President Trump took to Twitter this morning to chime in on the simmering Jemele Hill controversy that has festered all week. After a flurry of tweets spanning congressional process, terrorism, and his proposed travel ban, Trump capped his morning round of tweets taking direct aim at ESPN.

This has to be a bit of a troubling moment for ESPN with the President further amplifying the growing belief that the sports network’s recent troubles are tied to the network’s perceived political leanings to his nearly 40 million followers. Trump tweeting about Hill’s comments became a plausible scenario after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill’s comments “outrageous” and “a fireable offense”. Sanders’ comments seen below came after being asked about Hill by David Nakamura of The Washington Post, who previously worked as a sports reporter.

ESPN has been trying to contain this growing controversy, which is just the latest installment of a series of incidents in which the network has been called into question for what many conservatives believe is a company culture (and perhaps even strategy) that embraces left leaning politics.

Hill’s comments were made on Monday on Twitter and are below.

ESPN issued the following statement on Tuesday hoping it would suffice in helping the controversy to blow over.

This statement didn’t sit well with observers on both sides of the political spectrum as many conservatives believed Hill’s actions warranted a suspension or other disicpline while liberals thought ESPN’s statement was unncessary entirely given the comments were made on her personal Twitter account and that her tweets were not off-base.

But the controversy rolled into Wednesday as Sanders added additional scrutiny to Hill’s tweets and brought more attention from the conservative media eco-system on ESPN’s perceived political leanings. Thursday morning saw Jason Sehorn go onto Fox News where he shared his experience of the network telling him to curb political commentary. This came on the heels of our story on conservatives at ESPN interpreting Hill’s lack of disicpline as a double standard when compared to a non-reported discipline for Linda Cohn when she discussed the effect of politics on ESPN’s business.

The controversy seemed be wrapping up as we headed into the weekend but then Think Progress published a report that ESPN attempted to find replacement hosts for Hill yesterday as the network considered a move to take her off the air. ESPN was firm in denying the report. Given how much her colleagues have rallied around her, such a move to replace Hill (even temporarily) could have potentially incited a talent rebellion against the network and thus it’s not exactly clear what really happened behind the scenes this week.

Fast forward to this morning with Trump’s tweets and we’re now going to be entering our fifth day of this controversy and likely the most intense one. This started as a sports media story with very little awareness about Hill’s comments early this week and has snowballed since. Most ESPN viewers probably wouldn’t even be initially aware of Hill’s comments if they weren’t plugged in on social media.

But now with President Trump explicity calling out ESPN (but not directly Hill which is interesting), Hill’s comments and ESPN’s handling of the matter, it’s only going to bring more attention. Additionally, prior controversies like Curt Schilling’s firing and the Robert Lee-Virginia football assignment will likely now get put under a microscope once again. Trump is known for his fanatical following and there is a long history of his supporters attacking whatever issue the President chooses to shine a lot on through his tweets.

Regardless of where you stand on Hill’s tweets and where you fall in the political spectrum, this could in fact be the loudest and most damaging piece of criticism ESPN has faced to date. The sitting President of the United States has just thrown the entire network under the bus. It’s unprecedented. ESPN already was facing a difficult task combatting the backlash from conservative viewers, but this newest development is assuredly going to intensify those criticisms going forward.

If anything, ESPN can take solace in that Trump has called out many media organizations like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post among many others and those organizations have been able to shake-off those comments and may arguably have benefitted as readers and viewers sided with those companies over Trump. However, ESPN is not a news company and their business is dependent on having a good relationship with sports fans who may be turned off by all of these political stories becoming a dominant presence.

ESPN’s reputation with conservatives was already on thin ice. You can hear the ice cracking in the wake of Trump’s tweet. That said, skepticism remains that viewing habits and ESPN’s numbers are substantively changing due to the growing sentiment among conservatives. Certainly that assumption will be put to the test in the coming weeks and months as offended sports fans will have a tough decision to make if they truly want to boycott ESPN given the strong rights portfolio they have and the lack of options to drop the network without cutting the cord entirely. Whatever the outcome, this development is one ESPN cannot be happy to be dealing with.

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

  • John Danknich

    Look, Hill is entitled to her opinion and free to speak it. However, if she thought there wouldn’t be repercussions, she was sadly mistaken. I realize a lot of people out there agree with her, but a lot of people don’t. The audience for SC6 isn’t very big to begin with. Will this make a difference? Probably not. Will it make a difference for ESPN in general? it might. I think that the majority of sports fans out there tune in to sports as an escape from politics. That’s not to say that ESPN should completely ignore it, but there’s a time and a place. There are forums and shows for this sort of thing. Was I offended by what Hill said? No, but that’s because I expect that sort of thing from people on the hard left. Just as people on the left expected to hear outrageous things when Obama was president (like the birther nonsense). This is the world we live in now. Both sides could benefit from having thicker skins, the POTUS chief among them. Do I think Hill should have been suspended? Yes, but only because of the suspensions of Bill Simmons and Curt Schilling. There was a precedent set. Am I surprised she wasn’t? Not at all. This is just ESPN sticking with its new left-leaning philosophy. It is what it is. Whether you like it or don’t like it, learn to love it, cuz it ain’t going away any time soon.

