ESPN has courted its share of political controversy the past couple of years. It seems like every time you turn around, the network is injecting some sort of left-leaning bias into its coverage and discussion of sports. The most recent brouhaha surrounded Jemele Hill, who is one of the brightest stars at the network these days. Hill tweeted her view of Donald Trump in no uncertain terms:
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
Say what you want about Trump – and I’m certainly no fan of his – but calling him a white supremacist is uncalled for. ESPN recognized this fact, and the network reacted:
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/3kfexjx9zQ
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017
For her part, Hill has apologized…sort of:
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2017
Now, ESPN’s president John Skipper has responded to the controversy with a memo to the company, reminding employees of the network’s core responsibilities.
I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN.
ESPN is about sports. Last year, we broadcast over 16,000 sports events. We show highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays.
And we talk about sports all day every day. Of course, sports is intertwined with society and culture, so “sticking to sports” is not so simple. When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that. We are, among other things, the largest, most accomplished and highly resourced sports news organization. We take great pride in our news organization.
We have programs on which we discuss and even debate sports, as well as the issues that intersect with sports. Fans themselves love to debate and discuss sports.
ESPN is not a political organization.
There is, of course, the typical language about “inclusion,” “tolerance,” and “a diverse work force,” but Skipper addresses the Jemele Hill incident indirectly but clearly.
We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time. Our employees are citizens and appropriately want to participate in the public discussion. That can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view. Given this reality, we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.
We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter. As always, in each circumstance we look to do what is best for our business.
In light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.
Does this mean we’ll see less liberalism at ESPN? Will this mark a return to sports being the primary focus at the network? We’re already seeing a shift in that direction. In August, one of my favorite ESPN personalities, Sage Steele, who as a conservative is no stranger to controversy, told the Washington Post that the primary focus of the new morning SportsCenter would be – you guessed it – sports.
We will have some opinions, the three of us, but I don’t believe it’s about us. It’s about the games, it’s about the highlights. Let’s show some standings. Let’s talk about what’s coming up tonight. I’m just old, I guess, old-school.
Here’s hoping ESPN will take the cue from Steele and her co-hosts and leave the politics out of sports.