Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bring Keith Olbermann back to ESPN

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
March 5, 2013 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
Howard Kurtz says Keith Olbermann should be welcomed back to ESPN.
Howard Kurtz says Keith Olbermann should be welcomed back to ESPN.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: There's talk that Keith Olbermann wants to return to ESPN
  • He says Olbermann has been controversial at several leading media outlets
  • Kurtz says Olbermann has great talent and deserves another shot at sports
  • Kurtz: Working with Olbermann may not always be easy, but he can be worth the trouble

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- Keith Olbermann -- formerly of MSNBC, formerly of Current TV, formerly of Fox, formerly of ESPN -- wants back in the game.

More to the point, he wants to return to his sports roots by reuniting with ESPN.

Now it would be easy to torpedo that idea by noting that Olbermann has burned bridges everywhere he has worked and could inflame things back at ESPN.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

But I won't. Instead, I'm going to lead a chant: Let's Go Keith!!

It would be great fun to see him holding forth again on sporting matters. Is the guy supposed to stay sidelined for the rest of his life, just because he's got a bit of a temper? Don't the fans of America deserve better?

Watch: Did George Stephanopoulos lay a glove on Dennis Rodman?

The New York Times reports that Olbermann recently had dinner with ESPN's president, John Skipper, who says they had a fine time. But they weren't just shooting the breeze: "Clearly he was looking to see if there was an entry point to come back," Skipper said. Olbermann, in turn, praised Skipper's "vision and charm."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



So to put it in betting terms, what are the odds?

"There was no real appropriate place for Keith to come back, nor did I feel like I was prepared to bring him back," Skipper told the Times.

Wrong answer.

ESPN is in the business of covering athletic competition, right? What could be more spellbinding than waiting to see whether Olbermann declares some jock the "worst person in the world" or, even better, grabs a baseball bat in some confrontation with the bosses?

Watch: Do Mitt and Ann Romney get why he lost the election?

I'm being facetious, of course. But I miss the guy, even though there have been times when he has thrown brushback pitches at me. But I'm going to rise above that, for the greater good of television.

The thing about ubertalented people is that they're often difficult to manage. Olbermann is a great broadcaster, but sometimes he lets his anger get the best of him. He makes life very difficult for his bosses. The question, as always, is whether he's worth it.

2012: Olbermann's legal war
2012: Olbermann ousted, again

Olbermann worked for ESPN from 1992 to 1997, so he can claim, you know, it's a new century and all that. He and Dan Patrick were a very popular team as co-hosts of "SportsCenter."

But then Olbermann left, prompting an ESPN executive to offer this classic quote: "He didn't burn bridges here. He napalmed them."

Watch: John Boehner doubles down on street talk about Senate's backside

Abandoning sports for politics, Olbermann hosted "The Big Show" on MSNBC, riding the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky wave to prominence until he quit, saying he was "ashamed" of what he was doing.

Next up was Fox Sports, where Olbermann worked for three years. "I fired him. He's crazy," owner Rupert Murdoch later said. Olbermann has always blamed Rupe for his departure.

After a brief stint at CNN, where he had also worked early in his career, Olbermann headed back to MSNBC and almost single-handedly revived the channel.

Tapping into a surge of sentiment against President George W. Bush during the Iraq war, Olbermann's "Countdown" redefined MSNBC as cable's leading liberal outlet and boosted its ratings for eight years. But clashes with management grew. He was briefly suspended over making political donations, and the two sides severed their relationship.

Olbermann resurfaced with a $10-million-a-year deal at Current TV, boasting about his independence from corporate media as Al Gore gave him the title of chief news officer. But the marriage quickly soured, with Olbermann complaining about the cheesiness of the facilities ("a daily logistical nightmare" that "more closely resembles cable access," according to an e-mail from his rep) and management complaining about temper tantrums, a mug-throwing incident and days off. After less than a year, the two sides wound up suing each other last spring.

Now you might say this is a cautionary note for a future employer, and you might be right. But after a year of unemployment and tweeting mainly about sports, perhaps Olbermann has mellowed.

Watch: Should Andrew Sullivan have suggested Pope Benedict XVI is gay?

To be sure, ESPN has certainly tolerated its share of loudmouths, from the analyst who was let go for calling Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III a "cornball brother" to the commentator who uttered the n-word on the air.

Olbermann's problems tend to unfold off the field, not in front of the camera, though he's occasionally apologized for going too far.

And it couldn't hurt for ESPN to jazz things up.

Skipper isn't exactly raising expectations, saying: "There are not that many successful examples of people who have come back, in part because it's like water filling a vacuum. When somebody leaves, somebody else fills their place."

Sure, play it safe. Or throw the long pass and see what happens.

Remember: Watching Keith Olbermann is a great spectator sport.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT