It’s been a bad week for ESPN following the outcry over SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill’s Twitter outburst calling Donald Trump a “white supremacist.” The milquetoast reprimand she received after several other network employees had been suspended or fired for making racially tinged comments elicited anger from the president and many on the right.
There was a report — denied by ESPN — that the network wanted to take Hill off the air and replace her with another black woman. And ESPN employees vented their feelings on a private message board, with many believing the network has lost its way.
With his network in crisis, ESPN President John Skipper distributed a memo to all employees. “ESPN is about sports,” the memo began; Skipper went on to contradict that statement.
ESPN is not a political organization. Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express.
At the same time, ESPN has values. We are committed to inclusion and an environment of tolerance where everyone in a diverse work force has the equal opportunity to succeed. We consider this human, not political. Consequently, we insist that no one be denigrated for who they are including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.
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.
We also know that ESPN is a special place and that our success is based on you and your colleagues’ work. Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for. Let’s not be divided in that pursuit. I will need your support if we are to succeed.
Skipper alluded to a “violation” of standards, but Hill’s tweets went far beyond that. In fact, according to the ESPN employee manual, Hill is guilty of a serious and egregious violation of company policy.
Transcripts from the private chat room for ESPN employees included the relevant sections of the employee handbook that Hill violated:
3. Company platforms are intended to foster productivity, efficiency and teamwork. Employees should avoid unnecessary or unproductive arguments and refrain from discussing sensitive or inflammatory subjects that are not related to work, such as politics or religion.
1. Employees’ online activities conducted on non-Company platforms, but which relate to the Company’s business interests, also are subject to Company policies, including this Employee Policy Manual and the Standards of Business Conduct.
The Company provides certain social media networks and other online publishing and discussion tools to allow employees to communicate and collaborate internally. When using these platforms, or engaging in other online activities that relate to the Company’s business interests, employees must comply with Company policy.
Some employees argued that Hill should have been suspended or fired for this gross violation of company policy. Even some who agree with her statement about Trump think she went too far.
CNN’s problem is that they are no longer “about sports” and they are bleeding literally millions of viewers because of that. Most people watch sports because they want to get away from politics, the culture wars, the constant bullying and hysterical bitching from the left. They watch for the joy of pure escapism.
ESPN is saying no, you can’t escape. And if any of our on-air talent disagrees with our worldview, they either learn to keep their mouths shut or are fired.
Jamele Hill violated company policy in the most serious and obvious way and kept her job. What kind of message does that send to the rest of ESPN’s employees?
Maybe Skipper should have addressed that in his memo.