ESPN SportsCenter host Jemele Hill posted two tweets on September 11, 2017, expressing her dislike of President Donald Trump. They elicited a strong backlash on Twitter and in the media, leading a reporter to ask White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to comment on them. She called Hill’s tweets a “fireable offense.”
Jemele Hill is a black sports journalist from Detroit. She joined ESPN in 2006 as a national columnist on ESPN.com, before beginning a podcast with fellow sports journalist Michael Smith called His & Hers. In February 2017, Smith and Hill became evening co-anchors of SportsCenter. Their show was called SC6 with Michael and Jemele. In September 2017, she posted a series of tweets criticizing President Trump. Two of them read:
“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”
“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the only daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. After managing her father’s presidential campaign in 2016, she became the Trump campaign’s senior advisor handling communications for coalitions. When Trump won the election, Huckabee Sanders was named deputy White House press secretary. Following Sean Spicer’s resignation, she assumed the role of press secretary in July 2017. She is the third woman ever to hold the position.
The day after Hill’s tweets incited an immediate backlash, ESPN tweeted out a statement, which read, “The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.” In a White House press briefing the following day, a reporter read Hill’s tweets out loud to Huckabee Sanders and asked her to comment. The press secretary called them some of “the more outrageous comments that anybody could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.”
That same day, the National Association of Black Journalists released a statement supporting Hill’s right to speak freely “on all matters of discussion, within and outside the world of sports, as they do not impinge on her duties as a host and commentator,” reported NBC News.
A few days after Hill’s tweets were posted, Trump weighed in from his Twitter account. He tweeted, “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
Ratings for SportsCenter in the 6 pm time slot did drop 20 percent year-over-year after Hill and Smith became hosts, compared to when Lindsay Czarniak headlined the show, reported Forbes. However, ESPN’s overall ratings are decreasing regularly. Pardon the Interruption, for example, saw a similar drop.
Jemele Hill suspended from ESPN following a second social media violation
Despite Huckabee Sanders’ claims that Hill’s tweets were a “fireable offense,” ESPN did not dismiss the sports anchor. However, the company did take action when in October 2017 Hill reportedly violated its social media guidelines a second time. When Cowboys Head Coach Jerry Jones threatened to bench any of his players who “disrespect the [American] flag” and kneel during the national anthem, Hill responded on Twitter by suggesting people who disagreed with Jones ought to boycott his team’s advertisers. As a result, ESPN suspended her for two weeks. Her tweets on the topic, posted on October 8 and 9, read:
“Jerry Jones also has created a problem for his players, specifically the black ones. If they don’t kneel, some will see them as sellouts.”
“If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players. […]”
“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.”
“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.”
Following the announcement of Hill’s suspension, Trump took to Twitter once more. On October 9, 2017, he tweeted, “With Jemele Hill at the mike [sic], it is no wonder ESPN ratings have “tanked,” in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”
Jemele Hill leaves ESPN’s SportsCenter
In January 2018, it was announced that Hill would move from SC6 to The Undefeated, an ESPN digital news outlet that analyzes sports, race, and culture, reported Variety. Despite rumors that she was demoted or removed from the show, according to Forbes, Hill took to Twitter to claim that the move was her own decision. “I asked to leave the show,” she wrote. She also thanked her co-host, Smith, the SC6 staff, and her SportsCenter colleagues.
Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18
Uploaded March 19, 2018