann spent time as a contributor on MSNBC and then on Current TV, the network owned by Al Gore that would eventually become Al Jazeera America, building a brand as a liberal firebrand during his offseason from covering sports, and ESPN knew it. The New York Times' James Miller reported some inside the network thought Olbermann had become "too politicized" to come back. But, heck, they decided to hire him anyway.
ESPN's ombudsman, Robert Lipyste, revealed some of the hate mail ESPN received for hiring Olbermann from people having a hard time separating the Olbermann on MSNBC from the Olbermann who talks about baseball:
• Bill Dart of Caldwell, Idaho: “I have removed all ESPN channels from my channel guide. I have no interest in supporting in any manner a network that hires one of the most partisan, mean, bigoted, commentators to ever disgrace television.”
• Thomas Strickland of Olathe, Kan.: “WHAT were you thinking? Olbermann made his living as a Left-wing fascist nut job bomb thrower that routinely mocked HALF your viewing audience! Olbermann is divisiveness incarnate! I'm starting Facebook and Twitter campaigns to let everyone know about the obscene nature of your actions. Olbermann is the anti-Christ!”
Now, the guy wasn't that popular around ESPN hallways when he left in 1997, but at least Suzy Kolber (one of Olbermann's biggest detractors) learned to bury the hatchet.