    • sTim

      I’m not sure the Simmons and Schilling thing are fair comparisons, as both were warned repeatedly (and had multiple public incidents) before they were suspended, so it would be a departure to suspend the first time.
      Also I really don’t get why people conclude that ESPN is left-leaning. I see plenty of views from all over on ESPN. Is it just that they have diversity (not all whites, not all males)?

      • John Danknich

        I think it part that it’s perceived because a large part of the media today are left-leaning. I don’t really think it’s a diversity thing because ESPN has had female anchors and black anchors since basically the beginning of the network (the late John Saunders comes to mind). Fairly or unfairly, I think it also has to do with the whole “not sticking to sports” thing. A lot of people out there don’t want sports and politics to mix, and when they do, it’s predominantly left wing politics. I only watch ESPN for the sports, anyway. If I want highlights, I’ll go to the actual network (MLB, NFL, NHL, etc.).

      • Nathan Walter

        Jamele Hill was suspended in 2008. So this was by no means a “first time”.

        The Simmons example is the best one out there. He was suspended for calling Goodell a “liar.” To which ESPN (rightfully) responded that Simmons cannot call Goodell a liar without proof.

        • Laura West

          The difference between making comments on a personal twitter and an ESPN platform is critical. If she can’t express her views on her personal account, where can she express them? Also, I went on ESPN apps and the website and found no tweets being streamed. I think if there are tweets being posted on ESPN platforms, they are being selectively cited, not streamed. And it’s Jemele, not Jamele.

          • notfunny2u

            While I would tend to agree with you for most employees of ESPN, the on-air talent is different. At no times does anyone who knows about ESPN not know who Jemele Hill is. She’s a public figure and minor celebrity in the sports world. I mean, it’s billed as “SC6 with Michael and Jemele”. She isn’t a cog in the machine, she’s the final product…so to speak. If this was a random video editor we were talking about, or a janitor, it wouldn’t even matter. But at no time is Jemele Hill NOT a representative of ESPN, whether she (or we) like it or not. That’s just how someone with her exposure must handle it.

            Also, its not like some private recording a la “grab em by the p#$%*’ was released. SHE put this out there, very publicly. She had no expectation of privacy.

          • Nathan Walter

            I apologize for misspelling her name. I’ll seek to spell it correctly from here on out.

            As for your other comments:

            ESPN has made it abundantly clear that they see Twitter accounts to fall into their standards for journalistic integrity and their cautious rules regarding political commentary. So, in a sense, she does not have free reign to say whatever views she wants to espouse. The best suggestion I can come up with would be to have two Twitter accounts (as many journalists and high profile people do): one for ESPN/sports content. The other for personal content. Or do what Keith Law does: create your own blog/website. Keith talks about science, food, board games, politics, amongst other topics on there. It seems to have served him well, as well as gives him an outlet for his other interests.

            As for ESPN streaming tweets, they very much do. I’m not sure how selective they seem to be, but on Gamecast, they stream in tweets from ESPN personalities as well as beat writers that pertain to a certain game. Obviously, Hill’s tweets wouldn’t have a place there, but it shows that ESPN does in fact see the Twitter accounts of its on-air personalities as more ways to expand its platform.

            Thus, I’m not sure I see that much difference. I think ESPN firmly believes Jemele Hill’s Twitter account, especially as long as it references her role at ESPN, to be an extension of their platform. This is not subject to the same editorial oversight, obviously, but still very much requires responsibility for the person tweeting.

  • So glad that the president of the United States has nothing better to do.

  • thewatcher2

    What’s hilarious is how the stick to sports people have little to say about FS1 and it’s All Takes All the Time format and how it shows less sports than most regional networks. I won’t even mention their joke of a website and how quickly we forget the number of writers they let go. Were they fired for

  • Sting Rey

    this has put me in a tough spot. i agree with jemele hill’s tweet but i can not stand espn.
    as i said in other posts, the problem with espn isnt their politics. the problem is jemelle hill is getting more press than the mlb wild card race or andrew luck’s health.
    espn now revolves around the writers and not the athletes.

    • J Dubs

      And it revolves around NFL hot takes and NBA hotstove talk, not actual games.

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  • Nathan Walter

    ESPN believes there’s nothing wrong with mixing sports and politics, now, it’s hurting them on both sides.

