ESPN spent this week caving to the most cynically motivated people on the fringes of sports media and their manufactured outrage at SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill’s accurate comments about the president. Thus the network finds itself in the midst of a culture war that’s activated every reactionary attack dog out there and even reached all the way up to the White House. ThinkProgress reported last night that ESPN had tried to get Hill off the air last night and replace her with another black anchor, and although ESPN denied that report, another ThinkProgress report this afternoon revealed a vigorous argument within ESPN regarding how to respond to critics.
Deadspin has obtained chat logs from an internal forum used by ESPN employees, in which a series of ESPNers have argued over the past few days about Hill’s case and, more broadly, how much employees should be permitted to share their political opinions online, the degree to which ESPN should be political, and the cynically engineered perception that the network is too liberal. We have anonymized the employees, who range from off-camera assistants to senior staff. The posts have also been transcribed below.
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Update (6:21 p.m. ET): We ran the screenshots through OCR software to provide text transcriptions. You can find the resulting text below, listed in chronological order and divided by conversation thread. The colors correspond to the blocks of color we used, in a series of screenshots, to obscure the identities of individual ESPN employees. The colors are consistent, so “Red” refers to the same employee throughout the messages. If you see any transcription errors, shoot me an email.
Black on September 13 at 7:08 PM
Really? You had a talk with her and that’s the punishment? With all the other firings and suspensions in the past for much less, this is the best ESPN can do? Talent should be held accountable for their actions as they are the face of the company. Britt McHenry got suspended a week for mouthing off to a cashier. Bill Simmons, Dan Le Batard , Stephen A Smith and Keith Olbermann all suspended for lesser offences. Tony Kornheiser got two weeks suspension for talking about clothing. But racial insults to the President are okay? On the positive, Ms Hill has the support of Colin Kaepernick and Kathy Griffin. So she has that going for her.
Teal responding to Black
This is the first time I’m seeing so many people have things to say. In the past when other errors were made by others there were crickets in this comment section. It ‘s clear what side some people are on. Our own president talked about our past president but that never stopped him from getting a vote.
Red responding to Black
The “President” racially insults the citizens of this country DAILY and is still employed. And, Jemele, has the support of MANY, not just two people!! What is your point again??
Dark Purple on September 14 at 3:25 AM
Taken straight from the employee handbook ...
3. Company platforms are intended to foster productivity, efficiency and teamwork. Employees should avoid unnecessary or unproductive arguments and refrain from discussing sensitive or inflammatory subjects that are not related to work, such as politics or religion.
1. Employees’ online activities conducted on non-Company platforms, but which relate to the Company’s business interests, also are subject to Company policies, including this Employee Policy Manual and the Standards of Business Conduct.
The Company provides certain social media networks and other online publishing and discussion tools to allow employees to communicate and collaborate internally. When using these platforms, or engaging in other online activities that relate to the Company’s business interests, employees must comply with Company policy.
also from the Standards of Business Conduct section ...
I. Integrity: Our Standards
We do what’s right and take responsibility for our actions to protect our guests, our audiences, our consumers and our shareholders.
Who is Required to Follow the Standards
Our Standards apply to all Cast Members and employees (including temporary, part time and seasonal employees) as well as others who are identified with our Company as acting on its behalf.
Light Purple on September 14 at 1:49 PM
Where was all this outrage a few weeks ago?
Light Green responding to Light Purple
HELLO!!!! Not one person was on ITK regarding that incident because I don’t even remember there being an ITK update on that incident. If there was I stand corrected, but considering I directly work with that particular staff, there was no outrage. It was swept under the rug like it didn’t exist. 45 has called people out their name on social media and I still have the screenshots of him calling President Obama a racist on twitter, more than once. It’s a slippery slope indeed, and it’s disheartening.
Dark Gray responding to Light Green
Can you clarify the incident to which you are referring? Thank you.
Dark Green on September 14 at 4:32 PM
My comment from the newer post:
As these comments evidence, none of this is easy. There are strong opinions that exist not just publicly, but also among our employees and we appreciate your contributing to the conversation in this respectful and open way.
