I hope ESPN’s Jemele Hill won’t become the next Colin Kaepernick.
I’m a little nervous for the cohost of SportsCenter, because it could happen. You know how these things can go: Formal apologies are issued; a little time elapses and then the individual in hot water announces plans “to leave to pursue other interests.” Hill, one of a handful of black female national sports figures, would be sorely missed if the already struggling ESPN dared to pull something like that with her.
All she did was express her personal beliefs about a president who, among other troubling things, has said the neo-Nazis and white supremacists at protests in Charlottesville, Va., last month had some “very fine people” on their side and that “both sides” were to blame for violence that left one person dead and others injured.
Hill found herself in the center of a media firestorm after a series of tweets on Monday night during which she touched a proverbial third rail by proclaiming, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
Backlash against Hill’s tweets has been visceral and included even a public denunciation by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said on Wednesday that Hill’s remarks should be a “fireable offense.”
So, Hill should be fired, but President Trump can appear to send mixed messages about white racist groups such as those that put on such an ugly show of hate in Charlottesville.
When Hill tweeted Monday, it was clear that she wasn’t speaking for her entire network. The veteran broadcaster was expressing her personal beliefs when she wrote: “He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected.”
But that didn’t stop ESPN from quickly issuing a disclaimer and Hill from also sending out one saying, “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light….”
That should be the end of it, but given the current climate, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more repercussions. A whole lot of Trump supporters are also ESPN fans, and from what I’ve been seeing on social media, they’re saying terrible things about Hill, much of it unprintable.
I’m nervous for her.
We saw what happened with Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who became an NFL pariah after refusing to stand for the national anthem.
We saw what happened with Munroe Bergdorf, the first openly trans model who was the new face of L’Oreal Paris before writing a lengthy Facebook rant in which she declared all white people racist. That post, which I never saw, has since been taken down. According to People magazine, it read in part, “Come see me when you realise [sic] that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege. Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk.”
L’Oreal immediately fired Bergdorf. It was a huge setback for Bergdorf’s fledgling modeling career.
Will the implications for daring to speak her mind be as dire for Hill? Given what is happening in Washington, it’s got to be hard for her to talk about sports all the time.
“I have to talk myself out of sending certain tweets several times a day,” Hill said last month while participating on a Sports Illustrated media panel. “When you’re under the leadership of a president that refuses to condemn Nazis and racism, how am I supposed to function the rest of the day and pretend as if I [care] about [Jacksonville quarterback] Blake Bortles losing his job? That’s the conversation I’m having with myself on a daily basis.”
I had similar conversations with myself when I used to be a features columnist. But it’s one Hill will have to keep having if she hopes to stay on at ESPN.