ESPN Suspends Jemele Hill After Second Violation Of Net's Social Media Policy
ESPN has suspended "SportsCenter" host Jemele Hill for two weeks due to a "second violation" of the net's social media guidelines, according to Frank Pallotta of CNN MONEY. Hill on Sunday took to Twitter to comment on Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones' edict that any player who "'disrespects the flag' will not play." Hill wrote, "If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don't place the burden squarely on the players." Hill added, "Just so we're clear: I'm not advocating a NFL boycott. But an unfair burden has been put on players in Dallas & Miami w/ anthem directives." ESPN's Michael Smith, who co-hosts the 6:00pm ET version of "SportsCenter," did "not appear" on yesterday's broadcast. A source said that with Hill's suspension coming down late yesterday, Smith "wanted to take time to 'digest the situation' and it was a mutual decision between him and the network." He "will be back" for today's broadcast. Pallotta reported Hill's latest tweets "present a difficult problem for ESPN." While she claims not to be advocating for a league boycott, she did write, "Change happens when advertisers are impacted." ESPN has a $15.2B deal with the league to broadcast "MNF" through '21 (MONEY.CNN.com, 10/9). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Alexandra Bruell cites a source as saying that while the details of ESPN’s social media policy "weren’t clear," Hill’s commentary on Twitter "was deemed detrimental to ESPN because some of its sponsors were listed." The net's handling of the two recent controversies regarding Hill -- she tweeted last month that President Trump is a white supremacist -- shows how it has "struggled to strike a balance that allows its commentators the right to speak their minds beyond the world of sports ... without getting blowback from viewers and advertisers who disagree passionately with those views" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/10).
BAD FOR BUSINESS: AD AGE's Anthony Crupi wrote while Hill's call for "aggrieved Cowboys fans to boycott the team's on-site sponsors wasn't designed to implicate any of ESPN's on-air partners, the brands that are among the most visible at AT&T Stadium also happen to buy an awful lot of inventory on ESPN." As much as Hill may have been "advocating for fans to not purchase a Pepsi or a bag of Tostitos or a Coors Light or a Dr Pepper while attending a Cowboys game, ESPN simply does too much business with these brands to allow one of its on-air representatives to suggest that fans should act against the interests of said brands" (ADAGE.com, 10/9). In New Orleans, Tim Morris writes Hill "went too far" by mentioning the advertiser boycott, as she was "one a path to suggesting something that clearly was not in the best financial interest of her employer" (NOLA.com, 10/10). THE HILL's Joe Concha writes Hill did not think her latest tweets "through very well," or she would have realized that "many of the same advertisers she's telling fans to boycott also advertise" on her show. Concha: "Do you think Hill's bosses at ESPN heard from more than a few of those major businesses on Monday after she made the boycott declaration?" (THEHILLcom, 10/10).
STIFLING FREE SPEECH: in DC, Erik Wemple writes under the header, "ESPN Doesn't Deserve Jemele Hill." He writes, "Who cares if an ESPN anchor writes an insightful, edgy tweet that could be read to contemplate financial difficulties for her own employer? ESPN's big enough to deal with that, right?" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/10). CNN.com's Jeff Pearlman writes Hill "uses television and social media to opine on sports," something she does "very well." Pearlman: "That's why ESPN's decision to suspend her for two weeks is so ... pathetic. So ... misguided. So ... cowardly" (CNN.com, 10/10).
RULES ARE RULES: CNN's Brian Stelter noted ESPN has a "social media policy for a reason," and Hill seems to have "repeatedly violated the policy, even after the entire company was recently reminded about the risks of errant tweets." If Hill had "written a script for 'SC6' with the same points she made on Twitter, that would have been different." Hosts, producers and editors "collaborate all the time on challenging subject matter" (RELIABLE SOURCES, 10/9). In New Orleans, Jarvis DeBerry writes ESPN likely is "angry because ESPN broadcasts 'Monday Night Football,' and any boycott would hurt ESPN as much as it would hurt the NFL." ESPN needed to spell out why Hill was suspended, as everybody "would be clear that ESPN was suspending her because ESPN would be harmed by a boycott." However, this "isn't a social media violation," it is ESPN "choosing to punish her for expressing her opinion" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 10/10).
CAN'T CONTROL WHAT'S ON TWITTER: ESPN's Dan Le Batard said Twitter "empowers personalities at a network where the personalities have been disposable for a really long time." Le Batard: "If you’re going to get in trouble at ESPN, they’d prefer you get in trouble on their air. ... At least things are vetted there. Twitter has created something here where everyone’s got a voice on things that can be interpreted as political, and the company doesn’t want you in political waters on this stuff." He added, "Jemele Hill is not being suspended specifically for what she said. She’s being suspended for the same thing that got Curt Schilling fired, which is heading into these waters on Twitter. … What she is punished for is not specifically what was said, but now she is a repeat offender on getting trouble in social media. You’ve got to be careful about what you’re doing on social media now. Curt Schilling got fired not because of his politics, be clear on this. It was not his politics, it was that he kept doing it, kept giving these opinions outside of sports in places that were outside of ESPN. They told him to stop, he wouldn’t. Jemele Hill has walked into these waters before, and while you might not find what she said objectionable here, understand why it’s difficult for the business of ESPN" ("The Dan Le Batard Show," ESPN Radio, 10/10).
STRANGE TIMES AHEAD: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote there will be "vigorous debate inside ESPN for this suspension, and there are those who believe Hill is not long for the 'SportsCenter' brand after this public suspension." Hill is one of the "most popular on-air talents at ESPN." There will be "particular hard feelings from inside ESPN from those who have publicly supported Hill over the last month" (SI.com, 10/9). Several of Hill's ESPN colleagues reacted to her suspension on Twitter, with Lindsay Czarniak calling the discipline "sad and disappointing on a number of levels." Cari Champion: "Compromise your integrity? Compromise for comfort? Where can you speak or say how you feel? Or is it about how you say it?" Former Grantland writer Rembert Browne: "i love jemele, because few things are more inspiring than watching someone know they'll probably get punished and doing it anyway -- who's got next."