Light Green on September 14 at 9:48 AM
Apparently the line is totally blurred on what is an ESPN platform and what is not. Her personal twitter doesn’t contain an ESPN handle nor was it given to her by ESPN, so I’m trying to understand how she was violating “company interest” by talking about Donald Trump. What company interest do we have with the White House? Politics don’t seem to matter when we allow it in our content regularly and we didn’t seem to care when we hosted town halls with President Obama (which I loved BTW). So exactly how was she violating company policy? She didn’t once mention ESPN in her comments nor did she imply she was speaking on behalf of ESPN. It’s awfully funny how we have employees who get arrested, mugshots plastered all over social media and news outlets, and the statement we get from the company is “we’re looking into the matter.” Nothing more, nothing less. But Jemele uses her personal platform to speak out on how she feels as a black woman in America (where I can certainly relate) and the company issues statements distancing themselves? I am disappointed in ESPN, as much as I love this company and love working here, that we care more about the perception of someone’s words than someone’s criminal action. A simple disclaimer such as, “The tweets of Ms. Hill do not represent ESPN or it’s political views; however, we stand behind Ms. Hill’s right to express her views and opinions on her personal platform as an American citizen,” would have sufficed. There is no rationale or company policy to support this and again, I expected better.
Red responding to Light Green
You should have written the PR response! 😊
Light Green responding to Red
Maybe I should have lol. #OliviaPope
Dark Blue on September 14 at 10:19 AM
There was an article that was written about 5 years ago on the ESPN website concerning former Knicks player Jeremy Lin entitled ‘Chink in the Armor’. I have to admit, the headline was a lapse in judgment (admittedly so) by a former employee, who was promptly fired for what was viewed as having a potential racist tone. The writer of the piece apologized profusely and I sincerely believe that he meant no ill will or was in any manner attempting a racist pun (however he was still fired).
Turn the clock ahead 5 years and as a company we are allowing someone to use terms such as ‘white supremacist’, calling the President of the United States (the leader of our country) a ‘bigot,’ without much more than a slap on the wrist. While I agree in the amendment of freedom of speech—I believe that people with a platform (such as Jemele) should be using it to lift people up and turn negatives into positives. No matter what you think of President Trump, why not take the higher road and use your talents to try and make this country a better place to live and this company a better place to work? Too many people take advantage of what the freedom of speech actually means and take it as their podium to complain and spew garbage.
Overall, I am very disappointed that the company did not take a more aggressive stance against what was said. Hopefully it is not too late, as I find it difficult to respect policies that are not consistent from case-to-case.
Yellow responding to Dark Blue
Was Jemele formally writing on behalf of ESPN? No. That person was racially insensitive. Jemele was simply stating her opinion as others do on social media every single day. As you are doing here. Should you get fired for that? Of course not.
Dark Blue responding to Yellow
What I was trying to get across is what the ESPN writer wrote was allegedly a mistake that was taken into a different context than what he intended. What Jamele wrote was very intentional and obviously how she feels. I cannot fault her for how she feels about what she stated. However I do believe that anything that an employee of ESPN writes on social media (and as you pointed out, my opinions on this forum) are up for scrutiny and can be seen as representing the company. If I slandered someone or made rationally insensitive comments (which, in my opinion, she did) — I would expect actions to be taken.
I see social media as an extremely powerful tool - if used wisely, we can learn from one another and grow together. In cases such as these, it causes more of a divide and can tear us apart.
Pink on September 14 at 5:15 PM
When Hank Williams Jr. was being interviewed by Fox News, was he speaking for ESPN or speaking on an ESPN platform?
When Curt Schilling posted a cartoon on Facebook, was he speaking for ESPN or speaking on an ESPN platform?
I’m actually stunned that there are people willing to defend her because her message above is clearly not an apology, it was a double down. And there are roughly 63 million people who voted for and support the president , and I’m willing to bet that they’re not happy being called white supremacists. I’m certainly not. It’s offensive. And we’re going to lose even more viewers as a result. How does this just keep getting worse?
Orange responding to Pink
My better sense is to assume that no one cares about what I think, but I agree with your comment. Whether you support the president or don’t, the fact is that ESPN’s brand suffers when these happen.
