Reaction to Jemele Hill’s suspension from ESPN for urging a boycott of Jerry Jones’ advertisers has demonstrated, if nothing else, the lack of civics education in the country. But it may provide some long-term benefits.
Hill tweeted: “This play always work. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.” Jones, who two weeks ago knelt with his players before a game, then rose before the anthem was played, had said before last Sunday’s game, “If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period.”
Hill, who was warned last month to cool the political rhetoric after she called President Trump a white supremacist, was suspended for two weeks for a series of tweets in which she explained she was not calling for a boycott of the entire league, just the Cowboys.
Perhaps Hill, who has a long history of getting in trouble for divisive remarks, did not heed the warning because she did not think her boss meant it. Bob Iger, chief of ESPN’s parent company of Disney, said at a Vanity Fair conference on Oct. 3:
“Jemele Hill is an ESPN employee, and she can’t separate herself from that when she speaks publicly or when she uses Twitter to express her opinion, and so we do have policies against that,” he said. But context was important, he insisted. And context was that “a lot of people out there … were outraged” at what he called the rolling back of hard-won civil rights advances. “It’s not only disappointing; it’s – it has angered them,” he said. “They’ve had a real need to speak out.”
This real need to speak out did not apply to threatening the advertisers of one of her network’s major partners. Jones is the most powerful owner in sports. His team is valued at $4.8 billion – about $1 billion more than the next largest … or about the amount Jones spent to build his new state-of-the-art stadium. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract is on hold because of Jones.
Al Sharpton said he considered the suspension outrageous.
“She has the right to tell people that they ought to let advertisers know how they feel, since they are the consumers,” Sharpton said.
Apparently not getting the memo to ease up on the commentary, ESPN Grantland writer Rembert Browne wrote “ESPN wants black faces not black minds, the end – next topic.”
SportsCenter’s Cari Champion asked on Twitter: “Compromise your integrity? Compromise for comfort? Where can you speak or say how you feel? Or is it about how you say it?”
Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated launched into a long and confusing dissertation on the distinction between politics and commentary.
The Women’s March released a statement that called the suspension “a despicable attempt to silence a Black woman speaking out against systemic oppression in this country.
“This suspension is proof of how deeply entrenched racism is within our institutions. Jemele’s comments to encourage consumers to let advertisers know how they feel, reflect the feelings of many of us. Millions of Americans understand the importance of protecting our first amendment right to free speech and of using this sacred right to express legitimate fear about the current climate of racism and bigotry.”
First, Hill did not express fear. She called for a boycott. Her suspension is not proof of how deeply entrenched racism is. It is the network making a belated attempt to “re-establish its political neutrality,” wrote Callum Borchers of the Washington Post. “The clear message … is that ESPN does not want to be viewed as endorsing Hill’s first tweet (about Trump and his associates being white supremacists) or rejecting her second. It would prefer not to be viewed as taking any position at all.”