ESPN caved in to Trump on Jemele Hill

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Al Sharp­ton The Rev. Al Sharp­ton is the pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ac­tion Net­work.

ESPN has taken the ex­treme mea­sure of sus­pend­ing host Jemele Hill for two weeks. Her crime? Ex­er­cis­ing her free­dom of speech to make an anal­y­sis. While em­ploy­ers may have the right to dic­tate how their em­ploy­ees be­have in the work­place and on so­cial me­dia, it is clear that ESPN caved in to pres­sure — pres­sure that came from the top.

Hill wasn’t call­ing for a di­rect boy­cott; she was ex­pand­ing the con­ver­sa­tion and thereby do­ing her job. She gave her anal­y­sis of Dallas Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones and his de­mand that play­ers stand for the na­tional an­them. She said play­ers could be de­mo­nized for sell­ing out, or lose their job if they didn’t com­ply, and that this placed an un­due bur­den on them. She called on more ac­count­abil­ity from fans and oth­ers. She ad­vanced the con­ver­sa­tion.

“Just so we’re clear: I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing a(n) NFL boy­cott,” Hill spec­i­fied in a sub­se­quent tweet. “But an un­fair bur­den has been put on play­ers in Dallas & Miami w/ an­them di­rec­tives.”

She is ab­so­lutely cor­rect. Jones or any­one else in the NFL try­ing to force play­ers to stand is bad enough, but ESPN sus­pend­ing its em­ployee for even dis­cussing the is­sue takes things to an­other dan­ger­ous level. What spe­cific, es­tab­lished so­cial me­dia pol­icy did Hill vi­o­late? Or is ESPN just mak­ing things up as it goes along and do­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s bid­ding?

Trump has re­peat­edly put di­rect pres­sure on both ESPN and the NFL to force their play­ers to stand for the an­them and shifted at­ten­tion from their true rea­son for kneel­ing in the first place, which was to high­light po­lice bru­tal­ity and racism. Just Wed­nes­day morn­ing he tweeted: “It is about time that Roger Good­ell of the NFL is fi­nally de­mand­ing that all play­ers STAND for our great Na­tional An­them-RE­SPECT OUR COUN­TRY.”

The NFL re­sponded that “com­men­tary this morn­ing about the com­mis­sioner’s po­si­tion is not ac­cu­rate.” Even so, we have yet to see what the league will do go­ing for­ward.

This was never about the flag or the Pledge of Al­le­giance; it was about ath­letes rais­ing their voices to say po­lice bru­tal­ity and racism are very real, and we must tackle these chal­lenges. It’s mad­den­ing that the pres­i­dent can call for a boy­cott, or call play­ers a “son of a b----,” or call for pri­vate cit­i­zens to be fired, or tweet nu­mer­ous things about the NFL, ESPN, Hill and ath­letes, and there are no con­se­quences. But the mo­ment a black woman speaks on the is­sue she is si­lenced.

We are com­ing close to tak­ing con­sti­tu­tional rights of free speech away from peo­ple. Any cor­po­ra­tion can claim that it’s pol­icy to sus­pend or fire an em­ployee if it fears ret­ri­bu­tion from the high­est of­fice in the land. Con­ser­va­tives should be as out­raged as I am. This is big­ger than Hill, for it im­pacts all of us and our abil­ity to ex­press our­selves.

This is also big­ger than ESPN and the NFL, for it is about the con­tin­ued in­sti­tu­tional racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity that plague so­ci­ety on a daily ba­sis. Many of us have fought these in­jus­tices for years, and we will con­tinue to do so as we en­cour­age oth­ers to speak out — whether on their net­works, on so­cial me­dia or on the field tak­ing a knee.

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