“To continue at ESPN I would have to be immersed in the day-to-day in sports,” Fagan said. “And I found myself more and more interested in other aspects of sports — like how it connects to our culture. That was not going to be the big business of ESPN.”
“Outside the Lines,” ESPN’s news magazine show, has been reduced to four days a week during the NFL season, and Bob Ley, the show’s longtime host, is on a sabbatical. Such changes, along with network President Jimmy Pitaro’s desire to foster a better relationship with the NFL and steer clear of politics, have raised questions about ESPN’s commitment to hard-hitting journalism.
Fagan said she believed in ESPN’s journalism, but that certain structural limitations in mainstream sports media helped lead to her departure.
“I think I thought at one point that I wanted to do a show — and could do a show — that made women’s sports really cool,” she said. “I thought there could be a show on some of the tangential topics — LGBT issues and mental health. Five years ago I thought I could host a show that introduces new female characters to the women’s sports world. This isn’t ESPN’s fault, but I’m not that naive now.”
“I still think ESPN cares about those important stories, regardless of whatever slight shift there is,” Fagan added.
Asked about “Outside the Lines,” she said: “At various points, the show has fought for its life in the programming schedule, so that was not a factor [in the departure]. But because it’s a show and a brand and a group of people who are doing important work, I have one eye on it, hoping it continues at ESPN, because it’s invaluable.”
Among the new projects Fagan is pursuing: developing a show with production company Embassy Row, and working on a script for a TV series based on the story of a Russian women’s basketball team run by a former KGB agent.
In a statement, Alison Overholt, vice president and editor-in-chief of espnW and ESPN The Magazine, said, “Kate is a true talent. It’s been a real pleasure seeing her develop her voice at ESPN over the years, on issues across sports and beyond. We wish her all the best on her next chapter.”
Fagan, a former college basketball player at the University of Colorado, previously wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the 76ers. She was hired by ESPN in 2011 as a columnist at espnW, a vertical devoted to coverage of women’s sports. Her TV presence increased in 2013 when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was charged with assaulting his wife; Fagan offered a balancing voice to ESPN’s cadre of former NFL players commenting on the story.
Her magazine features included a story about Brittney Griner and sexual identity — Fagan is also gay — and a story about Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania track and field athlete who died by suicide. Fagan expanded the story into a book.
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