Everybody else can go right ahead and get into the game of what-about-ism with Jemele Hill, and what ESPN has done in cases like this in the past – from Rush Limbaugh to Curt Schilling to Doug Adler, a tennis commentator who lost his job this year because he said that Venus Williams was using “guerilla” tactics in a match, as if anybody in their right minds thought he meant gorilla.
All of that is fair game now in all the conversation about Jemele Hill. This really did start a long time ago, long before the current leadership at ESPN, when they hired Limbaugh for being Limbaugh, and then (happily) watched him resign because of a controversy involving a comment he made about Donovan McNabb on a pregame show.
“Sorry to say this, I don’t think (McNabb has) been that good from the get-go,” Limbaugh said. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”
I know. In retrospect it reads like a Hallmark card compared to what we read in the public square of social media on a daily basis.
Jemele Hill and the week that ESPN will never forget
Now a lot of it in the public square is about Jemele Hill. And it is absolutely the right of everybody everywhere to weigh in on this incredibly conflicted ESPN history in attempting to offer context to the current, hot-wired conversation about Ms. Hill calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter. Of course there is a righteous rush to play what-about-ism with the President, too, because of all the things he has said about people on Twitter, and especially media people, just since taking the oath of office.
But it is my right to tell you that I have known Jemele Hill a long time, since the first time she sat down on our ESPN show “The Sports Reporters.” I read her newspaper column before that. I know how strongly and passionately she holds her beliefs, whether you like them or not. She is one of the best people I know, and one of the best people they have at her network, one paid for her opinions. None of this may factor into your side of this conversation, especially if you’re one of the people coming for her now. But it does mine.
And guess what? Even though Curt Schilling was warned more than once about expressing his own political opinions about Muslims and transgenders on social media while he was still doing baseball for ESPN, it is frankly impossible to find logic between him losing his job and Jemele now keeping hers. Sometimes you think the wisdom on this comes from Captain Barbossa in one of those “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, when he said there weren’t really rules for pirates, they were more like guidelines.
I have gone back and forth between politics and sports for a decade now, gone from the front of the Daily News to the back every single week, and have developed my own understanding of how impossible it is not to cross the line that Jemele Hill is now accused of crossing, in the paper, on the air, on social media, anywhere.
Jemele Hill is right and ESPN has an identity issue
But I believe that whether there are rules or guidelines at Ms. Hill’s company or not, she is entitled to her opinions about her country. The idea that someone who talks about sports for a living, even on a sports network, isn’t allowed to voice strong and contentious opinions about politics is, to me, not just unrealistic. It’s ridiculous in the modern world. That genie has been out of the bottle for a long time in America, and there is no putting it back, especially in an America where we constantly demand our athletes be more accountable as political activists.
So here come the attacks on Jemele Hill now that she is the one in the public square – and they are as inevitable and predictable as the tide, including the demand for an apology from the President, now that he is the injured party in a social media attack like this. That is his right, too.
Some of the reaction over the past week, certainly and obviously, is because of what Jemele tweeted about him. Some of it is because people didn’t like Jemele’s opinions even before she got around to this one about the President. There is the additional thrill from the angry white person in going after an African-American woman, being able to call her a liberal and a racist.
And a whole lot of this, you have to know, is because of the company for which she works, one for which I worked for a very long time before “The Sports Reporters” was taken off the air for good in May.
Trump attacks ESPN over Hill tweets as network releases statement
It is all fair game for all involved. This has always been a hardball league. More than ever, everybody needs to wear a helmet.
But if Jemele had been fired by ESPN because of this – as a White House spokesman, in a wild ethical overreach from someone who seems to defend the indefensible on a daily basis, suggested Jemele should be the other day – it would have been ESPN who would have been the loser.
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