A month after finding herself embroiled in a controversy that reached the White House, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill has been suspended two weeks for what the company calls a second violation of its social media policies. The offending statements concerned a possible boycott of Dallas Cowboys advertisers in response to owner Jerry Jones’s threat to bench any player who didn’t stand for the National Anthem.
ESPN's Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/JkVoBVz7lv
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) October 9, 2017
Hill, of course, faced calls for her job after she labeled Donald Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists” in September, and Monday’s announcement once again draws attention to the use of social media by journalists, especially those—like Hill—who are employed specifically because they have strong opinions. As was the case last month, Hill has been caught up in a situation in which the very thing she’s paid to do runs afoul of her employer’s desire to stay on the sidelines of a national conversation.
It’s easy to take an individual journalist’s side against a faceless corporate monolith, but this is an especially egregious example of institutional soullessness. As the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s Peter Sterne wrote on Twitter, “ESPN was so determined to get out in front of this controversy that they suspended Jemele before there was even a controversy.” The move reads like an overreaction to criticism the network faced for not responding more harshly to Hill’s earlier comments, but it’s also about something else.
Monday’s announcement was ultimately a reminder that ESPN is first and foremost a money-making entity. Its concerns are Disney shareholders and corporate partners, and its ties to those partners are stronger than its commitment to the newsgathering side of its identity. The parallels between Hill’s situation and former ESPN star Bill Simmons’s 2014 suspension for criticizing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are obvious.
During last month’s controversy surrounding Hill’s comments about President Trump, longtime ESPN anchor Bob Ley told Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch that he recognized, with regard to social media, that “the usual standard of saying only what you would with a microphone in your hand apparently no longer applies.” The irony in this situation is that if Hill had included her musings on a possible boycott during a SportsCenter broadcast, it’s reasonable to imagine that they would have gone largely unnoticed.
Below, more on a Hill, Jones, race in America, and the controversy surrounding NFL protests.
- Must read in these situations: Sports Illustrated’s Deitsch has an overview of ESPN’s decision, with context from past controversies.
- No good reason: Deadspin’s Tom Ley says the decision-makers at ESPN “should be ashamed of themselves.”
- Because, of course he did: The president weighed in on Hill’s performance and ESPN’s ratings this morning.
- This story isn’t going away: Jerry Jones on Monday doubled down on his promise to bench any player who kneels for the Anthem, telling USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, “As the leader of the Cowboys—because of the political aspect of [Sunday]—I wanted for all of us to draw a very bright line, so that we all could understand the consequences.”
- A country where race is everywhere: The circumstances of Hill’s criticism of Donald Trump and Jerry Jones—two powerful white men—mean that race has to be part of the story. For CJR, Collier Meyerson writes that journalists need to realized that race and racism are part of every story.
- Who is Jemele Hill?: If you haven’t already read it, The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis has a great feature on Hill and her rise at ESPN.
- Why they’re protesting: A reminder that it’s not about the flag or disrespecting the military. San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid wrote a New York Times opinion piece explaining why he joined teammate Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the National Anthem.
Other notable stories
- For CJR, Hannah Seligson has a great feature on Ivanka Trump, “the queen of spin.”
- Rough news from my hometown papers: The Philadelphia Media Group, which owns the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, will cut newsroom staff by about 10 percent through buyouts and layoffs.
- The Los Angeles Times has named 65-year-old Lewis D’Vorkin, most recently of Forbes, its new editor in chief. The move was met with some skepticism in the newsroom, reports The New York Times’s Sydney Ember.
- Feels like we’ve heard this before, but The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Philip Rucker, and Ashley Parker report that President Trump is feeling frustrated and isolated in a White House “pressure cooker.”
- The Outline’s Leah Finnegan writes of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, “for once in my life I would love to see a disgusting man taken down at the peak of his power.”