It has been four days since Jemele Hill’s tweets calling president Donald Trump “a white supremacist,” three days since ESPN issued a statement on the matter, and two since Hill issued one of her own, and yet the White House continues to call for the SportsCenter anchor’s removal from the network.
Friday morning, Donald Trump tweeted that he wanted ESPN to “apologize for untruth” while also claiming that “people” were dumping the network at a record pace. A few hours later, during the briefing in the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said ESPN has been “hypocritical” in not holding Hill to a “fair and consistent standard.” When pressed by a reporter about how the White House’s request that ESPN apologize was any different from Trump not apologizing for his birtherism comments about Barack Obama, Sanders denied any connection.
Sanders’s latest comments come after she called Hill’s tweets a “fireable offense” Wednesday, apparently not finding ESPN’s Tuesday statement sufficient. The network, amid critique from right-leaning corners of the internet, decided to address the tweets head on, saying that they “do not represent the position of ESPN.”
ESPN added that it had addressed the situation with Hill, who, according to the network, recognized that the tweets were inappropriate. Hill’s Wednesday statement, which she hashtagged “#facts”, said that she stood by her comments and that they reflected her personal beliefs, not the opinions of ESPN.
On Thursday, additional information about the situation at ESPN began to surface. ThinkProgress’s Lindsay Gibbs reported that, amid the controversy, ESPN tried to temporarily replace Hill on Wednesday’s broadcast of her show, SC6. According to Gibbs, neither Hill’s cohost Michael Smith, nor the two black anchors ESPN reportedly tried to use as replacements, agreed to go on air without her. ESPN denied the report, and ThinkProgress clarified Friday that ESPN had sent Hill home that day after a “contentious meeting,” at which point Smith and other anchors refused to go on air without her. At 6 p.m. that day, Hill and Smith appeared on their show without addressing the matter.
Hill and Smith’s show stands out among the rest of ESPN’s programming (and most sports programming in general), as it puts two African American hosts in the anchor seats everyday to discuss not just sports, but pop culture, social media, and other topics of the day. The show’s progressive composition has drawn an inordinate amount criticism from people who believe ESPN to be a left-leaning network, despite the fact that Monday Night Football brought back Hank Williams Jr. to perform the intro song for the first Monday of the season. Williams had been dropped from ESPN in 2011 for appearing on Fox News and mentioning Hitler when talking about President Obama.
“It just went to another level that even we were not prepared for in many respects,” Hill told The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis of the backlash and criticism the show has received so far. “I don’t know if ESPN was prepared for it, either.” In the piece, Hill also called the process of her and Smith remaining true to who they are in the space ESPN inhabits “a challenge.”
Since Hill’s tweets, and the controversy that has exploded from them, numerous people have come to her defense, including fellow media members like Jalen Rose and Michael Wilbon, and athletes like Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Durant, and Dwyane Wade.