The president of ESPN is seeking to put out the forest fire raging over anchor Jemele Hill’s calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” by gently urging everyone at the network to separate sports and politics as well as their personal opinions from the network’s image.
Hoping to end the matter following criticism from the president on Twitter, ESPN president John Skipper issued a Friday afternoon memo addressing what he called the “fundamental principles at ESPN,” according to CNN.
“ESPN is about sports,” he wrote. “And we talk about sports all day every day.
“Of course, sports is intertwined with society and culture, so ‘sticking to sports’ is not so simple,” he wrote. “When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that.”
He then attempted to draw a fine line on the issue of politics.
“ESPN is not a political organization. Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express. At the same time, ESPN has values. We are committed to inclusion and an environment of tolerance where everyone in a diverse work force has the equal opportunity to succeed. We consider this human, not political.
“Consequently,” he wrote, “we insist that no one be denigrated for who they are including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.”
Skipper then drifted into a brief mention of Hill’s case before urging employees to do their utmost for the network.
” … we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN,” he wrote. “At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.
“We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter,” Skipper concluded.
The memo came after a tumultuous week that began when Hill tweeted on Monday that Trump was “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime” and called him a “white supremacist.”
ESPN tried to blunt the emerging outrage by saying she did not speak for the network and that ESPN would address this with her. The National Association of Black Journalists then churned Twitter in support of Hill.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders upped the stakes by saying what Hill did was an offense for which someone ought to be fired.
Hill then responded with a statement regretting only that “my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light.”
That led to a presidential eruption on Twitter.
ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s statement was bad news for the reeling network, one commentator argued.
“This has the potential to make things worse because it shines a bright light on the challenges that the company is having overall and may make some more likely to pay attention to what they’re paying for,” said Stephen Beck, founder and managing partner of the consulting agency cg42.
“The president of the United States tweeting negative things about your brand in an environment where you’re already at risk and you’re already on a downward trend, it’s just not what you want to see happening,” he added.
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