Jemele Hill Suspended By ESPN For Social Media Violations; Where Does Network Go Now? [Opinion]

Once again, ESPN anchor Jemele Hill has found herself in hot water for her social media takes – and this time, it may have her on the hot seat.

A month after Hill was nearly suspended for calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” and standing by her claims, The Worldwide Leader In Sports today announced a two-week suspension for the 41-year-old Michigan native. Hill was not suspended for the first incident, as the Inquisitr explained at the time, even after White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders called the act a “fireable offense.”

In a statement released by the network on Twitter – the same platform that Hill uses for her political views – ESPN explained social media was again the catalyst for her suspension.

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.”

While ESPN has not yet announced what Hill exactly did to violate the company’s social media guidelines, some have pointed to a “tweetstorm” from the veteran anchor on Monday regarding NFL protests as a potential cause. In response to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones commenting that any of his players who did not stand for the anthem would not be allowed to play and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross ordering all players to either stand on the sidelines or in the tunnel.

Hill then defended her tweets on Monday afternoon, hours before the suspension was announced.

As of Monday evening, Hill has yet to comment on her suspension. Michael Smith, her co-anchor on SC6, has not released an official statement either. ESPN has not announced who will replace Hill over the next two weeks, though the company may be inclined to go with Michael Eaves or Elle Duncan, two black hosts that had been potential replacements for Hill during the first controversy, as reported last month.

Normally, companies will keep their press releases fairly neutral when announcing a firing or suspension, but to say she “previously acknowledged letting her colleagues and company down with an impulsive tweet” speaks volumes. ESPN has been down this road once with Hill and now, less than a month later, they’re back at square one after she essentially encouraged fans to stop the NFL and its sponsors from making money.

Regardless of your feeling on Hill, Trump, or the NFL protests, what the incident and suspension come down to is this:

  • Hill violated the company’s social media policy and set off a major firestorm for the network that resulted in enough attention to where the White House responded.
  • ESPN defended her but warned her, in essence saying, “We have your back, but you need to make better decisions or we cannot keep protecting you.”
  • Knowing this, Hill still took to Twitter and violated the company’s policy again, therefore earning a suspension based on the rules put into place by President John Skipper and the network.
Jemele Hill, after criticizing NFL owners Jerry Jones and Stephen Ross for their views on the national anthem, has been suspended for two weeks.

Now, ESPN has a dilemma on their hands in regards to Hill’s future. Would firing Hill be overkill after suspending her for two weeks, or does ESPN have a valid case because she violated the same policy for the second time? For what it’s worth, part of ESPN’s social media policy includes the following tidbit regarding staffers making their political views known.

“The topic should be related to a current issue impacting sports. This condition may vary for content appearing on platforms with broader editorial missions — such as The Undefeated, FiveThirtyEight and espnW. Other exceptions must be approved in advance by senior editorial management.”

Hill did speak on a current issue impacting sports, but she did it on social media and not one of the following approved sites. If ESPN is issuing a suspension with the reasoning of her violating a social media policy, that means she did not get anything approved.

Then, there’s the publicity factor. How much negative publicity does ESPN see themselves getting when Hill, a black woman, tweets the following?

So, what happens now? Michael McCann, Sports Illustrated’s legal expert, took on the debate about firing Hill last month and came to the following conclusion.

“ESPN could argue the ‘working relationship’ between ESPN and Hill was damaged by her tweets describing Trump as a ‘bigot’ and a ‘white supremacist.’ The tweets sparked a public controversy that ESPN clearly did not welcome—the network described Hill’s statements as ‘inappropriate.’… Along those lines, Hill’s use of Twitter appears to have violated ESPN’s social media policy, at least based on a statement by ESPN president John Skipper. Hill’s ‘job performance’ presumably includes her willingness to follow company policy. To that end, even Hill acknowledged that her remarks ‘painted ESPN in an unfair light.'”

At this point, I get the feeling ESPN and the NFL each want to move on from the anthem protests except for when they’re news, such as Jerry Jones’ comments. However, what seems to be the difference between commenting on news and making news is what Hill struggles with, in ESPN’s eyes, and why they’re forced to take action. When you have an anchor responding to other Twitter users and engaging them the way she did rather than simply ignoring them, ESPN as a company has to do what they believe is right for the brand.

Shortly after the suspension’s announcement, fellow ESPN anchor Cari Champion backed Hill on Twitter.

When Bill Simmons was let go by the network in 2015, it came after he provoked the network into making that call by going against their guidelines. ESPN-on-ESPN fratricide in the form of attacking Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg? Check. Daring ESPN to fire him with his comments about Roger Goodell? Check. While the Simmons and Hill cases are much different from one another, the same basic issue remains: both went against what their company demanded from their employees. Simmons wanted respect and a departure from ESPN; Hill wanted to make her political views known.

ESPN is going to make the decision they believe is right, and I genuinely do not know what that is. Hill was warned about her behavior and continued to go against what ESPN had asked of her. I do think both sides have shown a tremendous amount of loyalty to each other and that will be taken into account, as well as the role Hill had with reinventing the company’s brand with SC6, but there has to be a middle ground.

If there are fractures to the relationship, can they be fixed and if so, how? These are the questions that needed to be asked right now, not questioning on how soon she is going to be fired.

Regardless of the outcome, in the words of Jemele herself, she may want to stop “Doin’ Too Much.”

[Featured Image by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Hennessy V.S]