ESPN’s last month or so, namely with how it handled the suspension of Jemele Hill, has been rather controversial. The network has tried to “embrace debate” and have a diverse set of voices from all different backgrounds to power its editorial voice, but as Bill Simmons pointed out in his column about the Hill saga, it is kind of hard to “stick to sports” when the line between sports and politics is getting blurred as it is in 2017.
As it turns out, the concept of “sticking to sports” is one that folks who represent on-air talent think is a good idea. This is mainly because ESPN’s social media policy isn’t exactly clear on what people should do.
According to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily, agents want their clients to err on the side of never tweet.
Some agents who did not want to speak on the record expressed frustration at ESPN’s social media policy, which they called confusing. With President Trump increasingly tweeting about sports, they said the line between political and sports commentary has become too blurry.
Even some ESPN executives admitted that the company has been way too inconsistent in how it enforces its social media guidelines. Sources expect ESPN management to lay out specific social media guidelines — and spell out potential punishments — before the end of the year.
Ourand also was able to shed some light on how the Worldwide Leader responded to Hill’s initial tweet in which she called Donald Trump a “white supremacist.” A memo was circulated around the company by its president, John Skipper, about its social media policy, while Disney CEO Bob Iger said he did not want to suspend Hill as she was tapping into what some at ESPN were feeling.
Additionally, Ourand talked to a few agents about the decision to suspend Hill. While most agreed she went a little too far, one theorized that ESPN was scared of the White House, which led to the suspension after Hill’s tweets about the Dallas Cowboys.
One agent not associated with Hill defended the anchor, saying that ESPN gave her a premium weekday afternoon timeslot because of the way she expresses opinions. The agent felt that ESPN suddenly grew scared of Hill’s opinions once the White House started taking notice.
But most of the talent agents interviewed for this story thought that Hill should have been smarter with her social media interactions. One agent said he was talking to clients about understanding the long-term picture and to take into account that their public actions reflect on their employers.
The coming months will be interesting at ESPN, both because of its allegedly impending social media guidelines and because there seems to be a push from outside the network for its on-air talent to handle the intersection of sports and politics carefully.