The network sidelined “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill “for a second violation of our social-media guidelines” after she promoted NFL-advertiser boycotts on Twitter, an ESPN spokesman confirmed Monday.
Hill got into hot water for wading into the debate over whether NFL players should protest racism in the nation’s police force by kneeling during pre-game renditions of the national anthem.
Reacting to Dallas Cowboys coach Jerry Jones — who told his players he would bench them if they did not stand for the anthem — she tweeted: “This play always work. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.”
Again, a good number of observers will look at this as ESPN misplacing its priorities. That is, a left winger ripping a GOP President is on the up and up but messing with the bottom line results in the proverbial firing squad. However, in their official statement, ESPN emphasized that Hill's suspension was due to multiple violations of its company policy as opposed to the level of controversy generated by each incident.
ESPN's Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/JkVoBVz7lv— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) October 9, 2017
This certainly isn't the first time ESPN has had to suspend or fire an employee for controversial commentary (on or off the air). The network brass has long been hypersensitive to criticism, especially when viewer complaints center around its personalities opining on politically/socially charged issues. However, ESPN has mostly itself to blame for these controversies. Long ago they realized that politics and the culture bled into the sports scene, so ESPN looked to capitalize on this phenomena by adding to its programming round table discussions which occasionally broach these issues. As such, it's inevitable that one of their commentators will occasionally have a rhetorical misstep which will give the sports giant unwanted attention.
At the end of the day, ESPN is in survival mode. Unwanted political commentary is only one of multiple reasons why the network is becoming obsolete. I mean, other than Rev. Al Sharpton and his obligatory "racist" charge, is anybody all that passionate about this decision on either side of the coin? If I had to guess, I believe Hill's suspension was met with mostly ambivalence.