ESPN knows what they’re doing.
They knew what they were doing when they flexed Jemele and Michael to “The Six” and changed up their programming. They knew what they were doing when they gave SVP his own show in the late night slot. Who’s watching Sportscenter at midnight? People who bet on sports. What did they add? A segment on betting. The programming changes were/are exceptional and are better than giving us ye ol’ repeating shows until more sports news happens.
So, this being said, here’s where ESPN is truly at fault. The Worldwide Leader in Sports promoted Jemele and Michael (I’m pairing them because they’ve co-run a show in different time-slots for a while now) to a prime time slot while cognizant of the politicization that sports now encounters. ESPN has always been fully aware that Michael Smith and Jemele Hill are not Stephen A. and Skip (Thankfully Skip’s been replaced by a functioning, sentient being in Max Kellerman). M & J take similar stances on political issues and similar stances when those issues coincide with sports, and they work really well together for that reason! When anchors/hosts take contrary positions for the sake of the argument, which happens more than we’d all like, it can become trite and a touch bland. When you have two anchors taking both intelligent and well thought out positions on the intersections of sport and life, you get meaningful dialogue that can translate into real world conversation. ESPN knows they’ve got two progressive black anchors on a show. How, then, did they not see this coming? How did they not foresee Jemele, or Michael for that matter, going off the cuff and saying something incendiary. I feel like they knew it would happen. I feel like they knew that at some point, they’d have an anchor’s name in the NYT or the WSJ for something bigger than last-night’s-scores, and I feel like they’re reveling in it. ESPN needs to continue they’re wrist-slapping methods, but also needs to support they’re anchors opinions. Suspending Jemele was apparently a necessity, I wish it weren’t, but ESPN is still saving face and avoiding being in the middle of the war.
Also remember, I lean in their direction politically, so does SVP, so does EVERYONE on-screen at ESPN (except Skip Bayless when he was there) but, it shows you where most of the sports locker rooms are headed. They’re representing a mass of players that are becoming social advocates doing more than fighting hunger or building houses, but trying to buttress communities directly. ESPN is also fairly lucky they don’t cover hockey anymore. If you take Sidney Crosby’s latest comments and amplify them to represent the fanbase, you can see that hockey is staying in its lane, where the other major sports, especially those with a greater contingency of minority athletes, are veering toward political commentary/interest/participation. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that ESPN doesn’t have hockey…
Here’s where I get weary of both sides (Jemele and ESPN):
Jemele knows the code of conduct expected at a sports organization. She knows what’s expected of her on twitter. Unless she wanted to get suspended, she knew that her 140 characters could always be easily misconstrued. I’m not saying she shouldn’t have tweeted about Dumpy being a white supremacist, and I understood her take on Jerry Jones’s oddly timed opinion after kneeling with the team a week ago. However, everyone isn’t on that page, so by going after the money (Cue: Follow The Money — All the Presidents’ Men — look it up, @milennials) she riled up the head honchos. The second you mention boycott, execs have the grounds for accusing you of insubordination, an unfortunately fireable offense for people who represent a larger company. She didn’t follow company policy and wasn’t fired, thankfully.
I think ESPN kept their “perceived lack of bias” by giving her a pseudo-strike on this one. The best thing about all of this for ESPN PR: Jemele Hill is a household name. If you get rid of her, you are on the wrong side of history. I’m weary that they’ll mess this one up. It’s Prevent Defense time for the Disney Corporation. Bend, don’t break, because the payoff is going to be huge when the political momentum shifts in organized government. You’re riding a wave between pop-culture and politics and you’re doing the right things for all involved parties. Try to have a little touch on this issue. This is a make-or-break situation with a huge contingency of people that only know Jemele for her political activism; one false-step could leave you in a PR storm with the left (an unenviable position, ask last week’s public relations nightmare story: Dove). Everyone makes President Dumpy and his cronies mad and he’s already spoken ill of you. Don’t buy into him. His bark is loud, but his bite is soft (especially if he gets distracted by something that he’s actually supposed to care about).
ESPN knew what they were doing by hiring who they did for every hour in the day. Don’t tell me they didn’t see some potential conflict arising. But please tell me that they’ll handle it in a way that doesn’t alienate a huge part of its following and goes against the tide of political progress in this country. I truly have to believe that they know how to handle the next step, They should be prepared for literally every possible outcome of this situation. ESPN PR should have the interns already drafting the statements for anything that could come from this saga. If they really mess this up and fire Jemele for no drastic reason, they’ll lose much more viewership and fans to other networks than if they relent and support her.