When Nelson Mandela died Thursday, the cable news networks had wall-to-wall coverage — the man was 95 and in poor health, so needless to say, they were prepared. Facebook blew up with comments from seemingly every person on earth who felt the need to weigh-in on his passing. Most websites had banners proclaiming the event. It was all very nice and good and predictable; his story was well-worth publicizing.

When Nelson Mandela died Thursday, the cable news networks had wall-to-wall coverage — the man was 95 and in poor health, so needless to say, they were prepared. Facebook blew up with comments from seemingly every person on earth who felt the need to weigh-in on his passing. Most websites had banners proclaiming the event. It was all very nice and good and predictable; his story was well-worth publicizing.


But when I flipped on ESPN to watch highlights of the Jags-Texans match-up, imagine my surprise when I instead found anchor John Buccigross reading tweets from every sports-affiliated person who had two cents and 140 characters to spend on Mandela.


Frankly, it was insulting. If I want to learn about the legacy of the South African leader, I’ll go to a news channel. I don’t need the big wigs in Bristol, Conn. lecturing me on what LeBron thought of apartheid (wild guess: he was against it).


It was just the latest example of how disconnected the sports network has become from the average fan. More and more, it seems the company is less interested in sports for sports’ sake, and more interested in pushing agendas. And what’s worse, they’re usually agendas to which its audience is opposed.


Recently, ESPN devoted countless hours of airtime to voices calling the Washington Redskins’ nickname offensive, despite the fact that a recent Associated Press poll showed only 11 percent of football fans think the name should be changed. Certainly the network bosses know that statistic, so their one-sided coverage suggests they’re trying to unduly influence their audience. That’s not only bad business, it’s poor journalism.


Over the summer, ESPN ran a month-long tribute to Title IX — the controversial law that requires colleges to field women’s athletic teams at an equal pace to men’s teams, regardless of student interest. The network trotted out dozens of examples of female athletes whom they said the law has benefited, but paid virtually no time to thousands of disenfranchised male athletes who have lost opportunities because of the legislation.


Again, it was partisan coverage that mocked their viewers. According to polling done by Rasmussen Reports, only 13 percent of adults support the federal government enforcing a strict gender quota in college athletics, yet ESPN’s coverage left the impression that support for quotas is universal.


Sports have traditionally been the one thing that unites an urban Democrat and a rural Republican — the one thing we can all agree on, no matter our backgrounds. But over the past several years, ESPN has shifted from an impartial observer in the sports world to an active promoter of East Coast causes célèbre. It’s a shame to see the nation’s sports flagship intentionally creating fractures in the collective fan-base and spitefully spitting in the proverbial faces of the people who keep its coffers full of capitalist cash.


At least the shift in philosophy will make for an easy change to its nickname. ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports —and Sports Propaganda.