ESPN Denounced for 'Despicable Attempt to Silence' Journalist Jemele Hill
"By choosing to ban its reporters' opinions, ESPN is making an explicitly political decision to side with the Trump administration on the wrong side of history."
Fellow journalists, free speech defenders, and racial justice advocates are jumping to the defense of sports anchor Jemele Hill on Tuesday, after she was suspended for two weeks for "a second violation" of ESPN's social media policy.
Hill posted a series of tweets about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' demand that his players stand for the national anthem. Jones's move sparked outrage as many NFL players have chosen to kneel during the anthem to draw attention to police brutality and other forms of injustice experienced disproportionately by black Americans.
Rashad Robinson, executive director of the advocacy group Color of Change, slammed ESPN's decision as he called it "a flagrant suppression of Black voices in sports. ESPN is happy to stand with enablers of racism and sexism, but dare speak out against these issues and you're in trouble."
Hill suggested NFL fans who disagree with Jones should show their disapproval by refusing to support his team's sponsors.
This play always work. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ's statement, boycott his advertisers. https://t.co/LFXJ9YQe74— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don't place the burden squarely on the players. https://t.co/Gc48kchkuv— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
Just so we're clear: I'm not advocating a NFL boycott. But an unfair burden has been put on players in Dallas & Miami w/ anthem directives.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
If fans really are that upset about what JJ & Stephen Ross have done, don't call the players sellouts, but you're watching every Sunday.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) October 9, 2017
Hill previously called President Donald Trump a white supremacist last month. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Hill should be fired for her comments.
While President Donald Trump tweeted an attack on Hill Tuesday morning (blaming her for their ratings, which he incorrectly said have "tanked"), journalist John Nichols was among those who defended Hill's statement as social commentary on the over-arching issue of racial injustice—one that ESPN can't simply ignore when many in the sports world are publicly speaking out against it.
Organizers of the Women's March released a statement in support of Hill:
The suspension of Jemele Hill is a despicable attempt to silence a Black woman speaking out against systematic 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.
ESPN defended its earlier reprimand of Hill last month by saying the company "is not a political organization" and therefore political statements by reporters aren't appropriate. But as Robinson noted, the network's stance is itself political. "By choosing to ban its reporters' opinions, ESPN is making an explicitly political decision to side with the Trump administration on the wrong side of history," he said.
Others spoke out on social media, with many noting the irony of ESPN holding Hill's social media activity to a standard that the president hasn't met:
Jemele Hill, now suspended by ESPN, will be home to watch Hank Williams Jr. -- who once compared Obama to Hitler -- work for @ESPN tonight.— Ja'han Jones (@_Jahan) October 9, 2017
Jemele Hill is held to a higher standard for her online behavior than the current President of the United States. Just think about that.— Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) October 9, 2017
It's no accident that Donald Trump has chosen a Black woman (Jemele Hill) and a Black man (Colin Kaepernick) as his primary targets/enemies.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) October 10, 2017
I'm confused, because when Trump said to boycott NFL stuff, it was cool but when Jemele Hill said to do it, it wasn't cool anymore. Weird— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) October 9, 2017
If Jemele Hill didn’t want to get suspended, she should have just sexually harassed women for decades.— Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) October 10, 2017