Jemele Hill

Jemele Hill tweeted that Donald Trump was a racist and white supremacist. Her tweets have caused a gale force shit-storm for ESPN. It’s a few small steps from the right-wing Internet to the right-wing media to a right-wing White House.

With Trump tweeting about it Friday morning, the story is likely to recycle and snowball. ESPN’s perceived liberal bias will become something the mainstream media discusses.

Hill’s comments were not outlandish. She was right. Trump entered politics trumpeting a racist birther conspiracy. He launched his campaign portraying Mexican immigrants as rapists. One of his administration’s first decisive actions was excising an explicit mention of Jews from a Holocaust statement. Those are just a few notable bites from a smorgasbord of such incidents. The only entities Trump tiptoes around besides the Russian state are racist groups, whether one terms them the alt-right, white nationalists, neo-nazis, or deplorables.

Perhaps one could quibble with Hill’s phrasing. It’s not certain Trump holds such extreme beliefs personally. Though fanning such forces for political gain has the same effect functionally.

So Hill was right. Her words carry weight, as someone who deals with more noxious, hateful blowback than perhaps anyone else in the sports media. In a brief statement, Hill regretted not the substance of her comment but for “painting ESPN in an unfair light.”

Hill being right only complicated the matter for ESPN, forced into taking a stand about an ad hominem attack against a polarizing President. Supporting her may be the right thing to do. But it would de facto confirm a narrative ESPN has been battling, that it is a raving bastion of pinko liberal politics. Condemning Hill would bring an equally vicious response from left-wing activists, mainstream media, and many of Hill’s colleagues.

ESPN sought a third way. The network issued a bland statement disavowing her comment without giving a reason. If reporting is accurate, ESPN also explored taking Hill off the air for a day to contemplate her social media usage. Half-measures to assuage both sides, as always, enraged both sides. Conservatives thought ESPN should have fired Hill. Liberals thought ESPN caved.

The “MSESPN” story is not going away. It will entrench itself after this and, perhaps, become even worse. Time and symbolic acts such as letting Hank Williams and all his rowdy friends back into the fold won’t resolve it. Anything that buttresses the liberal ESPN narrative even remotely will cause it to flare up again. We are past the point where the facts matter.

There’s an argument that this conservative backlash won’t be such a big deal for ESPN. Conservatives are not cutting cable subscriptions to spite ESPN. Sports fans, whatever their political leanings, need ESPN to watch games. But that argument views sports fandom as static. It may not be.

Much of modern sports fandom has been built with ESPN promotion (see: national college football fandom) and may not be sustainable without it. Live sports on television is already facing technological and demographic threats. Having a median fan age in the low-40s makes you the young, cool league. There is a myriad of entertainment options in 2017. There’s a danger that viewers turned off from ESPN may never come back.

The trouble for ESPN is that there’s no obvious way to resolve the politics problem. The network moved away from news and highlights toward opining and debate. The worst thing talk programming can be is irrelevant to its audience. When hot button political and cultural issues absorb the culture, the surest way to irrelevance is not to address them.

Personalities on those ESPN shows must be “versatile,” which means carrying on the discussion over social media, with less forethought and oversight than other media. Issues such as Hill’s Trump comments are inevitable.

Strict journalistic objectivity is not an option when you are paying people to be subjective and opinionated. But not having a firm policy leaves ESPN reacting to incidents on its back foot. Common sense is always individual and nebulous. Personalities are left to draw their own lines. ESPN is left to draw ad hoc ones after incidents arise, with a strong influence from the public and social media reaction. Sometimes, that works out. Other times, ESPN ends up suspending and firing people for innocent, common idiom usage.

There’s also the internal matter for ESPN. Conservatives, even if they often undercut it with terrible analogies, have a point about equal treatment. ESPN isn’t creating a marketplace of ideas. ESPN wants diversity and to be a nexus for insightful social commentary that bolsters its brand. It has provided a forum for media members who skew left to use sports as a jumping-off point on a range of cultural issues. Conservative ESPNers have spoken of what ombudsman Jim Brady termed a “stifling effect on discourse.”

