Are you feeling nostalgic for the days when sports on TV was actually about sports? I am.
OK, it’s never been entirely true that sports was separated from politics. But the intermixing of the two seems more pronounced than ever in the wake of ESPN’s Jemele Hill tweeting about Donald Trump, and the backlash from both the White House and Trump’s backers.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened — and some of the issues involved:
• Hill tweeted that Trump is “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists,” “an unfit, bigoted, incompetent moron” and “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.”
Those are her personal opinions. And she’s absolutely entitled to them.
• However, free speech is not free of consequences. Hill is an ESPN employee. Whether Hill is on her own time or not, she represents the company. When you work for a media company, you voluntarily surrender some of your freedom to express political opinions publicly. If I tweeted like that, it’s entirely possible I’d get fired.
Hill has apologized, not for the opinions she expressed, but for putting ESPN “in a bad light.” (And the fact that there’s plenty of evidence to back her up hasn’t entered much into the controversy.) ESPN has said it dealt with the matter internally.
• At the very least, ESPN is being inconsistent. It fired Curt Schilling for expressing right-wing political opinions; it hasn’t fired or even suspended Hill — which makes ESPN look bad. It’s very troubling.
And it feeds the narrative that ESPN is an ultra-liberal organization.
(ESPN has never been consistent. Hill was suspended in 2008 for a Hitler reference in a column about the Boston Celtics; college football analyst and former coach Lou Holtz was not disciplined that same year for an on-air Hitler reference.)
• White House press secretary Sara Huckabee Sanders told the press that Hill’s tweets about Trump were a “fireable offense.”
Which may have helped save Hill’s job, because ESPN is not going to let Sanders (or Trump) make its personnel decisions.
• Later in the week, Huckabee Sanders criticized ESPN for being “hypocritical.” Which is itself mind-blowingly hypocritical.
Not only did Trump repeatedly tweet his disproved allegations that Barack Obama was not born in the United States, but on Oct. 3, 2012, he tweeted, “Obama’s ’07 speech which @DailyCaller just released not only shows that Obama is a racist but also how the press always covers for him.”
At the time, Trump was still hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.” NBC didn’t fire him.
Unfortunately, we shouldn’t be surprised that ESPN finds itself in the middle of a political controversy at a time when everything seems to be politicized. But I watch live sports and only occasionally for studio highlights shows. (Hill is one of the hosts of “SportsCenter.”)
I don’t watch the studio shows filled with people yelling at each other unless I have to for a column. I don’t care about sportscasters’ political opinions, unless they’re expressing them during a game I’m watching.
That’s annoying. But so are all bad sportscasters. You know, like listening to Tommy Tuberville work the Wisconsin-BYU game.
But I’m not going to boycott a game I want to see because of someone’s political views. I strongly disapprove of many things Fox chieftain Rupert Murdoch has said and done; I’m still going to watch the Utah-Arizona game on Friday on Fox Sports 1.
Being able to watch a game live on TV is great — as hard as it may be to focus on that sometimes.