ESPN caved in to Trump on Jemele Hill
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.