ESPN's Jemele Hill last night "commented on the controversy surrounding her tweets" calling President Trump a white supremacist, according to Khadrice Rollins of SI.com. She wrote in a statement posted on social media, "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 colleagues remains unconditional." ESPN followed with a statement "explaining that although Hill has a right to her personal opinion, her tweets 'crossed the line' because of the way they were shared." Hill has been a "hot topic recently after calling Trump and many of the people he has surrounded himself with white supremacists," with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday calling Hill's comments a "fireable offense" (SI.com, 9/14). In N.Y., Kevin Draper notes Hill "took her normal place" on the 6:00pm ET edition of "SportsCenter," but the reaction to Hill’s initial comments "quickly escalated far beyond a debate over workplace protocols for social media." ESPN, "increasingly criticized by conservatives for what they see as liberal editorializing, was suddenly a lightning rod in a political clash." The issue was "explored on two prominent programs on Fox News, 'Tucker Carlson Tonight' and 'Fox & Friends.'" However, ESPN is "hardly without conservative representation." Hill’s tweets were "posted about an hour before the second broadcast of ESPN’s 'Monday Night Football' doubleheader." Rex Ryan, who was the color analyst for the game, introduced Trump "at a rally last year." Monday also marked the "MNF" return of Hank Williams Jr., a conservative who was once "dropped by ESPN for comparing President Obama to Hitler" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/14).
TOUGH BALANCE TO MAINTAIN: VARIETY's Daniel Holloway noted Hill making her scheduled on-air appearance last night is an "indicator of the line that ESPN is attempting to walk." Right-leaning critics have "become increasingly outspoken about a perceived liberal bias at the cable channel at the same time that ESPN faces significant declines in ratings and subscriber numbers." ESPN's handling of the Hill controversy "indicates that it is wary of alienating viewers anywhere on the cultural spectrum as it attempts to evolve" (VARIETY.com, 9/13). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said, "ESPN tries to do this delicate dance in which they're not too much of one thing but not too much of another, and it picks and chooses the people it wants to punish and the people it wants to leave be. They open themselves up to criticism at both ends" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 9/13). SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote the issue of "where the line exists at a place like ESPN remains unclear." The network has a social media policy about politics on social media, but that policy is "violated daily de facto." The company "often finds itself with self-inflicted wounds because of discipline inconsistency" (SI.com, 9/13).
INTERNAL CONFLICT? In N.Y., Carron Phillips reports there are "some disgruntled employees at ESPN that are working behind the scenes to have a sit down with top management to air out their grievances about" the situation involving Hill. However, the "biggest problem is that ESPN doesn’t know who they want to be." ESPN is convinced that it needs to have "something for everybody, instead of just being the best versions of themselves." ESPN has "embraced debate, diversity and discussing the arena of social issues in sports like none other." Phillips: "Why run from it now?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/14).
THE HEAT STAYS ON: ESPN continues to receive social media backlash from both sides of the political spectrum. The Daily Beast tweeted, "There was zero reason for ESPN to say Jemele Hill received talking-to, let alone publicly distance itself from her." The Boston Globe's Michael Cohen: "Maybe I'm wrong but isn't it @jemelehill's job to offer opinions? Why did ESPN reprimand her for offering an opinion that is widely shared?" Sociologist and liberal commentator DaShanne Stokes: "I can respect some things about @ESPN , but their statement to cover bigot Trump is indefensible." Conservative commentator Mark Pantano: "Jemele Hill calls the President a 'White Supremacist' and doesn't lose her job as a host at @espn. No wonder the network is imploding." Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: "Curt Schilling -1 tweet and @ESPN fires him;@jemelehill has hateful bigoted Twitter tantrum-ESPN says 'ok.'"