When I read that ESPN suspended Jemele Hill for two weeks for violating the sports network’s social media policy, I knew exactly which tweets they were referencing.
As reported on Sunday, in response to Dallas Cowboys owner issuing an ultimatum to players — stand for the national anthem or be sidelined — Hill tweeted, “If you strongly reject what Jerry Jones said, the key is his advertisers. Don’t place the burden squarely on the players.”
Of course, Hill’s tweets are no stranger to spurring national dialogue, but it is one thing to label the president of the United States what he is (a white supremacist), and another to create the perception that you are playing with the house’s money. On the following morning, Hill clarified her comments on Twitter, noting that she was not calling for a boycott of the NFL. That was not enough for ESPN, who in a statement said “Jemele Hill has been suspended for two weeks for a second violation of our social media guidelines.”
Michael Smith, Hill’s co-anchor on SC6, will not be on the air tonight. It is a decision that Smith and ESPN have described as “mutual.” The same instance of solidarity from Hill’s co-anchor ought to be displayed from us, her community. One imagines Hill knew the risk in tweeting sentiments that would surely upset the National Football League. Still, there is a whiff of double standard so odious that no one ought to be comfortable with the manner in which Hill has been treated by her employer.
Take for instance another notable ESPN anchor, Stephen A. Smith, and his 2014 suspension. During an episode of ESPN2’s First Take, Smith discussed the NFL’s two-game suspension of then Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in response of charges he assaulted his now-wife. Smith faulted women for their role in incidents related to domestic violence, arguing, “Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong action … we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Smith was called out by another ESPN personality, and after ultimately apologizing, was suspended for one week. The NFL’s laissez faire attitude regarding domestic abuse from its player has long been criticized and that scrutiny has only heightened by the reality that Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against systemic racism has left him unemployed while plenty of women beaters in the league continue to have jobs. Hill’s remarks were ultimately about advocating for NFL players’ right to protest the racism their fame and fortune do not preclude them from experiencing.
Yet, much like Kaepernick, her punishment is far more severe than someone guilty of far more nefarious speech.
Then there is the president, who on Tuesday morning, directly targeted Hill.
There are many things wrong with his remarks. For starters, there is Sweet Potato Saddam’s continued struggle to master homophones. Moreover, I doubt anyone in the industry outside of the dude who used to be on Charles in Charge speaks to him. But on a more serious note, this is the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world with the biggest audience on the planet, using his social media account to publicly attack a single employee for her right to free speech. The con artist who schemed his way to the White House with the tag team of racists and a hostile foreign power’s propaganda machine has no respect for democracy and this is yet another dangerous example of such a terrifying reality.
I’ve seen some note that his targeting of Hill has its benefits (i.e. he will only make her all the more famous, and thus, her platform all the more potent). Sure, but there is an imminent danger with respect to being a target by a vindictive, racist with autocratic aspirations singling out a sole individual — a Black woman, no less. A bigot with a bully pulpit as prominent as the United States’ presidency is a terror, and knowing this, he chooses his targets wisely. For him, attacking a Black woman over white supremacists is a pathetic ploy to help stabilize sinking poll numbers that were already piss poor to begin with.
Regardless of what one makes of Hill’s tweets, it’s painfully clear that a sports anchor that happens to be a Black woman faces harsher repercussions for her tweets than the hateful buffoon presently occupying The White House. Why? Likewise, why does a Black man who faults women for the abusive behavior of the men in their lives get a shorter suspension than his Black woman counterpart for merely exercising her right to free speech and suggesting others do the same? And why does this Black woman face harsher condemnation than the likes of Mike Ditka, who just this week, made the almost comically stupid comment that there has been no oppression in the United States within the last century? Then ask yourself why is that Mike Ditka never received the same punishment for berating former President Obama, parroting the president during the campaign, or any other of his racist antics?
Of course, we all know the answer why. A racist, patriarchal hierarchy makes that all too clear. These people want our bodies and faces, not our minds and politics. This is especially true if you are both Black and a woman. If ESPN truly believes in fairness, they’ll take a good look at their own history and realize it is Jemele Hill presently on the right side of it, not them.