Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Did Jemele Hill violate ESPN's social media policy for calling Donald Trump a 'white supremacist?'

Alex Reimer
September 12, 2017 - 1:51 pm

ESPN’s political editorial guidelines remain murky. Last year, the network issued a memo to employees, advising them to refrain from “political editorializing, personal attacks or ‘drive-by’ comments” regarding then-candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But this April, three months after Trump’s inauguration, the WorldWide Leader opened up its policy. Now, commentators are given leeway to express their views if the topic is “related to a current issue impacting sports.”

That directive is broad, considering almost every major political or social issue impacts athletes in some way. That’s especially the case during NFL season, with players opting to kneel or sit during the national anthem to protest police brutality and other racial injustices.

In an interview with ESPN public editor Jim Brady, Patrick Stiegman, the vice president of global digital content, acknowledged some political topics are unavoidable –– regardless of their relevance to sports.

“We also understand there may occasionally be exceptions that reference important, broader political topics. We just want to ensure those are thoughtful discussions, and meet the other criteria in the guidelines,” he said.

Jemele Hill, who co-hosts “SC:6” with Michael Smith, is one of the most divisive figures on the network. She frequently makes inflammatory political statements, such as when she said it’s "historically accurate" to compare cops to slave patrols.

On Monday, Hill sounded off again, calling President Trump racist in a Twitter exchange. “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” she said.

In a statement, ESPN told Tuesday Hill's comments regarding Trump "do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate."

Whenever Hill, or other ESPN personalities make polarizing statements, the conversation typically turns back to ex-analyst Curt Schilling. ESPN fired the former Red Sox hurler in 2016 for a series of distasteful social media posts, including his sharing of an anti-transgender meme.

The biggest difference between Hill and Schilling is that Hill's points, though bombastic, usually have some basis in fact. Today, black Americans are incarcerated five times more than white Americans, according to a report from the Sentencing Project. This disparity is especially evident when it comes to drug crimes. Drug arrest rates are higher for blacks, even though data shows they're don't use drugs at a higher rate than whites. 

Lableing Trump a white supremacist is an inappropriate stretch. But it is worth noting the President refused to explicitly condemn neo-Nazism and other white nationalist hate groups after Charlottesville. Sebastian Gorka, who served as a White House advisor until last month, has been linked to a Hungarian neo-Nazi group. 

Schilling's transgender post, meanwhile, didn't provide much of a point. Instead, it featured a burly man dressed in drag with the following message written beside him: "Let him in! To the restroom with your daughter or else you're a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving racist bigot who needs to die!"

At a conference in Manhattan over the summer, Hill was unapologetic for mixing sports and politics. “The athletes are dragging us here,” she explained. “I didn’t ask Colin Kaepernick to kneel. He did it on his own. So, was I supposed to act like he didn’t?”

Author's note: this post has been updated to include ESPN's statement, which was released after the article had been published. 

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