ESPN's Dan Le Batard is leaving network in January

Amid escalating tensions over the creative direction of “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” ESPN announced on Thursday that Le Batard is leaving the network in January.

ESPN announced the move as a mutual decision in a joint statement from executive vice president Norby Williamson and Le Batard.

“It was mutually agreed that it was best for both sides to move on to new opportunities and we worked together closely to make that possible,” Williamson wrote. “We thank Dan for his many years and contributions to ESPN and wish him all the best going forward.”

Report: Le Batard asked out of contract after Chris Cote flap

Front Office Sports reports that Le Batard asked out of his contract after a conflict with the network over the dismissal of radio producer and fan favorite Chris Cote, who was let go amid a round of layoffs at ESPN in November. Le Batard said on air that he was blindsided by the move and rehired Cote out of his own pocket.

Le Batard thanked the network on Thursday for the exposure and opportunity provided for himself, his radio co-host John “Stugotz” Weiner and his father Gonzalo “Papi” Le Batard, who co-hosted his daily roundtable TV show “Highly Questionable.” Stugotz and Papi both became fan favorites of Le Batard’s intensely loyal audience.

“Gracias to ESPN for unleashing Papi and Stugotz upon an unsuspecting America, and for lending its substantive credibility to our careening clown car,” Le Batard wrote. “Can’t believe Stugotz finally achieved his dream of becoming a high-priced free agent.”

Stugotz and Papi will be released from their contracts alongside Le Batard, according to FOS.

What’s next for ESPN?

Mike Greenberg’s “Greeny” will move into the 10 a.m. to noon ET radio time slot held by Le Batard. “Highly Questionable” will remain on the air with its stable of familiar contributors that Le Batard helped groom at the network like Bomani Jones, Mina Kimes and Domonique Foxworth.

The final air date for Le Batard’s radio show and “Highly Questionable” stint will be Jan. 4.

Shaq's Fun House Miami at Mana Wynwood on January 31, 2020 in Wynwood, Florida
Dan Le Batard is leaving ESPN in January. (Getty Images)

What’s next for Le Batard?

Le Batard didn’t announce what’s next, but teased an upcoming project.

“To our loyal army of concerned fans, and to everyone who walked along and played an instrument in our Marching Band to Nowhere, know that it is a very exciting time for us, not a sad one,” Le Batard wrote. “And that you’ll be hearing our laughter again soon enough.”

Le Batard became an ESPN staple

Le Batard worked for years as a reporter for the Miami Herald before shifting his career focus to broadcast. His radio show started locally in Miami in 2004 before ESPN picked it up in 2013. He was already a contributor on ESPN, notably as a guest host on “Pardon the Interruption.”

“Highly Questionable” first aired in 2011, and ESPN launched “The Le Batard and Friends” podcast network in 2019 featuring contributions from personalities in Le Batard’s orbit.

Conflict over content, sticking to sports

Tensions between Le Batard and network management played out publicly in recent years and usually centered on Le Batard’s irreverent approach to content and commentary on issues of politics and race.

ESPN jettisoned other outspoken personalities like Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, who publicly criticized President Donald Trump. The network chose a strict stick-to-sports content strategy as politics became more intertwined with sports.

Le Batard chastised ESPN’s ‘weak-ass shield’

Le Batard regularly challenged that policy, drawing the ire of management. He complained on air about being muzzled from criticizing Trump in 2016. He broke the no-politics edict in 2019, calling out racist chants at a Donald Trump rally while criticizing ESPN for its policy of avoiding divisive topics, calling it a “weak-ass shield.”

The commentary reportedly led to “several conversations” between Le Batard and network president Jimmy Pitaro. Le Batard remained on the air.

But ESPN dialed back Le Batard’s presence in recent months. Williamson oversaw an overhaul of the ESPN radio network in July that reduced Le Batard’s show from three hours to two. The simulcast of the show that used to air on ESPN News was put behind a paywall on ESPN+.

The network’s dismissal of Cote appeared to be the last straw for Le Batard.

Le Batard will surely move on to a platform that allows him full creative control over his content. It is yet to be seen whether Stugotz or the rest of his show’s contributors will move with him.

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