If the president of Lifetime Network feels the need to send out a memo saying, “We are the network of schlocky domestic dramas,” something is wrong. If the president of the Syfy network has to announce, “We are the network of Mega-shark vs. Octo-wolf” something is wrong. So it’s probably a bad sign that ESPN’s John Skipper just felt the need to release a memo stating, “ESPN is about sports.” From CNN, which published the entire memo:
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…
ESPN is not a political organization…
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.
The “violation” is a reference to a tweet by ESPN host Jemele Hill, who tweeted “Donald Trump is a white supremacist” Monday. ESPN distanced itself from her comments the next day:
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/3kfexjx9zQ
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the comment a “fireable offense” which brought a new level of attention to the issue and placed more pressure on ESPN. According to a report at Think Progress, ESPN did try to take Hill off the air through the network denies that:
ESPN originally tried to keep Hill off the air on Wednesday evening, but Smith refused to do the show without her, the sources said. Both sources also said that producers reached out to two other black ESPN hosts, Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan, to ask them to serve as fill-ins for the show — but Eaves and Duncan did not agree to take the place of Hill and Smith, either…
ESPN refutes this account.
“Yesterday was a hard and unusual day, with a number of people interpreting the day without a full picture that happened,” Rob King, the senior vice president for news and information at SportsCenter, told ThinkProgress. “In the end, ultimately, Michael and Jemele appearing on the show last night and doing the show the way they did is the outcome we always desired.”
So who knows what really happened. ESPN is clearly feeling the pressure and today’s memo seems aimed at reminding employees of something they really ought to know already. Jemele Hill is not going to be fired for her comments but the next host who wades into politics may not be so lucky. In fact, it seems the crackdown on hosts other than Jemele Hill making political comments has already begun.