Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bring Keith Olbermann back to ESPN

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 7:45 AM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
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
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT