Jemele Hill's future at ESPN may hinge on Bob Iger's political ambitions

ESPN host Jemele Hill was suspended for two weeks starting Monday after she spent the weekend tweeting about ways to damage the Dallas Cowboys through boycotts. She later claimed she wasn’t calling for a boycott but she certainly was gaming out how others might start one. The fact that Hill had previously been counseled about social media by ESPN (when she called President Trump a “white supremacist”) meant she’d already used up her free pass.


Now Hill’s future is said to be in the hands of Disney’s Bob Iger who got involved to protect her job after her previous statement about Trump. Fox News reports Iger’s decision about what to do next may hinge on his own political ambitions:

From a business standpoint, firing Hill would be an obvious solution. But Iger, who is believed to harbor 2020 presidential aspirations, could risk upsetting the left…

Iger has gotten increasingly political of late, stoking speculation he has his eyes on the White House. The New York Times recently said Iger is “emerging as a credible contender in the 2020 presidential speculation game,” while the Washington Post recently listed him as a top contender to land on the Democratic ticket and CBS published a headline pondering, “Is Bob Iger considering a presidential run?”…

Many on the left, including several ESPN colleagues, have defended Hill. Liberal website Deadspin proclaimed she was suspended for “no good reason” and Rev. Al Sharpton tweeted the suspension “should NOT go unanswered,” warning that “ESPN and advertisers will hear from us!”

Sharpton is demanding Hill’s reinstatement and has even said his group could consider a boycott. Other groups have joined him. From USAToday:

“We consider it outrageous that Jemele Hill was suspended by ESPN,”  Sharpton and the National Action Network said in a statement on Monday night. “She has the right to tell people that they ought to let advertisers know how they feel, since they are the consumers. While she didn’t call for a direct boycott, it’s not off the table for us in the civil rights community.”…

Rashad Robinson, executive director of the racial justice organization Color Of Change, called ESPN’s suspension of Hill “a flagrant suppression of black voices in sports” in a statement on Tuesday.

“ESPN is happy to stand with enablers of racism and sexism, but dare speak out against these issues and you’re in trouble,” Robinson said. “They seek to champion black athletes, activists, and hosts until billionaires like Jerry Jones threaten their revenue streams. . . . By choosing to ban its reporters’ opinions, ESPN is making an explicitly political decision to side with the Trump administration on the wrong side of history.”


There’s no doubt the Trump administration is looking to ride this issue, but that’s because Trump clearly believes it’s a winning issue, i.e. lots of people who aren’t politicians don’t like the protests. Making this all about Trump is a handy approach for the left, but the fact is even if he wasn’t against it, lots of NFL fans would be.

As for Iger, it’s not clear how serious his intentions are in 2020. The LA Times reports that at a recent Vanity Fair event in Beverly Hills he was non-committal:

Iger said he plans to retire from Disney in 2019. “This time I mean it,” he said. Many people suspect he might be looking for a post-Disney career in politics.

Bilton asked the audience at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts if they would support an Iger campaign. The crowd applauded.

“That sounds tepid — so maybe that’s a sign,” Iger said. “And my wife is out there somewhere and I can guarantee that she’s not cheering. … I will figure it out when I have to figure it out.”

That’s not a no, which means he’s keeping his 2020 options open. And part of keeping those options open might be choosing not to start a fight with Al Sharpton right now by firing Jemele Hill. Of course, letting Hill remain in her job only to see her create a fresh controversy in a few weeks won’t look to good either, but giving her a third chance is still probably safer politically than the alternative.


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