On Sports, Politics and Race

The sports, political and culture worlds has been abuzz this week over Jemele Hill, the African-American SportsCenter co-host, and her tweets Monday labeling President Trump a white supremacist.

— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017

Since then, ESPN has been playing defense most of the week, initially distancing itself from the outspoken Hill’s comments and saying they did not represent the network's views.

— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) September 12, 2017

Yesterday the White House chimed in, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders stating that Hill’s comments were “certainly something that I think is a fireable offense.”

Hill later in the evening tweeted out another response by saying her initial Twitter comments “expressed my personal beliefs” and that her comments “painted ESPN in an unfair light.”

— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 14, 2017

ESPN then released a second published statement on the matter: "Jemele has a right to her personal opinions, but not to publicly share them on a platform that implies that she was in any way speaking on behalf of ESPN. She has acknowledged that her tweets crossed that line and has apologized for doing so. We accept her apology." 

Whether or not you agree with Hill’s comments or how ESPN and the White House handled the situation, it certainly furthers a debate the country has been wrestling with recently regarding the intersection of sports and race during one of the most politically partisan, racially-charged times in the country’s history.

Should athletes and sports journalists on either side of the political aisle keep silent on social and cultural issues and just stay within the sports arena, or should they be free to participate in the discussion, regardless of how uncomfortable or controversial those comments may be to some?

Should those in positions of power, such as corporate media entities – afraid of alienating a portion of their viewers – all the way up to the Oval Office be able to influence and effectively advocate for the silencing of athletes and/or sports journalists over any and all dialogue revolving around race?

How we finally answer those questions will go along way toward navigating through the difficult and potent mix of politics, race and sports.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.