Why Sportscaster Dan Patrick Took a Stand on Coronavirus
The former ESPN anchor and current host of “The Dan Patrick Show” talks about its Peacock move, sports in the Trump era, the lieutenant governor he shares a name with, and more.
In late March, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, did the unthinkable. During a Fox News appearance, the Republican politician—and Trump water boy—said that America’s elderly should be willing to sacrifice their lives to help boost the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” said Lt. Gov. Patrick. “And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in… I just think there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me.”
The other Dan Patrick—legendary sportscaster and radio personality, formerly of ESPN and now The Dan Patrick Show—started getting notifications and texts galore.
“Oh God,” Patrick tells The Daily Beast. “Whenever someone says, ‘Hey, you’re trending!’ I say, ‘What did he say now?’ We don’t think along the same lines politically.”
So on March 24, Patrick took a break from his regularly scheduled programming to address the fracas. “I try to shy away from politics, and then all of a sudden I saw the headline: ‘Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick: Lots of Grandparents Willing to Die to Save Economy for Grandchildren.’ Once again, that’s not me… That’s not me, and that’s not how I feel… That’s not something I believe in. And I love grandparents. I really do. I can’t imagine you going, ‘I’m going to speak for all grandparents here.’”
You see, Patrick, 64, is immunocompromised and at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Last May, he got rather emotional on his program revealing that he’d struggled with severe joint pain for a number of years due to polymyalgia rheumatica. He said the chemotherapy IV treatments he took for it gave him “brain fog,” and the pain got so unbearable it made him contemplate retirement.
But, after nearly 40 years broadcasting sports, Patrick refused to quit. And now, his Dan Patrick Show has moved to Peacock, the nascent streaming service of NBC. In a wide-ranging interview, the sportscaster opened up about the state of sports—and politics.
What do you think of the Milwaukee Bucks’/NBA’s strike? And what do you feel it says about the league and the power of the players versus other major sports’ leagues, like the NFL?
The Bucks and the rest of the NBA players were all tighter in the bubble in Orlando. This gave them the opportunity to discuss these issues… have meetings… discuss strategy. This may not have happened if it weren’t for the proximity of the athletes. Whatever you think of their actions, they appeared united.
Do you think America deserves sports right now, given the state of the country? Or should the overall health of the athletes be prioritized?
We always deserve sports and we always should be concerned about athletes’ health. It’s never one or the other. Go back 100 years… all sports leagues have developed more safety measures to make sure the game can go on. It will never end.
So, Peacock. What made you make the leap from YouTube to Peacock?
Well, I was at CNN in the embryonic stages. I was at ESPN in the early stages. I did a simulcast radio/TV that was different than any other show. I’ve prided myself on trying to be ahead of the curve, and I’m fortunate to be able to do that with Peacock. This is where we’re headed, and just to be a live show on a streaming service like this, it’s something that’s unique. We’re ready to go into battle.
I’d read that one of the reasons you left ESPN was because you were more interested in doing radio.
I’ve always preferred radio to TV—because it’s the truest form of what we do. I can create something in your mind, you could respond to me via email, a tweet, a phone call. There’s instant reaction, and I love that. But the reason why I left ESPN was because I needed to come home and re-establish myself as a husband and a father. I was working second shift for 15 years, and I was in jeopardy of missing out on being around for my three daughters. My son was 15, and my daughters were 9, 11, and 13, and I was ready to sign a contract extension with ESPN, and that morning, I’m talking to my wife and she says, “Are you sure you want to do this? The kids are going to be grown and out of the house by the time you’re done with this five-year deal.” I said, “Oh, but I’m always around!”—though in my mind, I knew I wasn’t. I just wasn’t going to say “no” to ESPN.
I parked the car, walked in, sat down across from my boss, and he said, “So… what is it? You gonna take it or you gonna leave it?” And my wife’s words hit me right in my forehead, and I said, “I’m gonna leave it.” So I quit ESPN that day. I walked outside, called my wife, and said, “Hon, I just quit ESPN.” She said, “OK.” I said, “No, I’m leaving ESPN.” And she said, “OK. If we have to sell the house, we’ll sell the house. Come home.” It’s the best decision I’ve ever made—aside from meeting my wife. I have a great relationship—hopefully, from my perspective—with my daughters and my son, and I don’t think I would have had that. I also think I’d outgrown ESPN. Something had changed dramatically, and I was sort of the last one. [Keith] Olbermann left, Chris Myers left, [Mike] Tirico did play-by-play, Chris Fowler left to do play-by-play. I was the only one left doing SportsCenter, and I thought, “This is a young man’s game, and someone else should be doing this”—because I was not getting any better. I wanted to be challenged and get my ass kicked again. I still have very good memories and friends up there but I needed to move on for my own self-preservation.
