By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Last week, ESPN SportsCenter host Jemele Hill vaulted into the national media spotlight when she tweeted out her views on the current President of the United States.
Hill released a string of tweets calling President Donald Trump an ignorant, offensive white supremacist. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about Hill in a press conference Wednesday and responded by saying it was a “fireable offense” by Hill.
Of course in today’s polarizing political landscape, the public has seemingly taken sides on the matter. Some, like her current and former colleagues, have come to her aide and supported her statements about the president. Others have said a statement made like that against, for example, former President Barack Obama, would have resulted in an immediate firing.
I am an advocate of the First Amendment. I believe the ability for anyone to express their opinion freely is crucial to a functional society. In a perfect world, I don’t think Hill should face any consequences other than the backlash of people who disagree with her.
However, ESPN has a history when it comes to dealing with its employee’s political antics. There have been a number of instances in the past in which ESPN employees expressed themselves via social media and were reprimanded by their employer for it.
Former baseball analyst Curt Schilling was suspended and then subsequently fired for multiple political rants, including a tweet in which he compared Muslims to Nazis. Longtime SportsCenter anchor Linda Cohn was reportedly told to take a day off after she speculated that ESPN’s increasingly political sports coverage was a factor in viewership decline. Baseball reporter Keith Law was suspended from Twitter for having an argument with Schilling over evolution.
Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry further polarized the Hill situation by saying on Twitter that she was reprimanded by the company for favoriting tweets that expressed conservative political views. Former senior writer Bill Simmons, who was suspended by ESPN for three weeks for calling NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar, applauded Hill for using her platform to put ESPN in a tricky situation.
ESPN seemingly leans left on the political spectrum, so reprimanding an African-American woman for speaking out against Trump would not be received well by their employees or a portion of their fanbase. ESPN has responded to Hill by saying that Hill’s actions are a violation of their standards and that they will deal with the issue internally.
Hill released an apology on Twitter that was later accepted by ESPN, resulting in no punishment for Hill. No matter my political views, I believe ESPN needs to be consistent with their punishment in these situations, and punish Hill as well.
Since the sports media giant has been scrutinized for being too liberal, taking sides in a matter as black and white as insulting the opposite political party would only cause the scrutiny to grow. Simply suspending her from Twitter for a week would suffice. But by not reprimanding Hill in any way, ESPN is taking a side.