Jemele Hill shows ESPN isn’t trying to hide its political bent anymore

Jemele Hill is unapologetic in her beliefs. She's decidedly liberal. Provocative. And one of President Trump's staunchest critics in sports media. She's actually perfect for some networks in the cable news world as a political pundit. 

Those are not criticisms you're reading above. Opinions are like ice cream flavors: We all have different palates and preferences. Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with her assessment that President Trump is a white supremacist in a tweet that has spurred harsh criticism, effusive praise and dogged debate on social media and cable news.

Hill would be welcome to her perspective, except...the 41-year-old Michigan native is also an anchor on a Disney-owned shrinking juggernaut called ESPN. Her job is to report and comment on sports. And yes, topics in this arena are becoming more political, with Colin Kaepernick being the straw that stirs the drink these days.

Hill argued earlier this summer that she has no other choice but to share her opinion because "the athletes are dragging us here."

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“I just hadn’t noticed the correlation between us being called more liberal as you see more women in a position on our network… as you see more ethnic diversity, then all of a sudden ESPN is too liberal," she observed.


"So I wonder, when people say that, what they’re really saying. The other part of it is that we’re journalists, and people have to understand, these uncomfortable political conversations… the athletes are dragging us here. I didn’t ask Colin Kaepernick to kneel. He did it on his own. So, was I supposed to act like he didn’t?"

Perfectly reasonable argument.

But what does the president have to do with any debate around sports or the culture of sports via figures like Kaepernick these days? Trump isn't an athlete dragging Hill into uncomfortable political conversations. Her tweetstorm around a sitting president and white supremacy wasn't connected to anything ESPN was covering, but simply a tirade that came out of nowhere with seemingly no thought to what her day job is or to the network she represents. 

"His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period," she wrote in one tweet.

She also said Trump "is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected." 

ESPN being ESPN lately, of course, has absolutely zero clue how to handle Hill's tweets. As a result, this limp biscuit of a statement was put out yesterday when the social media fires were too hot to ignore.

"The comments on Twitter from Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate." 

Shorter version: We've already pissed off half our audience, so don't even think we're going to anger the other half by punishing Jemele Hill in any capacity. Hell, we won't even ask her to take down the tweets in question. 

Add it all up and no reprimand in terms of a suspension is coming Hill's way despite her potentially alienating half of ESPN's already-shrinking audience and other on-air talent at the network being punished and even fired for voicing their opinions on non-sports-related topics, most notably commentators Colin Cowherd and Curt Schilling. Clearly, they're petrified at the backlash that would come from Hill supporters/anti-Trumpers. 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Hill's "outrageous comments" were a "fireable offense by ESPN." Whether you agree with that statement or not likely almost entirely depends on how you voted. 

“That is one of the more outrageous comments that anybody could make and certainly is something that is a fireable offense by ESPN,” Sanders said.

Being patently politically correct is also a thing at ESPN now, apparently. 

Just last month, the ESPN apologized for broadcasting a fantasy football auction after some on social media took it to the extreme and compared it to a slave auction. ESPN caved despite, you know, plenty of white guys also being auctioned off in a fantasy football context. In a related story, 80 million Americans participate in fantasy sports each year. 

ESPN also took the TV Land route in removing play-by-play announcer Robert Lee, an Asian-American, from calling a football game involving the University of Virginia because its campus is in Charlottesville. 

What does TV Land have to do with this? If you recall, the channel removed Dukes of Hazzard reruns from its airwaves forever because Bo and Luke Duke owned a car called the General Lee, complete with a replica Confederate Flag on the roof. ESPN took the same — almost too impossible to believe — route with Lee, the announcer. 

Back to Hill, you have to wonder what employees internally think of her getting a pass here when others on the other side of the political spectrum did not. 

Is there a culture of fear at the network's Bristol headquarters? You bet. 

But don't take my word for it: Here's ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady on what the feeling is internally at ESPN in 2017. 

"Many ESPN employees I talked to — including liberals and conservatives, most of whom preferred to speak on background — worry that the company’s politics have become a little too obvious, empowering those who feel as if they’re in line with the company’s position and driving underground those who don’t," wrote Brady earlier this year. 

“If you’re a Republican or conservative, you feel the need to talk in whispers,” one conservative ESPN employee said. “There’s even a fear of putting Fox News on a TV [in the office].” 

As you may have heard, ratings are noticeably down at the Worldwide Leader in Sports. Cord-cutting and unbundling has had an impact, no doubt. 

But so has the network going way left and political as a whole. 

As a homework assignment, just check out the twitter reaction to Hill's comments online today. At least half of those talking about it are fed up with her network and its employees shoving politics down its throat in a place that's supposed to represent escapism via sports from politics. 

Hill was once suspended from ESPN for writing "rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan."

Since that time, she's been awarded hosting gigs on two programs, including the prized SportsCenter co-anchor spot at 6 p.m. 

Has she been empowered for holding an opinion that falls in line with that of the ESPN executives that promote and demote, hire and fire at a moment's notice? 

The answer to that is a slam-dunk. 

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.