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Jemele Hill, who had deemed President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” on Twitter, was suspended by ESPN on Monday.
“Jemele Hill has been suspended for two weeks for a second violation of our social media guidelines. She previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet. In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such actions would have consequences. Hence this decision,” reads an ESPN statement.
It appears Hill was suspended for what was perceived as advocating for an NFL advertising boycott Sunday night. But on Monday morning, she tweeted: “Just so we’re clear: I’m not advocating a NFL boycott. But an unfair burden has been put on players in Dallas & Miami w/ anthem directives.”
ESPN had no further comment other than the statement. Hill’s co-host, Michael Smith, will sit out Monday episode, THR has learned. He will return on Tuesday night’s episode.
Following the network’s decision, Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network denounced ESPN in a statement: “We consider it outrageous that Jemele Hill was suspended by ESPN. She has the right to tell people that they ought to let advertisers know how they feel, since they are the consumers. While she didn’t call for a direct boycott, it’s not off the table for us in the civil rights community.”
Hill’s suspension comes a little more than week after she wrote an essay for The Undefeated, in which the SportsCenter anchor said she let her bosses and colleagues down, and for that she felt awful.
“Twitter wasn’t the place to vent my frustrations because, fair or not, people can’t or won’t separate who I am on Twitter from the person who co-hosts the 6 p.m. SportsCenter,” Hill wrote then. “Twitter also isn’t a great place to have nuanced, complicated discussions, especially when it involves race.”
However, Hill did not take back anything she said about Trump.
“Also, let me be clear about something else: My criticisms of the president were never about politics. In my eyes, they were about right and wrong,” she wrote. “I love this country. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t want it to be better.”
Hill’s comments about the president made national headlines and were even addressed by the White House, with a spokeswoman saying the remarks should be a fireable offense.
Those who stuck up for Hill pointed out that Trump, while hosting NBC’s The Apprentice, was wildly critical of President Barack Obama, specifically questioning whether he was born in the U.S. There were some reports that ESPN looked to take Hill off the air during the controversy, but the network pushed back on those, saying they weren’t true.
On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted it was Hill who, he claims, brought ESPN ratings down.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
In a memo to all employees on Sept. 15, ESPN president John Skipper said Hill’s tweet violated company policy, which was essentially: Stick to sports on social media.
“ESPN is not a political organization,” Skipper wrote in the memo. “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, we insist that no one be denigrated for who they are including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.”
Hill in her essay said her Twitter issue was a “lesson learned,” but she would still speak her mind.
“I do know that we’re clearly living in a time of blurred lines,” she wrote. “The president’s recent inflammatory attacks on NFL players, his choice to disinvite the Golden State Warriors to the White House, are just the latest examples of silence being impossible. This is not a time for retreating comfortably to a corner.”
There was an allegation that ESPN tried to keep Hill off the air after her tweets started a firestorm. ThinkProgress, citing sources within ESPN, reported the network allegedly attempted to keep her off the air by asking Michael Eaves and Elle Duncan to serve as fill-ins for the show. The two both refused, according to the report. Co-host Michael Smith refused to do the show without Hill, according to the report.
The network pushed back against that report. “We never asked any other anchors to do last night’s show. Period,” ESPN said in a statement.
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