Jemele Hill

When news broke of Jemele Hill being suspended by ESPN for two weeks thanks to another violation of their social media policy, there was a sense of befuddlement. Hill was not previously suspended when she tweeted that President Donald Trump was a “white supremacist” and there was nothing in the past 48 hours that had even come close to creating the same buzz on social media.

In fact, when the announcement was made by ESPN PR, they included a link to Hill’s tweet that was apparently in violation of their social media policy. Perhaps it was an aid to everyone who was confused over what exactly she could have done to draw such a harsh discipline from ESPN.

Wait.. that’s it?

The tweet talking about boycotting sponsors of the Dallas Cowboys for those unhappy with Jerry Jones’ hardline stance on taking a knee during the national anthem was part of a larger thread with Hill conversing with Twitter followers.

ESPN’s statement providing the reasoning for the Hill suspension is curious to say the least, especially when you consider the content of Hill’s thread above. There is no mention of ESPN. No mention of Donald Trump. No foul language. Nothing that any people group would find offensive. There’s honestly nothing there aside from someone explaining how boycotts work.

So what is it exactly about Hill’s tweets that “reflect negatively on ESPN?” Because from this vantage point, it’s impossible to see the connection or how we could suddenly get to the SC6 anchor being suspended now for this.

Hill being suspended at this juncture is just plain bizarre, especially considering that there was nobody calling for it at this time, unlike a couple weeks ago when it seemed like the entire American society had Hill and ESPN under the microscope. Hill’s two-week suspension for these tweets feels like the sports media equivalent of a college program being retroactively disciplined years later and having wins taken away from them. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense. And we’re all left wondering what really matters.

ESPN ultimately chose to stand behind Jemele Hill when she tweeted out her harsh criticism of President Trump. Even when there were calls from the White House itself to punish Hill, the network chose not to take her off the air. Even if it’s completely unrelated, Trump is already claiming something that amounts to a victory lap as he piles on Hill on Twitter. Does she now not have any course of action to defend herself?

Given the hyper-sensitive political climate and how polarizing the issue became, it’s shocking to see Hill benched for something that by comparison is a mere blip on the radar. That is until you take a deeper dive into ESPN’s history, particularly when it comes to when and where and how they choose to hand out discipline, which has been historically inconsistent over the years. To put Hill’s two-week suspension into context, it’s twice as long as ESPN gave Stephen A. Smith for suggesting that women bring domestic violence upon themselves. In fact, the only thing that is consistent is that ESPN acts when it feels as though there is any threat to their bottom line or their business partners.

Perhaps the most infamous ESPN suspension was Bill Simmons. It wasn’t the President of the United States who he went after, it was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Simmons was suspended three weeks back in 2014 when he called Goodell a liar and dared ESPN management to do something about it.

While Jerry Jones isn’t quite Roger Goodell, he’s about as close as one could get as arguably the most powerful owner in the sport. ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 BILLION DOLLARS per year and has proven over the years that they will protect the shield. Going after the president is one thing, but apparently even the allusion to a boycott of Cowboys sponsors is enough to spring ESPN into action to prove they’re not going to do anything to hurt their largest financial rights partner.

ESPN has a history of making sure they stay in a good relationship with the NFL. The cancelation of Playmakers and the abandonment of League of Denial are perhaps the two most notable examples of the network succumbing to the league’s wishes. Simmons’ suspension is another example where the weight of the billion dollar rights deal with the league surely tipped the scales. In this case, if you hurt the Cowboys, you hurt the NFL. And if you hurt the NFL, you hurt ESPN where it matters most – dollars and cents.

For all of the recent criticism of ESPN, it’s amazing to think that we’ve ended up back at this point that we’ve visited so often throughout the years – the question of ESPN being able to separate their business interests and their journalistic endeavors. Hill’s suspension isn’t the only time that question has been raised this week, either. Over the weekend we basically saw an organized campaign from ESPN to discredit Washington head coach Chris Petersen when he dared to criticize the league’s late start times on the network. Kirk Herbstreit even went on national television and said that the Pac 12 should thank ESPN for their current relationship.

The underlying message in both these cases – never do anything that would step out of line when it comes to our billion dollar rights deals. Just ask former SportsCenter anchor Robert Flores.

It’s not as if Hill spent hours on Twitter trying to rally people into boycotting the Cowboys, giving e-mail addresses out for their corporate contacts for her followers to angrily e-mail en masse. She didn’t start an internet petition, either. She merely said, “if you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.”

How are the scores of Hill’s co-workers who supported her through the Trump controversy supposed to react to this current suspension? What’s the next thing that someone at ESPN will get suspended for tweeting? Is it even worth any ESPN personalities taking to Twitter to engage or speak out personally on any subject?

It’s precisely for these reasons that Hill’s suspension is incredibly concerning. Whatever you feel about her politics, the fact that a journalist can get punished for even talking about boycotting sponsors of an NFL team is very troubling. The question that needs to be asked right now is why is that a violation of ESPN’s social media policy? Is it solely due to ESPN’s mega-billion dollar financial relationship with the NFL? Because if so, that’s a troubling admission for every journalist working at ESPN.

About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • MrBeepo

    “the only line that matters to ESPN is the bottom line”

    This is news?

  • Jon

    ESPN is owned by Disney, a publicly-traded company with shareholders. The one and only obligation of Disney’s corporate officers is to uphold their fiduciary duty to the shareholders by actively working to improve the shareholders’ return on investment. Failure to do so can result in a lawsuit brought by the shareholders for breach of fiduciary duty. Allowing an employee to run roughshod, alienating lucrative sponsorships and partnerships is pretty clearly a breach of that duty. They had no choice here.

