ESPN president John Skipper sent an email to all network employees Friday that appeared to address the recent controversy sparked by “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill’s tweet calling President Donald Trump “a white supremacist.”
“We have programs on which we discuss and even debate sports, as well as the issues that intersect with sports,” he wrote. “Fans themselves love to debate and discuss sports.”
“ESPN is not a political organization. Where sports and politics intersect, no one is told what view they must express,” he said, highlighting the network’s values, including that “no one be denigrated for who they are, including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.”
Though Skipper did not mention Hill or Trump by name, he appeared to be addressing the controversy when he wrote: “We have issues of significant debate in our country at this time. Our employees are citizens and appropriately want to participate in the public discussion. This can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view.”
Without directly rebuking Hill, he reminded employees of the need for restraint in a digital environment.
“Given this reality,” Skipper wrote, “we have social media policies which require people to understand that social platforms are public and their comments on them will reflect on ESPN. At a minimum, comments should not be inflammatory or personal.
“We had a violation of those standards in recent days, and our handling of this is a private matter. As always, in each circumstance we look to do what is best for our business.
“In light of recent events, we need to remind ourselves that we are a journalistic organization and that we should not do anything that undermines that position.”
Hill has not been shy in the past about expressing her views on Twitter. On Monday night, she wrote, “Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
She followed that with another tweet: “Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime. His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.” And then a third: “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.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders twice this week called Hill’s comments a firing offense, and on Friday morning, Trump tweeted: “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
Hill has continued to appear on the 6 p.m. edition of “SportsCenter,” called “The Six,” throughout the controversy. Nothing in Skipper’s letter indicated that she would miss time on the program.