Opinion: Jemele Hill, ESPN, and the NFL Controversy

Marley Morton, Columnist

 Jemele Hill, an ESPN personality SportsCenter host, was suspended for two weeks over a tweet. Hill, who is a 41 year old African-American woman, was already forced to apologize earlier this fall after calling President Trump a white supremacist on Twitter — to which the White House called for her firing. In addition to Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Hill’s statement a “fireable offence,” ESPN rebuked Hill, saying she crossed a line, and Donald Trump blasted the network itself over Twitter.

    This time, the tweet that went against ESPN’s social media policy and guidelines was in response to Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones, who wrote that he would bench any players who “disrespect the flag.” In reply to this, Hill suggested that any fans who disagreed with Jones should boycott Cowboys advertisers.

    “Change happens when advertisers are impacted,” she wrote, “If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.” Hill later clarified that she was not calling for an N.F.L. boycott, but was pointing out the “unfair burden” of the players.

    Soon after, ESPN released a statement saying Hill was suspended for a, quote unquote, second violation of their social media guidelines: “Jemele Hill has been suspended for two weeks for a second violation of our social media guidelines. She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision.”

    Hill, along with her co-host Michael Smith who is also African-American, did not appear on the following episode of SportsCenter. Matt Barrie hosted alone, on a standard set missing the SC6 branding that usually accompanies the Hill and Smith show.

    Whether good or bad, it’s safe to say that most football fans have an opinion on Hill’s suspension. If not that, it’s the players’ right to protest during the anthem. Trump has criticized the NFL for allowing their players to kneel or sit during the playing of the national anthem. Vice President Mike Pence even walked out of an Indianapolis Colts vs San Francisco 49ers game after around two dozen players knelt during the national anthem.

    He later tweeted, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”

    To make things clear: The NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem aren’t protesting the flag or the anthem; they’re objecting to the ridiculously high number of unarmed black people victim to police brutality and death in United states. So what Jerry Jones is really saying when he says that players can’t be “disrespectful,” is actually that black people aren’t supposed to complain or protest the hard fact that we are killed by the police — even when unarmed.

    Anchors who are not black, who are not women, who say things more offensive, only get a tiny slap on the wrist. A little while back, ESPN faced criticism for a lack of diversity — female anchors and people of color were just not in front of the camera. Black women certainly were not lead anchors on their shows. Jemele Hill and Michael Smith were part of the network’s change, hosting SC6 or SportsCenter. Smith and Hill mix in pop culture with their opinions, differing from the standard. Hill has always had opinions and has always expressed them either on air or on the website, even going as far to question professional athletes.

    51 percent of Americans believe the NFL protests are appropriate, yet we are apparently expected to give ESPN a pat on the back for suspending an anchor who resonates with over half of the pool. The future of America is in the people’s hands now.