Editor's Note: Apologies for the errors in the initial post, folks. It's been updated, with some portions tweaked for clarity.
It was another bad week for ESPN. Controversy erupted when host Jemele Hill tweeted that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist. The network said that this issue had been addressed, and that she realized her actions were inappropriate. Oh, and those tweets don’t reflect the position of ESPN—classic public relations move here. They also didn’t fire her. That’s fine. On its face, what Hill did was not an offense that would warrant termination, but was worthy of a reprimand and a social media torching. It was a stupid remark. We all know that. Then again, Curt Schilling was fired for an offense of a much lesser degree concerning transgender bathrooms.
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
Yet, where it gets into eyeroll territory (again) is what happened to anchor Linda Cohn, who was suspended when she said that politics might be a contributing factor to ESPN’s declining subscription base. She said this in April:
Longtime ESPN anchor Linda Cohn believes the network’s embrace of political issues is at least partially to blame for falling subscription rates.
“That is definitely a percentage of it,” Cohn said, when asked Thursday on New York radio show “Bernie and Sid” if viewers were tuning out because of politics, according to the New York Post. “I don’t know how big a percentage, but if anyone wants to ignore that fact, they’re blind.”
ESPN has lost 10 million subscribers over the past five years as “cord-cutting” allows viewers to cancel their cable subscriptions in favor of online streaming services.
Like I said, ESPN is a network where you can call the president a racist, but get suspended if you criticize the network. Clay Travis of Outkick The Coverage, and a sports analyst for Fox Sports 1, reported on this development earlier this week and got a ton of statements from his sources within the network upon the Hill backlash. One employee said, “I’m tired of pretending this company is not full of s**t” (via Outkick) [emphasis mine]:
…most inside ESPN kept the Cohn story quiet until yesterday, when Jemele Hill received no punishment for Tweeting Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” that Trump was only elected president because he was white and had the support of racists and that Trump’s administration — the cabinet of which features a black man, an Indian woman, an Asian woman, and multiple Jewish people — was “largely…white supremacists.”
At that point the floodgates broke and employee after employee reached out to Outkick to share the Cohn story and other comments. (Outkick granted them anonymity because they all feared being fired if they used their names. Plus, these are the same sources that have consistently been correct about ESPN’s firings, the Robert Lee debacle and now the Linda Cohn suspension.)
Said another, different ESPN personality, “If Jemele can say that and Linda can’t say what she said, what kind of standard actually exists here? There isn’t one. There’s clearly a double standard. If you say things the company agrees with, you don’t get punished. If you say things the company disagrees with, you do get punished. Maybe even fired.”
Another prominent employee who also requested anonymity stated, “If I’d said Obama got elected because he was black is there any way I’d still be employed here? No chance. But Jemele can say Trump got elected because of white racists and no one does anything? They protect the people they agree with politically. They give them better jobs, more money, everyone can see it.”
Another employee recently contacted Outkick and said, “I pretend I’m a Democrat so I can keep my job here. And there are others just like me. We’re like a secret society inside ESPN.”
This isn’t the first time the sports network has stepped on a rake. In August, they reassigned an Asian anchor named Robert Lee from providing coverage of the University of Virginia vs. William & Mary football game because his name was too similar to that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Yes, it seems Asian Confederates are a problem, ESPN. Dear Lord, fellas.
Travis said he has no problem with politics being mentioned in sports talk, though when only liberal ideas can be accepted—there’s a problem. That’s fair. This take on it; not so much:
You're either for social justice or not. And demanding that your thousands of employees remain silent on social justice issues is evil.— KS?????H??s??? (@KStreetHipster) September 16, 2017