Trump goes after suspended ESPN host Jemele Hill and threatens the NFL

One day after ESPN suspended SC6 host Jemele Hill over tweets suggesting fans should boycott sponsors of the Dallas Cowboys, President Trump entered the fray, blaming Hill for what he characterized as the network’s ratings problems.

“With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” the president wrote on Twitter early Tuesday.

ESPN declined to respond to Trump’s comments, but ESPN NFL sideline reporter Josina Anderson shot back at the president, encouraging him to back off.

Hill was suspended after she told her Twitter followers they should consider boycotting advertisers of the Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones threatened to bench players who kneeled during the national anthem before games. ESPN said in a statement that Hill’s comments were her second violation of the network’s social media guidelines. Those violations led to her suspension.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network (NAN) protested Hill’s suspension outside ESPN’s New York City offices Tuesday afternoon, and called on the network to immediately reinstate her.

Hill’s SC6 co-host Michael Smith didn’t appear on Monday’s show, which the Wrap reported was a “mutual” decision between Smith and ESPN. Sources confirm Smith will return to the show Tuesday night, and will anchor the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter alone for the remainder of Hill’s suspension.

Smith wasn’t the only ESPN personality critical of the move to suspend Hill. Fellow SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion went public with her criticism of the network’s decision.

This isn’t the first time Hill has been called out by the White House. Last month, after Hill called Trump a “white supremacist” and “an unfit, bigoted, incompetent moron” over his response to the racial violence in Charlottesville, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said ESPN should fire the SportsCenter host over her comments.

“I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN,” Sanders said at the time.

Trump also targeted the NFL itself Tuesday, threatening in a separate tweet to use the tax code to penalize the league over players who kneel during the anthem.

“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” the president tweeted. “Change tax law!”

But it is unclear what effect a change in the tax code would have for the NFL. The league’s 32 teams are operated as for-profit businesses and pay taxes, and the league office has dropped its tax-exempt status, as Andrew Brandt, a former NFL business analyst for ESPN and director of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova University, noted on Twitter.

The president appears to see a political benefit in continuing his fight with the league over players protesting racial injustice by kneeling. On Sunday, Vice President Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after several San Francisco 49ers players knelt during the national anthem, a move that appears to have been pre-planned.

Trump later claimed credit for Pence’s leaving the stadium, and CNN estimated that Pence’s trip to Indianapolis cost taxpayers $242,500.