Jemele Hill tweeted that people objecting to Jerry Jones banning anthem protests from NFL players should boycott his sponsors. Per an ESPN statement, Hill violated the network’s ever-evolving and ad hoc social media guidelines. The network suspended her for two weeks for a repeated offense.

Much will be made about the politics, but the truth is Hill’s tweet hit ESPN’s third rail. Be as bold, impactful, and woke as you want. Don’t piss off the NFL.

ESPN views Monday Night Football as imperative to its business model. The NFL exploits this desperation. It’s why ESPN is paying nearly as much for one game per week as Fox and CBS are for Saturday packages combined. It’s why the NFL is quite comfortable clamping down on ESPN programming and commentary, with the network scrambling to oblige.

Before Hill, there was Bill Simmons, suspended and ultimately cast aside after pointed criticism of Roger Goodell. Before Simmons, ESPN nixed cooperation with a PBS documentary about the NFL and concussions at the league’s behest. The network also canceled its foray into dramatic programming with “Playmakers” for the NFL last decade.

Hill’s suspension was about business, not politics. Hill argued she has been addressing social and moral issues, not politics, this whole time. But that won’t stop this from being a political controversy. The sports world is stuck now in the precise culture war Trump wants.

This isn’t “multi-dimensional chess.” Trump’s immediate aims are clear. His base of support is in white identity politics. He has reframed a discussion about race and policing in the United States to more favorable ground, parsing proper respect for patriotic symbolism. He is pitting himself against black villains, whether that’s wealthy black NFL and NBA athletes, a black sports commentator, or black activists rising to support them.

This controversy sucks away air from whatever story Trump wants to deflect from him. The possibilities, with this administration, are endless. It could be any or all of them.

And, yes, this could all be Trump using the power of the presidency to settle his score with the NFL after his disastrous lawsuit that bankrupted the USFL in the 1980s. Trump threatened the NFL’s tax exempt status over the anthem protests on Twitter. At least that appears to be what he did. Teams pay taxes. The league office did away with its tax-exempt status in 2015, deciding whatever benefits it derived weren’t worth having to disclose Roger Goodell’s salary. Trump’s proposed tax framework, one should note, would work out great for NFL teams, owners, and players alike.

As with Trump’s handling of the North Korea strategy, this is aggressive checkers. It’s not apparent what the long-term strategy is. There’s a real risk someone slams down on the board.

Hill is in a no-win spot. Leaving a lucrative job at ESPN would be an unwise career move. After becoming a figure of principles, towing the line would be considered compromising those principles. She was a target for foul vitriol before the recent incidents. Even if she sticks 100 percent to frivolous sports discussion, she will be one from here forward. The President of the United States is calling on ESPN to fire her.

There’s no winning for ESPN either. The network faced right-wing backlash for not punishing Hill over her Trump tweet. Now, ESPN will endure an opposite backlash for punishing Hill over her Jerry Jones tweet. Whether people are watching SC6 or not, the show’s future will now be a national, partisan political issue.

The NFL may face an even more massive headache. The bonds of bland “unity” with ownership may be tested soon. Jerry Jones took the bait and pledged to bench players who protested the anthem. Other owners may follow his lead. Protesting players now face a version of Hill’s dilemma. They can back down to a dictate from ownership and compromise principles they espoused, or they can escalate. What happens if a majority of the Cowboys call Jerry Jones’ bluff and kneel or stay in the locker room?

The sports world and sports media have become embroiled in a bitter, scathing, and chaotic political controversy instigated by Donald Trump to serve his narrow interests. No one wanted it. There are no winners. It distracts from meaningful issues. The potential ramifications are disastrous for all involved.

The rest of the world would like to welcome American sports to 2017.

About Ty Duffy

Ty is a freelance writer/editor based outside Detroit. He's a Michigan Man. He enjoys dogs, whiskey, yoga, and composing pithy career summaries. Contact him at tyduffy@gmail.com.

  • waltdisney

    Lots of great points about abiding by company rules, but you seem to forget corporations – especially PC joints like Disney – won’t tolerate any employee of any race damaging the already damaged brand. Jemele Hill would have been fired if not black and anyone who works for a legit outfit knows that. Do you have rules as a freelance writer for a web-blog? Didn’t think so. Just another example of Trump Derangement syndrome by liberal hacks infesting the media and blogs with propaganda.

  • Marie Barf

    Complete nonsense Ty. Intellectual dishonesty at its finest. Ty, just WHO made this political? The sports world and sports (SJW) media, like Jemele Hill, made this political from the get-go. Long before Trump became president. All this was “instigated” the first time Kaepernick took a knee…and wore “cops are pigs” socks…and held press conferences decrying oppression, while wearing a Castro shirt himself. The sports public NEVER liked having this SJW garbage shoved at them during the deliberate disrespecting of the flag and the anthem and all Trump did was come along and say exactly what the vast majority of people in the country were thinking. The SJW players and SJW media couldn’t wait to make this political…and now that it’s been rejected by the POTUS, the owners (who are finally moving to protect their interests) and football fans, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, no?

    • Weather Mane

      LOL! Yeah because people like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, John Carlos & Tommie Smith etc. never existed. How about you crawl out of your hole and see that people have talked about this in sports since there was discrimination IN sports.

      • Marie Barf

        You’re another one having a hard time dealing with the fact that there are consequences for actions. Multi-million dollar athletes want to grandstand and disrespect the very country giving them opportunity to make more money than they could ever dream of anywhere else? Fine. Have at it. Just don’t be surprised when those actions are called out (finally) and not only NOT approved of, they’re rejected, despite the best efforts of SJW media. I think it is you in the hole, my friend.

