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Volume 21 No. 35
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Agents tell talent to stick to sports

Several talent agents have been spending the past several weeks telling their sports clients to stick to sports when it comes to their social media feeds.

These conversations took a new importance last week after ESPN suspended anchor Jemele Hill after she made tweets suggesting that NFL fans boycott Dallas Cowboys sponsors — many of whom also buy advertising on ESPN.

Hill’s tweet came after news reports that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would not play athletes who knelt during the national anthem.

“My advice to my clients who work for a content company is that social media is not the right area to voice opinions other than ones that you’re paid to give,” said Sandy Montag, president and CEO of The Montag Group, whose client list includes Bob Costas, James Brown, Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt.

First Look podcast, with talent discussion beginning at the 17:32 mark:

Some agents who did not want to speak on the record expressed frustration at ESPN’s social media policy, which they called confusing. With President Trump increasingly tweeting about sports, they said the line between political and sports commentary has become too blurry.

Even some ESPN executives admitted that the company has been way too inconsistent in how it enforces its social media guidelines. Sources expect ESPN management to lay out specific social media guidelines — and spell out potential punishments — before the end of the year.

Last month, ESPN President John Skipper tried to address ESPN’s social media policy through an internal memo that said, “we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.”

Skipper’s memo was in response to another Twitter controversy that involved Hill, who called President Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

ESPN opted not to suspend Hill after that tweet. At an industry conference days before Hill’s Cowboys tweet, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he was part of the decision not to suspend Hill the first time.

“I felt that we needed to take into account what Jemele and other people at ESPN were feeling in this time,” he said.

One agent not associated with Hill defended the anchor, saying that ESPN gave her a premium weekday afternoon timeslot because of the way she expresses opinions. The agent felt that ESPN suddenly grew scared of Hill’s opinions once the White House started taking notice.

But most of the talent agents interviewed for this story thought that Hill should have been smarter with her social media interactions. One agent said he was talking to clients about understanding the long-term picture and to take into account that their public actions reflect on their employers.

Another pointed out that Hill got herself into trouble on Twitter, a social media platform that has no affiliation with ESPN or Hill, rather than advocating her position on her show, “SC6.”

“What makes this country great is that you have the right to speak your mind,” Montag said. “But you have to recognize that your platform on social media is partly because of your employer. Some fans believe that you are speaking for, say, ESPN.”

Hill is represented by CAA’s Evan Dick.