It was almost a year ago when ESPN hired a former attorney to police it’s HR Department. I thought at the time that a written decorum was in the works, but according to Le Anne Schreiber there isn’t one currently on the books. She also says that in lieu of recent events that it’s about time that the network looks into one….

The problem with relying on common sense to govern commentary is that it seems to be in progressively short supply, not because people at ESPN lack sense, but because, like the rest of the country, they lack common perspectives, values, frames of reference, sensibilities and verbal manners. That variety of voices is one of ESPN’s strengths, but it also requires shepherding by means other than suspension and PR-vetted public apologies that more often than not miss the mark, failing both to appease the offended and to teach the right lessons to potential offenders.

If ESPN’s talent construes, as some writers and commentators have, that the lessons learned from Hill’s and Bernstein’s public abasements are that “Hitler” is a banned word, religion and politics banned topics, then latitude of commentary will be far more constrained than it would be by thoughtful written guidelines. I am not talking about inflexible, censorious rules and regulations, but guidelines that might help ESPN’s talent better understand the potential effects of their spoken and written words.

Guidelines such as:

• Do not presume that what is ancient history to you is ancient history to the next person; the wound of World War II may be as fresh to others as 9/11 is to you.

• Or, a good generalization is hard to find, especially when applied to cultures, races, genders and nations.

• Or, analogies are likely to be imperfect; extreme analogies are likely to be extremely imperfect.

The simplicity of things amazes me at times. The access and variety of voices are definitely a plus but more often than not they’re the problem itself. I also can’t believe in this day in age that a global company doesn’t have a standard code of conduct and doesn’t police its own. The whole article is worth a read and I hope that ESPN actually reads what their Ombudsman writes and doesn’t her ideas as just “window dressing”.

Written guidance necessary to establish boundaries of comment (ESPN Ombudsman)
New ESPN HR Hire To Lay Down The Law? (Awful Announcing)

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