I spoke to Jemele Hill recently about her experience with ESPN, and they’ve now seemed to ease up a bit on the whole “stick to sports” mentality over there, at least in the latter part of the Trump era. Did you find that stifling at all? Because you seem to have the freedom now on your show to discuss whatever you want.
Yeah—and I try to be an outlet. If you want to come here and listen and watch, we’ll tackle the sports issues. If there is something going on, like with Colin Kaepernick and politics, or what’s happening with the Washington team and their name, there are certain topics that need to be discussed. I don’t run to them but I don’t run away from them. But I’m also here to provide some type of reality—good interviews, an interesting, fun environment—for three hours. I want you thinking, and if you’re upset you can be upset with me, but I’ll let you have a voice. You can respond to me. The audience is an inclusive portion of the program. But I don’t have someone writing my agenda. I don’t want to be stuck in neutral, talking about the same thing over and over, without moving forward to some degree.
How has it been for you covering the intersection of sports and politics in the Trump era? I’ve watched sports obsessively my whole life, and there’s never been crossover like this—with Trump regularly weighing in on things, Mike Pence performatively leaving an NFL game during halftime, Trump disinviting the Warriors from the White House, etc.
I just try not to weaponize anything. I can point out that the vice president went to a Colts game and had no interest in staying for that Colts’ game. It was to have people see that he was there and he was upset at these players taking a knee. But you know, in the course of my show, it’s not something where I say, “That’s low-hanging fruit—let me go grab it.” But the Kaepernick part of this, I had to understand that from a couple of different sides. Initially, as the son of a Marine and the nephew of uncles who served in the Navy and Army, the military has been extremely important in my life, and I had to understand their side of this and what they thought but I had to even more importantly understand the other side of this. I changed my opinion, because I thought, “Through my lens I see it one way, but through my job I have to see the other side.” You have to understand both sides, and be fair to both sides. I don’t troll or have hot takes. I just try to have common sense. And my audience understands that.
Now, that didn’t stop some members of my audience from calling, tweeting or emailing and having choice words because they thought I was “weaponizing” corona. I said, no, I’m prioritizing it because I have a compromised immune system. I want to protect you and I want you to protect me as well. But people just didn’t see it that way, and I said, look, I can’t help you. That’s not how I see it. It has nothing to do with politics—it has to do with safety. I didn’t go anywhere other than work. I told my staff they didn’t have to be in the office. I didn’t go to the grocery store or weddings of family members, because if I get it, it could be fatal. I’m personalizing, not weaponizing.
A very different approach than the lieutenant governor of Texas who shares your name.
Oh God. Whenever someone says, “Hey, you’re trending!” I say, “What did he say now?” We don’t think along the same lines politically. I have spoken to him before, because he’s a former sportscaster. But… man. When it comes to telling old people to die, I don’t want to tell anyone in my family, “Hey, sorry—your time’s up.” So, I disagreed with that. I like old people because I’m on the cusp of becoming an old person.
We all will be someday...
I know you said you had a good relationship with ESPN but do they still not let their on-air personalities go on your program very often?
It took 10 years and I took it as a compliment, because they thought that I was competition. And the people in PR there, I still have a great relationship with. I tell those guys, “I will make your talent look better on my show than they will on your shows.” And they know that. I just finally went to John Skipper, when he was still in charge, and I said, “John, can we bury the hatchet? I gave you 18 years of my life. I’m not asking much. Let me have some of your newsmakers on. I’ll play nice.” And he went to some people in management and they lifted the iron curtain. We’ve had a good relationship these last couple of years, and that’s in large part because John Skipper took the baton. We’re playing in the sandbox.
Speaking of competition I’m curious how you feel about what’s going on at Fox Sports, because I find it pretty confounding on a sports-fan level, as far as the Clay Travis and Jason Whitlock of it all. It seems they’re trying to occupy a certain political lane over there.
Well, I’m on the Fox Sports Radio lineup but I am not well-versed in who is on at other times. I’ll listen to Doug Gottlieb and I’ll listen to Colin Cowherd. I might hear Clay for about 10 minutes but as far as Jason Whitlock, I’m not aware of his contributions there. I don’t really listen to sports radio in the morning. I have to listen to something else, because I’m going to spend the next three hours talking sports. I watch First Things First because I think a lot of Nick Wright, and Shannon Sharpe is one of the unique, powerful voices right now.
