ESPN suspended Jemele Hill after tweets urged boycotting Dallas Cowboys when owner Jerry Jones warned players not to 'take a knee'
Jeff Pearlman: Trump, who had 5 military deferments, is bullying NFL. ESPN fearfully caved to pressure on Hill, whose job is to opine
Editor’s Note: Jeff Pearlman is the author of seven books, including his most recent, “Gunslinger: The Remarkable, Improbable, Iconic Life of Brett Favre.” His forthcoming book is about the history of the USFL. You can follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast, “Two Writers Slinging Yang.” The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Jemele Hill has one job responsibility: To opine on the world of sports.
She is not employed by ESPN to solve climate change.
She is not employed by ESPN to waltz with Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
She is not employed by ESPN to make you a scrambled egg, to repair your muffler, to entertain you with stories of the olden days with Chaka Khan and Bob Hope.
No. Jemele Hill uses television and social media to opine on sports.
And she does it very well.
That’s why ESPN’s decision to suspend her for two weeks is so … pathetic. So … misguided. So … cowardly.
In case you have missed this story: on Sunday night Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said that any of his players who “disrespects the flag” will not dress for games. Now, whether one agrees or disagrees with Jones (I disagree vehemently), it’s a position that is indisputably up for debate and discussion. Hence, Hill (like hundreds of thousands of others on social media) weighed in, firing off the following five Tweets:
Tweet 1 – If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players.
Tweet 2 – This play always work. Change happens when advertisers are impacted. If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement, boycott his advertisers.
Tweet 3 – Or, how about not patronizing the advertisers who support the Cowboys? You can watch and do that, right?
Tweet 4 – If the rationale behind JJ’s stance is keeping the fanbase happy, make him see that he is underestimated how all of his fanbase feels
Tweet 5 – Cowboys have a huge national following. Lot of black & brown folks are Cowboys fans. What if they turned their backs on them?
More than a day later, I keep waiting for the sinister sixth tweet – the one where she calls for death to America’s first born or urges children to stab, then eat, their family hamsters. Surely, ESPN had a strong reason for the suspension. Surely, Hill crossed an ugly line that no righteous journalist should ever cross. Surely …
There is no sixth tweet.
What we’re witnessing here is a pathetic step-by-step bullying chain that would make any elementary school teacher send the tykes to the principal’s office.
Step 1: President Donald Trump (a man who got five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, and has a history of mocking POWs who did serve and also Gold Star families) latches on to the complaint of some, that players’ actions disrespect the military, and decides that he too believes that NFL players peacefully, quietly kneeling during the anthem are somehow defiling America.
Step 2: He blasts the league, then ships Mike Pence to Indianapolis (taxpayer price tag: an estimated $242,500) to make a show out of storming from the 49ers-Colts game in faux outrage.
Step 3: Jones, a $1 million Trump backer who one week earlier took a knee alongside his men before the anthem and then locked arms with them as it was played, sees the tide turning, and issues his proclamation.
Step 4: Hill, my former colleague and one of the most socially conscious professionals in sports media, calls out the nonsense in a sane and relatively muted manner.
To be clear, this is pure nonsense.
The Dallas owner won’t allow anyone who takes a knee during the “Star-Spangled Banner” to be a Cowboy. He will, however, willingly sign an abuser of women, as he did in 2015 with defensive end Greg Hardy. He will, also willingly, sign a man arrested for assault and felony vandalism, as he did Pacman Jones in 2008. But, hey, kneeling during the anthem? That’s un-American.
Truth be told, I expect Donald Trump to behave as a dolt and Mike Pence a lemming; (Trump’s predictable response came on Twitter early this morning: “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!”)
I’m also neither shocked nor dumbfounded by Jerry Jones – a man whose head is swelled as a large as his stadium – acting like the egomaniacal oaf we know and tolerate.
As a former ESPN.com columnist, however, I am once again let down by the network’s unwillingness to back an employee. Over the past few months, Hill has stood as a proud and important voice against a power-hungry President who uses slimy dog whistle tactics to mix hate and class with venom. She speaks (and tweets) truth about the transparent racism in athletics and politics; makes points that need to be made.
ESPN, meanwhile, cowers like a cornered bunny. It fears the President. It fears the NFL. It fears backlash and, of course, it fears lost revenues.
What it should fear most, however, is the inevitable conclusion to this episode.