    Cut the hysterics.

    • PAI

      Someone here gets it.

  • John Danknich

    ESPN is a business. You go into business to make money. The NFL broadcasts on ESPN. ESPN pays a lot of money to the NFL. This shouldn’t be this hard to figure out.

  • What they said.

    Nearly every news outlet is a business. And as much as we want the news to be free of outside influences, it almost never works that way. We wish it were otherwise. We wish ESPN could offend the NFL. Or that the New York Times didn’t kill a 2004 story on Harvey Weinstein because Ben Affleck was applying pressure. But wishes are not reality.

    The best we can hope for is something like NPR, or maybe a subscription-based site. And I don’t know if they are any less vulnerable in the long run, either.

    • we don’t care about politics in sports.

      • Christopher Bates

        Says the guy who has managed to comment on every politically-themed story this site has posted today.

        • exactly. I’m expressing my displeasure because leftist losers are not the only ones who have a voice. I’m advocating that you jerks leave my sports alone. Go save the whales or something.

          • Christopher Bates

            My maternal grandfather fought the Japanese during WWII, my paternal grandfather fought the Germans. Both of my grandmothers worked in factories building airplanes; the grandmother on the maternal side helped build the Enola Gay. All four were liberals to their dying days. Can you clarify, once again, what you did to help defeat the Axis? Or any of America’s enemies, really?

          • Christopher Bates

            You got nothing, do you, Internet tough guy? What a little bitch you are. Why don’t you crawl back into your safe space, so you don’t have to hear about all these meanies who think racism might be more important than a football game.

  • Rowdy Piper

    Matt I know this willl come as a shock to you and many of your colleagues, but many of your heroes on the left are in it for the money. That probably includes Ms. Hill. I don’t have much of a problem with it either. There are a lot of suckers out there. If you get lucky, you might reel in a big one like, say, ESPN.

  • CjGoon

    The great unwashed white bearded male blogger acorss the internet is as up in arms about this injustice as they are everytime someone thinks college athletes don’t have it so bad.

    She was already suspended for a Hitler comment a few years back. She almost got suspended for calling Trump a white supremist a few weeks back. Finally just a short time later pretty much announces that fans ought to boycott the NFL if you are not happy. ESPN is not NPR, they are in this make $$ for them and their partners. The second someone from the company impedes on that, that employee is up a creek. And please look up what the 1st Amendment is before posting about free speech. It does not apply here. Her arrogance is doing her in in this case.

    Lastly that whole “controversy” with SAS still annoys me. He pretty much meant “Don’t put yourself in position to be abused by hitting someone first. A real man would never hit a woman, but you don’t know that for sure.” The blogosphere made it out like he said “Women better listen to their man or else they know what will be coming to them.”

  • Nathan Walter

    “The underlying message in both these cases – never do anything that would step out of line when it comes to our billion dollar rights deals.”

    So you’re telling me that if you cost your employer potentially billions of dollars, you’ll be suspended? Hill got off easy—any real company would have fired her.

    “How are the scores of Hill’s co-workers who supported her through the Trump controversy supposed to react to this current suspension?”

    They should note her foolishness, her brazen ignorance of ESPN’s warnings, and notice a pattern: be smart about what you say about ESPN’s cash-cow.

    “Whatever you feel about her politics, the fact that a journalist can get punished for even talking about boycotting sponsors of an NFL team is very troubling.”

    Any journalism company would treat this the same way. They operate on advertising revenue and sponsorships. To go after an advertiser/sponsor—and in this case, one of the largest revenue streams at ESPN—is a critical error in any journalist. That’s the industry. If the author can’t realize this, he needs to check his brain at the door.

  • SimplePsalm

    Son you need to pull you’re head out of the back end of the toilet. The general public read the tweet from a nationally known host of ESPN SC 6 . ESPN / JEMELE HILL are connected at the hip. This ain’t 4th year journolism this bubba is the real world…don’t be so freakin’ naive and callow.

  • SHUT UP Awful Announcing! You’re showing how mentally deficient you are. Of course, ESPN JUST cares about the bottom line. At the end of the day, guess what, they’re a business. The bottom line is all that matters. Are liberals really this stupid? Astounding!

    • Jeremy W

      hey brad are u still at PO

  • BobLee Says

    By golly Matt !!! That stump speech got me positively inspired… Jemele is damn lucky to have you covering her back. Me? I think she (Jemele) oughta organized a full-scale BLM “Seige of Bristol.” Cut-off all ingress / egress and see how long CEO Skippy can hold out. … Jemele’s Army of Awful Announcing Very Angry Millennials supporters could work shifts at the barricades. It will be great training for the next stages of “all this”. … don’t forget the berets and tee shirts with obscene slogans … 🙂 …

  • OOS

    So you’re saying the bottom line is important to a business? I for one am shocked!

  • sportsfan365

    Can you imagine being the lowlife at ESPN (and now Awful Announcing) whose job it is to read thousands of inane and asinine tweets all day? They must need therapy to keep from blowing their brains out.

  • Roger Bournival

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that there’s a business being run here!

  • Weather Mane

    Yes they are a business, a business that deals in sports media and in sports media you cover things dealing with sports. Jerry Jones, Donald Trump and a host of others inserted their “politics” into sports not the people covering it. Jemele was skating on thin ice while discussing JJ’s antics about the national anthem and retweeting a list of the Cowboys sponsors to show that this is the one thing that gets their attention, money. But let’s not kid ourselves, they’ve been itching to do this since she called Trump a white supremacist. While I believe that they would’ve done this to most of the people who work there don’t try to act like this wasn’t a makeup call for what she said a few weeks ago.