The thing with Clay Travis is his obsession now is downplaying the coronavirus. That’s his big stand right now, and has been since the early days of the coronavirus. It does feel like an irresponsible way to use your platform.
I don’t try to program somebody. If somebody can capture an audience, which is hard to do, I respect all broadcasters who can do it. I may not agree with them. Take Rush Limbaugh. The talent to be that kind of broadcaster—I admire that. But I don’t get in the weeds of, “What are they saying?” because that’s up to the audience. It’s survival of the fittest. They either listen or they watch, or they don’t. And if they are, it’s more up to the audience than it is the host. It’s supply and demand. I might not agree with people but the ability to capture an audience, and sustain an audience, there are very few people in this business who can do that.
But would you draw the line somewhere? Like at an Alex Jones?
Oh, yeah. But even then, I don’t look at Alex Jones and say, “That’s a talented guy.” He’s going for the lowest common denominator there. But those who have been successful and how they’ve done it, I’m curious what makes them popular and how they do it. It doesn’t mean I subscribe to it or that I’m a loyal listener but there’s a fascination. You’re driving by a car accident and want to see what happened—it doesn’t mean I want to get into a car accident.
There’s this funny theory with President Trump where, right before he ran for president of the United States he tried to buy the Buffalo Bills but the league blocked him from it. I doubt he could afford it anyway, but still, there’s this theory that that if the NFL had let him go through with it we might be in a different timeline right now.
[Laughs] I’d heard that he wanted to buy the Bills, and when he didn’t get that opportunity, held a grudge against the NFL. I don’t know if he’s spoken about that. But it’s dangerous when you start to read into something to say, this is why someone did something or acts a certain way. But I’d heard the same thing.
Speaking of the coronavirus and sports right now, I was skeptical at first of the NBA bubble but man, they really got it right there. Baseball is sort of a mess with a bunch of COVID cases, and I’m dreading what’s going to happen when football kicks into gear.
Well, I’ll start with baseball. I had the commissioner on, and he admitted their plan was to play 60 games. That caught a lot of headlines and attention because people thought, wait, I thought they were negotiating? But the commissioner apparently got with the owners and there was an organized plan for the 60 games and the playoffs. The problem was, I don’t think there was a great plan in place to ensure safety—and the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals would be playing 15 fewer games at this point than their competition. I just think they want to get to the postseason and make some money back.
The NFL is going to happen. I don’t know if it’s going to work. I don’t know if they’ll start and stop and start back up again. I don’t know if we’re going to have a Super Bowl. But they have the money to do this. They’re going about it as well as you can possibly do it considering the number of players, the travel, the physicality of the sport. I think they’re going to start, and whether they’ll finish, I don’t know. College football? I have serious doubts. They make start but I don’t know if they’re going to finish. The NBA? They did it right.
With the NCAA there seems to be this different element of the kids not getting paid, so to have them be risking their health while getting exploited—there seems to be a different level of strange in that.
Yeah. We want to call them student-athletes, and for this year, you definitely need to make an exception and call them “athletes.” Be fair with what they’re risking. You can’t get away with saying, “Well, they’re getting a scholarship.” OK. They’re getting a scholarship to perform but they’re not getting a scholarship for going through with all these tests just to get out on the field and perform. But you’re seeing player and student empowerment, where students aren’t afraid of standing up and speaking out. Hopefully, coaches and colleges will listen to them.
You’ve appeared in tons of Adam Sandler films at this point. I’m curious how you two hooked up.
He was a fan of SportsCenter but I’d never meet him. I was at a Knicks’ game, and he had just gotten done shooting Happy Gilmore, and he was there by himself in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. I walked by and heard him going, “Danny Patrick!” and I looked over it was Sandler. I had never met him. I said, “Hey, what’s up?” He goes, “Your boy Olbermann was supposed to show up to Happy Gilmore. We had to get somebody else last-minute.” I said, “If you ever need somebody in your movie playing a sportscaster, call me.” He said, “You’re in my next movie, you’re playing a cop, and your name is going to be ‘Danny McFuckin’ Patrick!’ And you’re going to have a mustache.” So he put me in The Longest Yard. That wasn’t my name, but he did give me a mustache. And I think it’s been 17 movies now total that I’ve been in, and he’s become a great friend. I speak to him either by phone or text probably once a week. I keep telling him, “Are you sure you want me in this movie?” and he goes, “Yeah. I wrote a role for you.” So, as long as he keeps writing the roles I’ll keep showing up.