The White House has weighed in on ESPN’s latest political controversy, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Jemele Hill’s anti-President Donald Trump tweets “a fireable offense.”
The background: On Monday, Hill, one of the hosts of “SportsCenter,” engaged in some political discussion on Twitter that included the following lines, among many others:
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 12, 2017
That summoned forth both defenders of the president and ESPN’s-gone-liberal standard-bearers:
No way you could say something like that in the media about Obama without backlash or trouble.
— Britt McHenry (@BrittMcHenry) September 12, 2017
On the other side of the political divide, Hill won widespread support from critics of Trump, including Colin Kaepernick, who knows a thing or two about how speaking your mind can cause you trouble in the workplace:
We are with you @jemelehill ✊
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 13, 2017
Most non-agenda-driven media companies recommend their employees keep their political views close to the vest; regardless of one’s feelings on the president, calling Trump a “white supremacist” is a pretty forthright declaration. That led ESPN to issue an apology:
ESPN Statement on Jemele Hill: pic.twitter.com/3kfexjx9zQ
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017
At Wednesday’s White House news conference, a reporter asked Sanders about Hill’s comments in the context of the White House’s announced push for more diversity within its own walls. The exchange is below:
“I’m not sure if [Trump is] aware [of the comments], but I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, uh, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN,” Sanders said. She further added that the president has reached out to the African-American community, dismissing as unproductive “outrageous statements like that one.”
While Sanders’ “outrage” at the comment is understandable, given the seriousness of the accusation, calling for the firing of a private individual, under the auspices of the White House, for comments critical of the president is an overreach, both unnecessary and disturbing. (If it helps to cut through the partisan haze and see the larger issue at stake, go ahead and imagine a Democratic administration calling for the firing of a Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh … and then imagine how those two would react to such a call.)
At this point, wishing for ESPN, or anyone remotely engaged in 2017 America, to “stick to sports” is as quaint and naive as wishing we could all just get along.
Update: Sanders’ comments have been transcribed to reflect her verbatim statement.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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