Jemele Hill once again finds herself in a firestorm of controversy after the ESPN host unleashed a series of tweets suggesting fans should boycott the companies that advertise with the Dallas Cowboys. Her tweets were in response to team owner Jerry Jones’ recent promise to bench any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem.
After ESPN levied a two-week suspension on Hill for supposedly violating its social media guidelines, Donald Trump decided it was an opportune time to pounce on the Sportscenter host, who has become a major thorn in the president’s side in recent weeks.
“With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have “tanked,” in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” Trump tweeted shortly after the suspension was announced.
The tweet, which featured all of Trump’s hallmarks—a spelling error, a glaring misuse of quotation marks and at least one factual inaccuracy—only served to embolden Hill and her supporters, while casting ESPN in an unflattering light.
Ever since forcing Hill to apologize in September, after she called the president a white supremacist on Twitter, the media giant has been on an island, struggling to navigate a new cultural landscape where the line between sports and politics is increasingly blurred. The company was slammed for not initially backing Hill, who by all accounts did nothing wrong besides tell the truth about our president. The network also faced the wrath of the White House, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested ESPN fire Hill.
At the time, ESPN mustered the guts not to give in to the White House’s chilling demand, but apparently Hill targeting the highest profile owner of the NFL’s highest profile team was too much for the network to stomach. Might it have something to do with the fact that ESPN relies on its partnership with the NFL for a huge chunk of its annual revenue? Just a hunch.
Hill’s suspension is the most glaring example of ESPN’s current predicament. If anyone from the network is qualified to give their opinion on this specific moment in time—when race, politics and sports have never been more entangled—it’s Hill. As an African American woman working in a male-dominated industry that caters to a predominantly white audience, Hill is no stranger to systematic oppression. As she rose through the ranks at ESPN, first as a columnist and then as an on-air personality, Hill has never shied away from expressing her opinion about uncomfortable topics.
Even after ESPN slapped her on the wrist for her initial tweets, Hill stood by them, and only apologized for how they negatively impacted her employer. But Hill has been speaking out against racism her entire career, so her refusal to acquiesce here has come as no surprise to those who know her best. By suspending Hill, ESPN once again opened the door for the racist and sexist trolls on social media to spit bile in her direction, and that includes our president. But if anyone is equipped to handle the onslaught, it’s Jemele Hill.