Both sports and politics have expanded beyond their typical guardrails and have intersected a multitude of other discussions. While some segments of the audience bash sports pundits to “stick to sports”, others embrace the blending of conversations. The Wide Left Podcast is a podcast at the center of this intersection. As the double entendre name suggests, this podcast leans left in the political spectrum and is a bit outside of your typical political podcast.
I recently got a chance to chat with co-host, Arif Hasan, about the origins of his podcast, how he’s able to navigate a tricky ecosystem of political radicals, and of course, what it’s like to be a fan of a painful franchise.
Discover Pods: How did you podcast get started?
Arif: The Wide Left Podcast is a left of left podcast that was borne out of the frustration of the Trump presidency. Ben and I knew each other well beforehand in a professional setting—we’re both sportswriters who cover the NFL. In fact, the name of the podcast comes from the fact that my favorite team famously missed key field goals in playoff runs in 1998 and 2015 “wide left” of the goal posts.
As we’d already been sharing our political opinions with each other and a few of our friends for over a year, we felt a little hamstrung about the issues we thought were important while still professionally obligated to use our platforms to “stick to sports.”
After a month of the Trump presidency, we decided that we’d turn our frustration at the political situation and our relatively muzzled professional platforms into something productive and we laid the groundwork for the podcast. We generally tackle two issues an episode—one domestic and one foreign policy—though sometimes we take one issue and expand it to the entire episode.
Our goal is to provide rich, detail-oriented and data-driven reasons we believe what we believe and what the best direction for the country is moving forward.
DP: Vikings fan, huh?
Arif: Yep. It’s been… uh… I guess it’s easy to maintain cynicism when it’s hitting you from all sides. I grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota and moved to Minneapolis, so the Vikings have always been there with me, reminding me that it could always get worse.
DP: The “stick to sports” backlash, along with the subsequent expected conversation has been interesting in the early Trump days. Has this effected your work at all besides possibly becoming the tipping point for your podcast?
Arif: It hasn’t impacted by work that much if only because I’ve been so reluctant to offer political opinions through my public platforms. My colleagues have certainly noticed that I’ve been much more vocal about things in our private backchanneling, so I imagine they welcome this podcast because it means I grumble less to them overall. I’ve always had to deal with a little bit of backlash because it’s fairly well-known what my political views are even if I try not to broadcast them in any professional capacity.
DP: Why did you choose to do a podcast versus another form?
Arif: For us a podcast was the freest way to discuss what we wanted to discuss and go into the kind of nuance that is missing on twitter and facebook. As someone who writes for a living, it would be more difficult to add a writing burden in the form of a blog than it would to spend two hours each week talking about what we think matters. On top of that, we both have pretty extensive experience with the format—he’s been on a Philadelphia Eagles podcast for some time and I’ve been on several Vikings podcasts, including one that was in your screenshot when searching for “minnesota twins” in iTunes.
DP: What’s unique about your podcast, why do listeners keep coming back?
Arif: Our listeners tell us that they really appreciate the in-depth treatment that we give topics, and they listen in to hear the mix of research, nuance and values that go into how we discuss the topics we bring up.
DP: Obama is a known podcast fan. What would be your first question to him if you had him on as a guest?
Arif: Oh, goodness. There’s so much to ask, from the cohesiveness and data-oriented campaign strategy that I geeked out over to his delicate balancing over racial politics. I’d be fascinated to learn about if he felt like he compromised himself morally when it came to security and civil liberties or about the impact on civilians on foreign soil when it came to his strategies in the war on terror. But I think the first thing I’d want to ask is if he regretted his public negotiation strategy with the Republicans, where he offered the compromise first instead of letting himself be negotiated into it on key elements of his 2008 campaign platform.
DP: Where do you want to go from here?
Arif: I’m not sure where we see the podcast going or where it can go. Someone has already asked us if we have a Patreon, so it would be an interesting medium to make additional money if it comes to that, but it really is incredibly cathartic for both of us.
Ben used to be a Republican who has shifted his outlook since the Ferguson protests and his enthusiasm for his new view on politics drives things on his end, while I effectively retired from politics a decade ago after I burned out as a lobbyist and fundraiser, deciding instead to become a sportswriter. This seemed like a good time to return, and with good reason.
DP: Taking such a public partisan stand paints a clear target by the opposing party. Have you received any overtly negative feedback from the other side?
Arif: People have mostly been quiet about it, though they’ve been happy to learn that because I keep a separate twitter account for my political musings, that they can mute that account when I retweet it so they don’t have to see it.
DP: What are your favorite podcasts?
Arif: My favorite podcasts tend to be informational. I love Pod Saves America by Crooked Media and Vox’s the Weeds for politics. For football, the Pro Football Focus podcast is hugely informative. As I’m writing this message, I’ve got 99% Invisible piping into my ears, and they certainly fit into my top five—if for nothing else it is inspiring me to look for other resources to learn about design. It’s difficult for me to pick a fifth; I think the color episodes from Radiolab are the best things I’ve ever heard but I haven’t for some reason continued to download their work (maybe I should change that). I guess I’d pick another one for football, Footballguys’ the Audible with Cecil Lammey and Sigmund Bloom.
I’m trying to get into narrative podcasts and haven’t found one yet—though I’m not trying too hard. I’m having a difficult time getting through I’m Alive, though I like it and I haven’t listened to one second of Serial for reasons that I’ve forgotten long ago. I’m sure I’ll find something.
DP: Where can listeners find you?
Arif: You can find Ben Natan at @TheBenNatan on twitter, and me at @ArifHasanNFL on twitter. The podcast itself is @wideleftpodcast. We have a hosting page at wideleftpodcast.com, and a Facebook page—facebook.com/WideLeftPodcast