    A brief survey of the opinions on Twitter has people on both sides calling for a boycott of ESPN.

    One party boycotting over a perceived lack of punishment.
    The other boycotting over the perception of ANY punishment whatsoever.

    I think the whole “national anthem protest” hoopla, as silly as it is, is partially on ESPN’s shoulders as well. ESPN’s relentless coverage led to people being angry. People being angry about it led the team owners to speak out against it. Now, one side isn’t watching because of the protests. And the other isn’t watching because of the response to the protests.

    It’s truly fascinating. And perhaps a sign that ESPN and their on-air personalities neither prepared, equipped, or skilled in the presentation of political discourse. And most likely a sign that it’s market is not tuning into ESPN in search of it.

  • souvien

    Where the hell is the ghost of Eisenhower to smack the crap out of this pathetic pansy of a POTUS? Even Nixon wasn’t this thin skinned…

    • XENU4ALL

      I almost wish that Barry Soetoro was back in charge

  • John Danknich

    Y’know what would be groundbreaking? Instead of spouting off on Twitter and calling Trump a white supremacist, how about you offer to meet with/interview him? We all know that DJT loves to have his mug on TV, so why not try to get him on SC6 or whatever to talk instead of just painting him in such a terrible light? Why is doing something like that so hard for the media and/or athletes who don’t like what Trump says/does? And how are they going to react if he makes a deal with “Chuck and Nancy” regarding DACA? Will he still be a terrible monster? /smh

    • namingrightsforsale

      What’s the point of giving a pathological liar a platform to spout more lies?

  • XENU4ALL

    Ms. Hill knows that her 6 o’clock show is tanking in the ratings and as soon as Bob Iger wakes up and sees how bad ESPN has become under the leadership of John SJW Skipper there will be major changes. Ms Hill would do better being on a show like The Real on daytime TV where she can discuss topics such as “is the earth flat” that’s more her speed

  • Jeffrey Maier

    Short Disney

  • common_sense_is

    Her tweets were not off base? I didn’t even vote for Trump, but you go to hell Awful Announcing.

  • notfunny2u

    While the “left/right” view can be debated ad nauseum, you can factually state with 100% accuracy that ESPN has very purposefully become more Diverse (capitalization purposeful). As an American of Mexican heritage, I know very well when I’m being pandered to, and ESPN has gone full throttle on it. The “Around the Horn” panel went from four white guys almost every day (save for Blackistone and Smith) to a veritable cornucopia of Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, women, and gays. They repeatedly and purposefully exploit stories like the Kaepernick saga, allowing all of their hosts to assume and publicly declare his black-balling (hyphen?) despite what owners claim (they must be lying because, hey, they’re old and white). And they literally act as though Obama is still President (did anyone catch Mike and Mike a day or two ago where Greenberg kept calling calling Obama and Biden the “President and Vice-President”…which is not the customary way for them to be addressed).

    Look, I’m not even conservative, but I can see when a company is making a purposeful move to gain my viewership. What I assume is that ESPN has data that shows white men in their 30s and 40s are a shrinking market (as a man in his late 30’s, I find that many of my peers are generally less interested in sports, especially in metropolitan areas such as NYC, where I live). They then must go for whatever remaining markets there are, and they found these “minorities” to mooch off of.

    Thanks ESPN.

  • MrBull

    Hill via her tweets shows how clueless and racists she is…if she
    thinks White Supremacists are responsible for Trump’s rise to the White House, then that is news to 99.9% of the white people – men and women who voted for him…so middle class white people are “all white supremacist”?…
    And the white sports fans that watch Espn are white supremacist also…because if you add up the actual number of white supremacist voters in this country, Clinton would have won by a landslide as there are not enough white supremacist voters to get Trump elected period..
    So that means either Hill is clueless on the number and power of White Supremacists voters or Hill thinks, feels or believes ‘all white people are supremacists’ which makes her a racists!….
    Or maybe it is both for Hill….

    • namingrightsforsale

      Deliberately misinterpreting what she said isn’t really helpful.

      • MrBull

        I am not ‘ deliberately misinterpreting’ what Hill said…a very small percentage of the people are white supremacist and they did not by themselves get Trump elected….they attached themselves to him and have vocally supported him….
        Hill clearly states this group helped to empower Trump…that is news to all those who voted for him that are not part of this group nor hold their views…
        looking at comments by Hill from her past, I stand by my view point on her….and it is helpful if one wants equal fairness, otherwise it is going to be a bias view as is currently presented by espn, mainstream media and the liberals….

  • namingrightsforsale

    He actually said this:

    “Apologize for untruth!”

    Think about the sheer absurdity of that statement.

  • SchenectadyJohnson

    Here’s your apology you short-fingered vulgarian, “I’m sorry you’re a racist.”

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