Everything has become political in the Trump era. That now, deservedly or not, includes watching ESPN. It’s not clear what particular line ESPN needs to draw with political commentary or where to draw it. But finding some form of balance is imperative for ESPN to avoid having the liberal narrative define it for much of the country.

Niche sites can go full bore into progressive politics and social commentary. ESPN, an amorphous company that employs thousands, needs Middle America and the South to watch college football. Disney needs them to watch kids movies and visit Disney World.

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.

  • dpj0122

    No, she was not “right.” She is a self promoting twit who wanted to get her name around. She succeeded.

    • Super Mateo

      And with this heavily biased article, Awful Announcing may have just lost half its audience, too.

    • John Danknich

      When it comes to Trump, anytime someone criticizes him, it’s right. Nice to see that AA has jumped onto that bandwagon. Way to join in with the rest of the crowd. We get it. You don’t like/hate Trump. Find something else to complain about, will ya? /smh

    • namingrightsforsale

      She was, though. Why are you denying the truth?

  • HBO is not a niche outlet. CBS is not a niche outlet. And John Oliver and Stephen Colbert get to say whatever they want. On the air. No one demands that those networks silence those men. No one says “stick to Westeros.”

    The whole “stick to sports” thing is silly. The idea that just because you report sports you can’t have an opinion is even sillier. And the notion that we can’t watch a sporting event where the broadcasters have different opinions than we do is insulting. The problem is, is there a place you draw the line? Do you have to tolerate Schilling? The way things are now, allowing anyone have an opinion is going to get people angry.

    The bigger question is, are you willing to make people angry? HBO is fine with that, and has been since Bill Maher moved there. CBS seems fine with that, at least if it’s late night. The Disney conglomerate doesn’t have a track record for such things. And ESPN does have legitimate non-political reasons to worry about losing subscribers. But at the same time, muting the unique voices you have hired to get viewers in the first place might do more damage than making people angry.

    • TheRandomOne

      Sports & Entertainment = escapism the majority of the sports audience do not want politics mixed with sports because it no longer is escapism. ESPN & the stupid sports networks has gotta change or risk more failure & people are already showing ESPN how they feel about this obviously

      • zansibar

        I watch sports to forget about all the crap going on. On sports boards there will be 3 or 4 clowns discussing politics. Its gotten to the point everyone just ignores them.

        • Son of Rusty Shackleford

          Except other media members—if they weren’t able to retweet and blog/write about their sports media comrades’ politics nobody would know and fewer would care.

      • Son of Rusty Shackleford

        The P in ESPN is supposed to stand for Programming, but since ☪ظ☭ma took office it really changed to Political. As in liberal politics voiced by people who know as much about government and politics as I know about rocket surgery.

        • TheRandomOne

          It is not about what the ESPN employees want for most people sports is escapism & when sports is no longer escapism guess what happens people stops subscribing to ESPN. It is ESPN that has to adapt & GIVE THEIR AUDIENCE WHAT THEY WANT OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES & DIE

    • TheRandomOne

      The problem with ESPN is theres precedent for them firing people over stupid comments & I don’t think none of the other networks ever went with that far

    • Dano481971

      Yeah. Telling the 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump, that their candidate is a white supremacist, who surrounds himself with other white supremacists is certainly an unique voice to have on your air waves.

      It probably isn’t going to help retain Trump voters as viewers, so her unique voice had better attract a lot more race baiting viewers than it has so far.

      • namingrightsforsale

        So you’re saying that we shouldn’t tell 63 million Americans they made a mistake voting for a terrible candidate and terrible person? And yet conservatives are the ones who lambast liberals for supposedly being “snowflakes”?

        • Son of Rusty Shackleford

          Your opinion is that President Donald Trump (say it, SAY IT!! as Sam Kenison would’ve said) is a terrible candidate and terrible person. But that’s all it is, your opinion. But since you’re a liberal, your opinion is supposed to be acknowledged as factual and irrefutable. This is what got you President Trump and will get him re-elected in a Reaganesque landslide. It’s really gonna suck to be you, especially when he’s succeeded by the first female president…….Ivanka!

