When ESPN’s SportsCenter cohost Jemele Hill ranted in a series of tweets about Trump being a white supremacist on Sept. 11, conservative fans of ESPN and Trump’s press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for Hill to be fired. Trump himself declared via Twitter that “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming)” and demanded Hill “Apologize for untruth.” While ESPN has since denounced Hill’s tweets, the fight between politics and sports continues thanks to comments made by Trump at an Alabama rally on Sept. 22.
Hill’s comments represent the dilemma of black employees with social media accounts: How does one objectively do their job in the Trump era when their community is constantly being disrespected?
The answer is a hard one. You forfeit your opinions while on the job or risk getting fired. Thankfully, ESPN did not fire Hill for her personal comments, but the company emphasized that Hill’s comments do not reflect the views of her employer, saying “Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN.”
ESPN’s statement is both understandable and frustrating. They are simply a company devoted to sports; therefore, the comments made by employees on air should be nonpartisan, so that the company does not run the risk of alienating certain audiences; key words being “on air.” Though I’m sure Hill uses her social media accounts to comment on sports new off the clock, I see no reason why she wouldn’t be allowed to post personal opinions on her own time. If fans of SportsCenter only wish to hear her comments on sports, they should exercise selective exposure and opt out of following her social media accounts.
Thankfully, Hill did not apologize for her comments, but rather for voicing her opinion as an ESPN employee. In a statement posted to her Twitter account, Hill said, “To address the elephant in the room… My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my respect for my colleagues remains unconditional.”
I am failing to understand how the comments she made on her personal (arguably, “work” too, which serves as a clear PR nightmare) Twitter account implied that she was speaking for ESPN as a company, seeing as she is arguably low on the totem pole in terms of professional advancement within ESPN in comparison to, say, John Skipper, the president of ESPN, for instance. What I do understand is that an employee of any status within a company is supposed to reflect that company’s values.
According to ESPN’s jobs and careers website, ESPN values diversity, inclusion and wellness. Notable quotes from the website include, “At ESPN, Diversity is about who gets to play on the team. Inclusion is about who gets to play.” and “We’ve created a culture that embraces ideas, experiences and unique personalities.”
So yes, while I will give ESPN a brief pat on the back for not firing Hill at the inappropriate request of press secretary Sanders, I will also flag ESPN for their failure to embrace and attempting to shut her up because her opinions based on deeply personal experiences and feelings don’t align with those of Trump’s, ignorant, racist and misogynistic fanbase. The heads of ESPN could have done more to emphasize their culture “that embraces ideas, experiences and unique personalities” and therefore, stand by Hill as an ESPN employee, but more importantly, a black woman with an opinion.
If Hill is not allowed to share her non-sports related opinions publicly, then where and when does she share them? In emails from a secret, personal account awaiting to be leaked? In secret meetings facilitated by a white ally and surrounded by other black colleagues reminiscent of The Help? In the Trump era, minorities and allies of marginalized communities cannot afford to be silent. Allies, especially those with bigger followings, should be elevating and echoing the concerns of the oppressed.
Allegedly, ESPN attempted to replace Hill with coworkers Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, but they as well as Hill’s current cohost Michael Smith refused to continue the show without her.
This type of solidarity was shown on an even bigger scale after Trump made a turn from legislative and international affairs to random references to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and other injustices in America during the 2016 NFL season on Sept. 22 at an Alabama rally. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b– — off the field right now. He is fired!”
Like almost everything Trump attempts to do, his comments backfired when multiple statements from numerous NFL teams, owners and CEOs made statements against Trump’s comments.
The best and boldest statement of them all was made by the NFL Players Association, one of the first to comment, who said, “The line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just ‘shut up and play.’ . . . NFL players are a part of a legacy of athletes in all sports who throughout history chose to be informed about the issues that impact them and their communities. They chose – and still choose to this day –to do something about those issues rather than comfortably living in the bubble of sports. . . . No man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. . . . We understand that our job as a Union is not to win a popularity contest and it comes with a duty to protect the rights of our members. For that we make no apologies and never will.”
Take notes, ESPN and its watchers. The movement of resistance is growing and can no longer be ignored. Thank you, Mr. President for taking the time to actually help the “snowflake agenda” by attacking a First Amendment right when you could have easily been aiding Puerto Rico or easing tensions with North Korea.
As I conclude this article on a Sunday morning, I am moved to tears by the first NFL game today where members of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars linked arms and took a knee – with hundreds more expected to do so later today. I am moved by MLB player Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics, the first MLB player to take a knee. I am moved by the Golden State Warriors’ move to decline their invitation to the White House.
In short, this loud opposition from the sports world has made it clear that the American flag is meant to represent the unification of all people in the United States and that the rights of all of its people will not be infringed upon, even by the President of the United States.