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The network president said it was understandable that employees have strong opinions on issues going on in the country and world, but ESPN has a policy for social media use — strictly sports talk, according to the memo verified by The Hollywood Reporter.
On Monday, Sportscenter co-host Jemele Hill wrote on Twitter that “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” While Hill has not deleted the offending tweet, she has released a statement saying that she apologizes for fostering the perception that she’s speaking for her employer.
Trump even responded to the growing controversy, tweeting Friday that “ESPN should “apologize for untruth.”
“I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN,” Skipper said in the memo. “ESPN is about sports. Last year, we broadcast over 16,000 sports events. We know highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays. And we talk about sports all day every day. Of course, sports is intertwined with society and culture, so ‘sticking to sports’ is not so simple. When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that.”
“ESPN is not a political organization,” Skipper wrote. “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.”
Skipper conceded in the memo that ESPN “employees are citizens and appropriately want to participate in the public discussion.”
However, he added: “That can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view. Given this reality, we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.”
“We had a violation of those standards in recent days and our handling of this is a private matter.”
Skipper concluded: “In light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.”
On Thursday, ESPN denied a ThinkProgress report that the network attempted to keep Hill off the air Wednesday night, but it was unsuccessful when her co-workers refused to go on in her stead.
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.
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