        • Bragar

          There ya go again skippy!

  • TheRandomOne

    ESPN fires a white man for Obama comments but ESPN wont fire a black woman for Trump comments this is liberal bias at its finest

    • Another Hurricanes Goal

      Hank worked for espn? Was he on the nascar now show? I don’t watch espn much.

    • namingrightsforsale

      The situations aren’t equivalent…

      • TheRandomOne

        Yeah they are

  • XENU4ALL

    Jemele is one sassy sista. After she gets fired maybe she can create Media Take Out sports kinda like TMZ sports

  • Carter_Burger67

    So if Trump is the racist for his Obama birther comments, what does that make Hillary who started the birther movement?

    • Gaspipe Casso

      And she called young black men “super predators.”

    • Another Hurricanes Goal

      Same as you…clear enough for ya?

      • Carter_Burger67

        Nice try. But no. the anti-Obama Birther movement was started in 2007 and 2008 by Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and her Democrat supporters. left-wing media outlets, like Politico and the Guardian, traced the Birther movement back to Democrats and Ms. Clinton. Try as you might to deny it, it’s started with Hillary.

  • XENU4ALL

    Hey Skipper lost control of the building in Bristol? Word of advice don’t pick up when Bob Iger calls today

  • CreightonRabs

    Stick to sports, dude. This site was more enjoyable when you were far less political and less engaged in race baiting.

  • John Oz

    This site was built on calling out pathetic annoucers. Now this site says the president is a racist and “Our” point of view is always correct. Amazing how every part of media has become anti- white, Christian, male, conservative and anti – morality. Why has Trump been given multiple awards by blacks and women over the years for diversity? Everyone who doesn’t wanna control everyone else have become absolutely unhinged. Your moral superiority cognitive dissonance will make everything you care about disappear. This is America not Communist Russia or Orwells 1984. Move to Germany or Norway they hate being White to.

    • namingrightsforsale

      The fuck are you talking about?

      Opposing Trump isn’t anti-morality; conversely it’s the only moral stance one can take on his “presidency.” He is a deeply immoral individual pushing a deeply immoral political agenda in the service of other deeply immoral individuals. He is not on the side of morality.

      Also people are not anti-white, anti-male, or anti-Christian; they’re just for removing favoritism from society, and those groups have been overly favored. Wanting to establish true equality doesn’t mean someone is completely against the favored classes.

      • John Oz

        Favored Classes definition? Black Lives Matter Activist definition = All white people are born with advantages that minorities do not have. The fact is your racist but want white people to do exactly as your “group think” demands. You have underestimated what White Christian people have inside of them. They will not just give over what they built. Chr

      • Bragar

        Wow. So much hate and so little factual info! You have it all figured out and initiated no use of intellectual curiosity to get you to the end of your screeching.

        You have a rare talent skippy!

  • Philip

    The article is right about one thing: Most “popular” cable networks get 50% of their funding from cable/satellite subscription fees and would never survive on viewship alone. ESPN makes $7/month per subscriber whether the subscribers watch the network or not. Millenials have the right idea about cutting the cable.

    You judge a tree by the fruits it makes. Fire Schilling and HWJ, suspend Linda Cohn, and support Jamele Hill. Jemele Hill is not just a liberal, she is a radical liberal which makes her, at best, a pundit. ESPN=Air America

    I stopped listening to ESPN a while ago because of all the political talk and I was a daily listener. If I want to hear about politics, there are other networks better equipped and staffed that are much more entertaining. ESPN doesn’t do either sports or politics well enough to be listened to or watched.

  • Bragar

    Wow. A writer from Michigan that agrees with hill’s racist rant… What a shock.
    By the way chief, it was clinton’s team that came up with the birther stuff. Go find a clue.

    Oh, and you’re not nearly as clever as you think you are. Pretty static scribblings actually.

  • Rick Leslie

    I”m enjoying watching ESPN lose control of their marketing and their brand. When you hear “ESPN” you’re going to think race, politics, and partisanship. hahaha – that can’t be good for business in the long term.

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