First Things First co-host Nick Wright has often raised some interesting points in interviews, including how FS1 isn’t a debate network, why it’s worth talking about LeBron James every day, and why his show focuses on elements he, Cris Carter and Jenna Wolfe know well. His latest notable interview came with Brandon Contes of Barrett Sports Media, and had plenty of significant segments, but what he said about Jemele Hill, race, and politics (in response to a question about if sports television should stick to sports) particularly stood out.
First, he said he thought some people went after Hill for comments that weren’t about politics, and that he tends to stick to sports himself, but address political issues when they do impact sports:
On the ESPN front, I think a lot of the people who have been attacked has been very unfair. The things Jemele Hill dealt with…now she did eventually go heavy into politics, I understand that…but before she did that, people were already accusing her of it in my opinion because she’s a black woman on TV talking about sports. I think a lot of that criticism was unfair. I know they’re a competitor, but I’m going to be honest with you, a lot of that was unfair.
…I have very strong political opinions, and I think they bleed through at times when I talk sports. You can figure out some of my politics, but I was also hired to do a job. … I have an obligation to the audience that shows up, to give them what they came here for.
Now I do have an obligation to myself, that when Colin Kaepernick is the sports story, I am not going to shade my opinions on it. I understand the NFL is a big partner, but I also understand that when Bob McNair makes himself the story by saying the ‘inmates are running the prison,’ that it is a clearly racist statement by someone who has a long line of questionable statements and I’m not going to be intimidated by folks on Twitter that don’t have their pictures as their avatar. When the real world touches on sports, I will address that head on. What I won’t do…is look for reasons to bring up the real world when I know it’s not what people are coming here for.
Beyond that, Wright had some significant thoughts differentiating discussion of race from discussion of politics.
I’ll say one more thing on this…talking about race is not talking about politics and that discussion has been hijacked. If you acknowledge race, racism, or the racial climate in this country, people say you’re talking about politics. Talking about equal rights is not political. It should be offensive to people on both sides of the aisle to act like advocating for equal rights is a liberal or conservative position.
Race comes into sports all the time. I have read more books on U.S. history from reconstruction until the Civil Rights Act than I have any other book of any other category combined. I think I have a particular level of expertise historically and from my own personal story about those things, I think I am very good at those discussions, better than a lot of people on sports television, so when those discussions come up I embrace them. I think they are interesting and important. I do not think they’re political and I get bothered when people say those are political, because that is not political. It would be untenable for people to say advocating for equal rights is a liberal or conservative position because that means the opposite side is against equal rights and I would hope nobody is.
Wright makes some good points on both of those fronts. Some of Hill’s comments were certainly about politics, especially when it came to the tweets about President Trump as a white supremacist, but she received plenty of “too political” flack long before that while not explicitly making political remarks. (Particularly on-air, where SC6 drew a lot of “political” criticism despite not usually diving into those waters.) And Wright’s separation of discussions of race and discussions of politics is notable, as the two definitely aren’t always explicitly connected, even if many critics assume that they are.
It’s interesting to hear these kinds of comments from Wright, especially on the Kaepernick and McNair fronts, where others on his network have provided very different takes. It’s also significant to hear him say he felt some of the criticism of Hill wasn’t fair, as much of Fox has aligned itself with the “ESPN is too political” front. (In particular, consider the Jason Whitlock Murdoch-owned Media Tour last summer in particular, where the ESPN layoffs were repeatedly explictly blamed on politics despite all evidence to the contrary.) But he makes some excellent points here, and his whole thoughts on the subject (and much more) are well worth a read.