The president of ESPN wrote a memo to his employees on Friday in which he asks them to refrain from making political statements in public.
The memo written by John Skipper comes in the midst of a controversy which erupted when one of the sports network’s top co-hosts of its flagship SportsCenter franchise, Jemele Hill, called President Donald Trump ‘a white supremacist.’
In his memo, Skipper writes that Hill committed ‘a violation’ of company policy which requires employees to refrain from ‘inflammatory or personal’ comments on social media.
‘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,’ Skipper wrote.
His memo was first obtained by Sports Illustrated.
‘ESPN is not a political organization,’ he wrote. ‘Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express.’
‘We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time. Our employees are citizens and appropriately want to participate in the public discussion.
‘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 also know that ESPN is a special place and that our success is based on you and your colleagues’ work.
‘Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for. Let’s not be divided in that pursuit.
‘I will need your support if we are to succeed.’
Trump took to Twitter early Friday morning and demanded an apology from ESPN over Hill’s tweets from Monday.
‘ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!’ he said. The sports network has already said Hill’s ‘actions were inappropriate’ and they ‘do not represent the position of ESPN.’
The Disney-owned entity did not take the additional steps of suspending her from SportsCenter or apologizing to the president.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Hill’s comments were a ‘fireable offense’ – remarks that were interpreted as a public call for Hill’s dismissal.
She repeated the remark Friday and also clarified to reporters that she wasn’t instructing ESPN to take action.
Skipper’s memo was likely motivated both by the recent Hill controversy as well as the perception among conservatives that ESPN has veered away from its all-sports format and has instead become a platform for hosts to propagate liberal political views.
Jason Sehorn, the former New York Giants star, is a colleague of Hill’s at ESPN, having been hired by the network to serve as a college football analyst for its ESPNU channel.
Sehorn, who is a Republican, told Fox News on Wednesday that when he was hired by the network, he was explicitly told to keep politics out of his broadcasting work.
‘I, as a fan and a viewer, tune into ESPN and I don’t want politics,’ said Sehorn on Wednesday morning during an appearance on Fox & Friends.
‘And I don’t want to look at a person and have to think politics. So, I understood when they asked me to curtail some of my political aspirations.’
He went on to state: ‘When I see it now, it’s like, “Whoa, wait a minute, you told me one thing and you run a program one way and here you are contradicting yourself”.’
‘I want sports when I turn to ESPN and now all of a sudden the lines are getting blurred a little bit,’ said Sehorn during his appearance on Fox News Wednesday.
Hill also released a statement on Wednesday saying that her comments calling Trump a ‘white supremacist’ and ‘bigot’ were her ‘personal beliefs’, and apologized for bringing ESPN into the controversy.
‘My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs,’ wrote Hill.
‘My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.’
ESPN released its own statement after Hill’s apology, saying: ‘Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN.
‘She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology.’
ESPN’s ombudsman, Jim Brady, wrote on Friday that conservative critics of the network have a point and that it needs to diversify the viewpoints that are offered up to viewers.
‘If you consume as much of ESPN’s content as I have for the past 22 months, it seems clear the company leans left,’ Brady wrote.
‘I don’t think anyone ever made an executive decision to go that route as much as the personalities the network has promoted into high-profile positions tend to be more liberal, and as their voices are amplified, the overall voice has shifted with it.
‘But I still think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed if ESPN plans to better navigate the intersection of sports, politics and culture, and if it wants to hold onto a larger share of its audience in these days of unbundling.
‘Bringing back Hank Williams Jr. for Monday Night Football isn’t the answer; the answer is improved ideological diversity in ESPN’s overall products.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ariel Zilber