I follow ESPN on social media for sports. I watch it for sports and sports commentary . On social media I see in almost every post, droves of comments about how we get involved politically and lean one way over another. Trolls maybe? But these sentiments combined with our loss of subscribers is not helped when these happen. Could this effect future distribution deals as we try to get carried by DMVPDs? Who knows, but it doesn’t help.
On a positive note, when we did the Ocho, I was hard pressed to find comments that bashed us. The comments were fun and on topic, praising us for showcasing a varied array of sports. While viewership wise it didn’t do well, I think it helped our brand, and I hope we continue to do things like that.
We have outlets that can venture Outside The Lines 😊 but the viewer expects that from that shows angle, even E:60.
But when SportsCenter inadvertently does it, or ESPN’s brand (or a perceived spokesperson for the brand) I think it’s damaging.
Green on September 15 at 10:35 AM:
Regardless of how you fee l about the content of Jemele’s tweets, the fact is that because of her forward facing role at ESPN, anything she says or writes will be considered by the public to represent ESPN. That goes for anyone who has a forward facing role.
What’s disappointed me most over the last month is how often ESPN has made news, rather than reporting it. In today’s overly political environment, that’s not good for us. Although I’m clearly not in a position to tell our talent how they should communicate, I would encourage t hem to think carefully about what and how they communicate, and its impact on the company. Although it’s been overused, Herm Edwards’ quote about “think before hitting send” never had more meaning than now ...
Red responding to Green
The same should be said for 45. He is “supposed” to be the forward face and representation of the United States. What saddens me most is how ESPN has made themselves look to the Nation with a “for sale” sign around a specific group of people’s neck, on their own network. Any repercussions? Anyone reprimanded publicly? No. Where was the assembly line of support on ITK about this?
Green responding to Red
[Red], we can’t control what the President does with his communications, and his job status/security is a political, not business, issue. While I find POTUS’ behavior reprehensible (and that’s being kind), if I were a forward facing ESPN employee, I would be very careful in stating my views on his performance, b/c regardless of the forum/venue I stated such views, they will be interpreted by someone as my speaking on ESPN’s behalf. This is clearly not fair, but it’s reality.
While the Constitution guarantees that the government can’t prohibit free speech, such freedoms don’t necessarily apply to private businesses. Remember that last month Google fired an employee for his views on women in technology. Whether or not you, I or anyone else agreed/disagreed with his opinions, no one disputes that Google had the right to terminate his employment (whether Google should have done so is a debate for another time ...) .
What we have to remember is that b/c of ESPN’s position in business, media, and culture, there are numerous folks/organizations who want nothing better than to take a piece of our hides. Our talent especially have to keep this in mind with every interaction they have. Again, not fair, but reality.
Red responding to Green
It depends on who is on the “chopping block.” As we can see. And “fair” is no where to bee seen. Reality. So are you here representing, Google and the Government since you are speaking on their behalf. Just wondering. “Fair” question. Thanks for sharing and responding!! Have a great weekend!
Pink on September 15 at 10:52 AM
We have no control over what POTUS does. None. The best we can do is, like [Green] said, report the news and stop MAKING news. Your opinions on POTUS have absolutely no bearing on the discussion at hand. This is a business. Businesses need to be politically agnostic or they risk alienating large swaths of the country whether you agree with them or not.
Red on September 15 at 10:13 AM
If every word was scrutinized from ESPN employees on Social Media, this campus would be empty. Social Media, is a powerful tool as you stated and 45 uses it as a platform to abuse his power by spewing ignorance and less than intelligent banter to ridicule, insult , humiliate and dehumanize the citizens of this country on a DAILY basis, yet he is still in office. Are the employees of ESPN any different by using their freedom of speech to publicly attack Jemele on the company platform ITK, and the internet? Where is their integrity? Should they lose their job?
Also, copying and pasting sections from the handbook is a joke, unless you adhere to these rules 100% yourself. However; Jemele, was acting on behalf of herself, NOT the company and has taken responsibility for her actions and is supported by ESPN’s guest, audiences, consumers, cast members and employees. Thanks for pointing that out! Great job! Did you see the tweet above. #FACTS #NOTALTERNATIVE
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