        • Weather Mane

          You’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around the fact that these millionaires are still black and experience racism.

      • Shawn Rychling

        If Marie is in a hole, you Weather Vane (i.e. idiot) are still living in the 60s. You don’t site a protester prior to 50 years ago when the problems were legit. CP is espousing a false narrative. This is a protest in search of a cause The flag and anthem kneeling is being used by the SJW crowd and sports media for the express purpose of dividing the country. Do you think they care if the NFL folds up its tent?

        • Weather Mane

          Would you rather I include Mahmoud Abdul Rauf and Craig Hodges since your memory doesn’t go that far back? There is no “false narrative” other than thinking a protest is disrespectful to America when protesting is literally in the fucking constitution.

  • Boy, Ty, you have guts to post this, knowing you are about to be at the receiving end of a lot of, shall we say, disagreement. (I am with you, but have no desire to get into it with anyone here.)

  • John Danknich

    Can someone point out to me when AA went from having fun with announcer gaffes and telling us who was coming/going from various sports outlets to being just another left wing apology site?

  • Jon

    The suits running ESPN made the mistake of thinking they could interject a little politics into their non-live sports shows because it worked at first, with Schaap’s “Sports Reporters” on Sunday morning, followed by the weekday PTI. But all that came before the rise of social media, where you no longer know that your on-air talent’s statements are only going to get national attention if he or she says them during the 30-60 minutes that their program is on.

    Hill’s pretty much being honest about who she is and what she believes, and ESPN knew that nine years ago, with the incident involving her and the Boston Celtics and their fans. It’s John Skipper, Bob Iger and the others at ESPN and Disney who made the decision to make politics a part of their non-live shows who are the ones who brought this on themselves and are being hypocritical, because they thought they could control their talent, so that they might criticize Jerry Jones (or Donald Trump), but wouldn’t also target Jones’ corporate sponsors who also happen to be some on ESPN’s major sponsors. Combine that with the 24/7/365 access to Twitter that ESPN encourages its talent to use, and you end up with the current mess the network’s in.

  • OOS

    I haven’t watched the NFL since Week 2 because it has turned into being about protests or “Do I start Carlos Hyde or Jonathon Stewart.” It’s stopped being football.

    • Shawn Rychling

      Well said that my sharply reduced watching is for several factors. The latest being the kneeling

  • Nathan Walter

    ” What happens if a majority of the Cowboys call Jerry Jones’ bluff and kneel or stay in the locker room?”

    The same thing that happens when the refs go on strike, or a player retires, or gets hurt: they’ll give someone else an opportunity. There are thousands upon thousands of young men who would give the owner a back massage for 30 minutes a day if it meant pursuing their dream of playing in the NFL.

    Entertainment is a revolving door. One guy gets pushed out, they bring someone else in. And yeah, the quality won’t be as strong first, but like a foul odor, it’ll dissipate and soon enough, we won’t remember.

    I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on the anthem protests. But acting like the players have control is false: there are more folks with football talent beyond the 1,500+ guys on a current NFL roster.

  • Jake Ens

    I’m with John, when did AA get on it’s high horse and begin lecturing us? Thank you Ty for your insightful political analysis on Trump. It’s why I read your site as opposed to well established political op-ed sites such as the WSJ or Daily Beast. Oh wait…

  • Grumpy Old Man

    Ty,
    You said:
    “Hill argued she has been addressing social and moral issues, not politics, this whole time.”

    Can you open your narrow mind for a moment and explain to the rest of us how calling the President of the United States a “white supremacist” is not a political comment?

    You said,
    “And, yes, this could all be Trump using the power of the presidency to settle his score with the NFL after his disastrous lawsuit that bankrupted the USFL in the 1980s.”

    I have the latest in tin foil headgear if you want to give me a call.

    Your profile says:
    “He enjoys dogs, whiskey, yoga, and composing pithy career summaries.”

    Would you care to share with us where you learned your insights into the North Korean situation?

    You said no one wanted this controversy.

    CK should have flown to Baltimore and St. Louis to find constructive ways to deal with the issues he finds so egregious.

    PS: I wish I could give Marie Barf’s 1,000 up votes.

    PPS: You guys at AA could make a ton of dough if you just started another site called Awful Political Commentary.

  • Christopher Bates

    Why is it so hard for right-wingers to see that Trump is a politician and he’s acting like one? The basic thesis of this article is that the President has co-opted a debate in a way that gives him the high ground (at least, with his base) and also allows him to distract from his troubles in other areas. Is this really all that controversial? Whether you agree with him or not, his maneuvering is pretty plain.

  • Pete Johnson

    tough to read, but I did! (props to me)…why has your blog succumbed to virtue signaling? really sad

  • BobLee Says

    With “Soccer” now officially eliminated from the American sports page for a while. “Sports Politics” can regain its rightful place in the pantheon of “crap to argue about 24/7”.
    Is it true that Harvey Weinstein has asked Jemele to come over and read for a part in his next film… a remake of “Joan Of Arc – The Making of A Martyr.”

  • MrBeepo

    Ms. Hill is, was and always will be a dung beetle.

  • Yo Trump be uh bum

    Shes getting uh paid vacation. You lose cracker. HAHAHA

  • Pingback: Bill Simmons claims ESPN told him to go easy on NFL because Bob Iger wanted a team()

  • Pingback: Talent agents reportedly telling media clients to stick to sports on social media()

  • Pingback: Jemele Hill returns from suspension, thanks Michael Smith for "holding this down while I was gone"()