The NFL has a death grip on ESPN, Jemele Hill pointed it out

The NFL has a death grip on ESPN, Jemele Hill pointed it out
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ESPN suspended TV host Jemele Hill for two weeks due to a second violation of the company’s social media guidelines. This violation resulted from a tweet where Hill opined on Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ directive that any player who kneeled during the National Anthem would not play.

While Hill’s comments suggesting that advertisers are the “key” to changing the mind of Jones on disciplinary actions were not nefarious or inflammatory, ESPN made the decision to suspend the embattled host who faced criticism weeks prior for calling Trump a “white supremacist.” While every network has the ability to terminate an employee based on their contractual guidelines, what cannot be lost on us is the decision to let go of Hill had nothing to do with the “social media guidelines,” but everything to do with politics and advertising dollars.

To the naked eye, Hill’s suspension may seem like the run of the mill, employer, employee disagreement. However, the details are far deeper.

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ESPN currently has a $15 billion contract with the NFL to broadcast Monday Night Football. That means that ESPN is contractually obligated to ensure that the NFL not only survives but thrives. Therefore, any attempt to undermine, destroy, or damage the NFL and its players will not only harm ESPN but cost the company billions of dollars in financial losses.

Hill’s tweet hinted at actions that could be detrimental to the network. Furthermore, Hill’s tweets were in direct response to the actions of Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones. In case you may have been sleeping under a rock for the past 18 years, Rodger Goodell may be the commissioner of the league, but Jerry Jones is the mayor.

A formidable opponent both on and off the field, Jones has held a reputation for firing Cowboys who fans vehemently supported and hiring some of the most controversial players in the league. Jones is known for his high-stakes attitude that stops short of nothing to ensure a Super Bowl win for his team.

Additionally, while Hill may have been displeased with the decision by Jones to bench players who decided to kneel during the national anthem, any attempt to boycott a team (as could be interpreted by her tweet), is a boycott of the NFL as a whole because the NFL shares a TV deal with every team in the league. That’s right, based on the symbiotic relationship between the league and the teams, if one team gets boycotted, the entire league will fill the impact of this boycott.  

And if you are wondering where the politics come into this, let us not forget the bromance between Jones and Trump. In 2016, Jones was one of several NFL team owners who donated to Trump’s inauguration with a staggering $1 million contribution. Furthermore, Trump reportedly called Jones prior to him taking a collective knee with his players on the field. While we are on that topic, why was it okay for Jones to kneel two weeks ago, but now enforces policy to prohibit his players from continuing to do the same? The hypocrisy seems grotesquely blatant.

Further, Trump tweeted a praise of Jones after learning that the Cowboy’s owner had instituted a policy against players kneeling on the field. To add gas to the political fire, Trump tweeted on the topic of Hill’s firing blaming her for the low ratings of ESPN. If the suspension of Hill was not a political move, it became one once the president used the power of the highest office in the land to weigh in on her suspension.  

The irony in all of this is many of the same people who were kicking and screaming in disapproval about players kneeling on the field and calling for the divorce of politics from the NFL are now the same people applauding the suspension of Hill. It appears that it is okay to embed politics into sports when it results in the firing of a social activist, but it is not fair to do so when it brings awareness to social injustices within our society. What we are witnessing and what Hill has fallen victim to is the identity politics of using the flag as a political straw man to ignite Trump’s base coupled with the potential of losing millions of dollars in advertising.

While we may dispute the reasoning for Hill’s suspension for weeks to come, what cannot be denied is ESPN’s suspension of Jemele Hill is yet another example of prioritizing business dollars over the civil rights and liberties of those who are treated unjustly within our society. We have to decide whether we want public figures to use their platforms to advocate change or just sit back and be complacent as the world unravels before them.

However, before we say our public figures should be complacent, remember, we elected a reality star as the president whose primary goal was to be an advocate of change. We cannot have it both ways. Either we are all in this together or we are not.

Wendy Osefo, Ph.D., is a political commentator, Democratic strategist, and professor. She is the former director of Family and Community Engagement for the Obama administration's Anti-poverty Initiative, DC Promise Neighborhood (DCPNI). Wendy regularly appears on Fox News and TV One as a political analyst. Follow her on Twitter @WendyOsefo.