The sports channel ended up alienating viewers of all political stripes.
Image via Jamele Hill/Twitter.
The circle of Americans unlucky enough to have seen their tweets directly addressed by the office of the president of the United States is smaller than it may seem, but Jemele Hill is now part of it. The ESPN co-host of “SportsCenter” was nearly taken off the air — then nonchalantly reinstated — after she posted a series of statements to Twitter earlier this week referring to Donald Trump as a “white supremacist” who “surrounded” himself with other white supremacists.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Hill’s tweets constituted a “fireable offense,” marking a troubling pattern for a presidential office that already maintains an antagonistic relationship with the press. “I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN,” Huckabee said in a press briefing.
But how outrageous is it, really, to say a man who has not only refused to repudiate David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, or denounce Nazi violence in Charlottesville but also appointed a known racist to high office might be a white supremacist himself? If those are not the metrics by which we measure white supremacy, what are they? White supremacy isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a radical ideology, one that seems at the least tolerated and at the most implicitly espoused by the current U.S. administration by virtue of its policies and by the people with which it is associated.
Hill’s original comments were addressed to followers who had replied to her on a discussion about singer Kid Rock’s defense of the Confederate flag that quickly devolved, as all things do these days, into a discussion about our sitting president. In one tweet, Hill wrote to a user, “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.” These tweets drew the ire of ESPN’s rowdy Twitter audiences, and the network chose to respond not with a defense of Hill but with this feeble statement:
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: https://t.co/3kfexjx9zQ— ESPN PR (@ESPN PR) 1505243492
Hill’s apparently controversial comments are still up, but she’s since posted this statement to her Twitter account:
So, to address the elephant in the room ... #Facts https://t.co/RTrIDD87ut— Jemele Hill (@Jemele Hill) 1505360327
Back in the early days of Twitter, it used to be standard practice among a certain subset of users — particularly journalists and news commentators — to include a phrase like this in their profile bios: “Opinions expressed here do not reflect those of my employer.” In the years since, for many reasons, the disclaimer has become far less common; it’s now a signifier of old mainstream journalistic stodginess. First of all, the nature of Twitter has changed. The platform is widely understood as a sounding board for opinions — even bad ones — and that its users act as individuals, not as representatives of the institutions with which they are associated.
Journalists are human — despite evidence to the contrary — and even if their jobs pigeonhole them as commentators on singular subjects (like sports), it remains impossible for many of us, especially under our current conditions, to remain apolitical or silent on matters of politics. And even we aren’t vocal about our biases, they still exist; some journalists merely warn their readers in advance.
If it’s any indication, the presidential office was mealymouthed in its response to Nazi demonstrators who showed up to the Charlottesville protests, some of them in paramilitary gear, and in its acknowledgment of Heather Heyer’s death, but it managed to summon outrage over an ESPN host’s tweets.