There is a high bar when it comes to putting anything sports-related on my radar. I support the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers, because I love and support my birth state of Texas. I hated sports rallies in the auditorium during high school. I went to one football game in my life and played my Nintendo DS half of the time. You can’t see anything really high up on those stages anyway so what’s the point of going, but I digress.
The last two times I became interested in sports was when Michael Sam came out as gay and Frank Gifford, Hall of Famer and husband of Kathie Lee Gifford from Today, died. That was in 2014 and 2015 so it’s been a while. It’s the human story outside the lines, the goals, whatever earns a point for your team that gets me interested.
Well, I’m interested again and I say this clearly: I stand with Jemele Hill of ESPN. She understands the impact of her words, that she is part of a national brand, and has a first amendment right to say her opinion about President Trump.
She does not deserve to be fired or sidelined for comments she made on her personal Twitter account that were in no way a threat or made on-air. She aired her opinions like millions of other people do every day with their co-workers, on social media, or at dinner.
While, Jemele Hill’s actions ignited the firestorm of attention and controversy she is currently in. Her tweets have brought forth a question facing news, entertainment and sports figures. Can you air opinions outside of your designated career?
Yes, of course you can. It is hard not to.
We are living in a time where social media and the internet have created the near impossibility for people to not share what they are thinking or believe in at any point in the day. The added factor is we’re entering a place where it is more than about one topic, but the intersection of many topics being discussed.
News figures are coming on as guests on every show with a working microphone they can find. I see you Jake Tapper on Conan and Meghan McCain on Watch What Happens Live. Politics and sports are nothing new to entertainment figures either. Spike Lee is leading a defense of Colin Kaepernick and celebrities got off the fundraising stage and went campaigning themselves for their candidates this past election year. Note my unintentional ironic example of Spike Lee is actions for celebrities involved in topics outside entertainment. Sports have always had a marriage with entertainment and politics from Jackie Robinson to 1973 Battle of the Sexes Tennis Match to sports figures starring in movies.
Here’s my take: I’m okay with all of it and I love it. I want to see public figures as three dimensional beings exercising their freedom of speech. And, I am not alone, but in agreement with millions of people in this country.
However, that agreement starts to shatter when public figures move away from talking about which reality shows they watch to strong statements about current events of the day. Especially, when those involved in sports, viewed as symbol of unity above any division in America, enter into any division in America.
Sports figures are not apolitical, but have opinions like anyone else. They are also heavily aware of the intersection of topics and debate they are entering as citizens of a deeply polarized country. A Politico Magazine piece probed the theory talking about politics and social issues was effecting ESPN ratings. While, no conclusive effect of a perceived political bias was found to be affecting ESPN’s ratings what was found were ESPN’s attempts to prepare hosts and analysts for overlaps of sports and politics.
The piece making mention of meetings and editorial decisions to keep any debate involving politics grounded in sports and when athletes become public debate themselves, in the case, of Colin Kaepernick protesting the national anthem and Michael Sam coming out as gay.
It is futile and hypocritical to expect those in sports to be apolitical and have no freedom to express their opinions.
With a current President who has said provocative and inciting comments about race and gender, the events in Charlottesville, and continually growing discussion between race and police in this country, how can those in sports not have an opinion. The majority of professional athletes and those in sports media are people of color who do feel they have a personal stake in the list of controversies and issues I mentioned.
In a Sports Illustrated article last year, Hill and several other sports media figures took part in a discussion on talking publically about politics and political beliefs. Hill when asked if sports media figures should make their political opinions known said, “The question isn’t so much if we have the right to express political opinions, but WHERE and WHEN we do it. ESPN should not become ABC News, or This Week… But we’re citizens of this world, too. There are sometimes things that happen in our communities, cities and country that we have a right to react to, just like anyone else.”
Hill did use her right to express political opinions. Where and when? On Twitter using her own private account. She did not interrupt Sports Center at 6pm “SC6” to call President Trump a white supremacist and has shown no intent to transform SC6 into a political opinion show.
She merely stated a strong opinion she personally holds on a topic she feels personally impacts her. It does not nullify her qualifications as a figure in sports media or ability to host a show on ESPN.
Nancy Amrour of USAToday Sports when asked the same question said, “when people on the news side root openly for their favorite teams or athletes, it’s never seen as a problem because they don’t cover sports. So if I don’t cover politics, what’s wrong with me saying how I feel about a candidate or an election?”
So what is wrong with saying how you feel? What’s wrong with Jemele Hill saying how she feels? What’s wrong with you saying how you feel? You possibly saying how you feel in the comments section below or in the comments section of a post sharing this column.