Jemele Hill, co-host of the ESPN show “SC6,” was suspended from ESPN for two weeks after a tweet that called for Dallas Cowboys advertisers to pull their ads in a boycott of the team. Hill’s tweet was in response to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who ruled that any player who “disrespected the flag” would be barred from playing time.
The NFL has been a hotbed of controversy in recent weeks. Increasing numbers of players are joining the protest started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and are taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before every NFL game. Kaepernick stated that this nonviolent protest was started to draw attention to killings of black men by police and the mistreatment of minorities in America.
These protests have become the subject of massive national controversy. President Trump himself denounced the protests, calling for the firing of any player who kneeled. Jemele Hill responded with several tweets, including one that stated, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/other white supremacists.”
ESPN did not discipline Hill despite backlash from angry fans and the White House, but suspended her two weeks later for her comments regarding the Cowboys advertisers.
Hill was clearly in violation of ESPN’s social media policy, which forbids “inflammatory rhetoric” and “overt partisanship.” ESPN was absolutely within its rights to suspend her. Whether they should have is a different issue. ESPN has always tried to “stick to sports” and provide a supposedly politics-free haven for its millions of viewers – but in our increasingly unstable, volatile and dangerous political climate, preventing politics from creeping into sports is nearly impossible.
The truth is that sports have always been infused with politics. The playing of the National Anthem, giant American flags being spread across fields, fighter planes flying over stadiums – all these displays have been sending an overtly political message of American nationalism without protest for years. Those who react with vitriol to the protests in the NFL aren’t angry at politics in sports, but are instead angry at politics that challenge their views and make them uncomfortable. Jemele Hill is not alone. Hill is giving a voice to Americans who have been oppressed and pushed aside for years. ESPN’s disciplinary actions against her are an attempt to enforce a status quo that is rapidly becoming unacceptable to the millions of marginalized Americans it has harmed.
Hill may be fired after her suspension ends, but Hill, Kaepernick and the dozens of NFL players who have joined in on the protest are only the beginning of a powerful movement. ESPN is a huge corporation and has full right to police its employees and its message as they see fit.
It is deeply unsettling, though, that those who protest racial injustice and inequality are suppressed while displays of materialism, nationalism and militarism are accepted. As much as some may wish for a world that is comfortable and unchallenging, the oppressed cannot – and will not – stay that way forever.