ESPN caved on its “long-standing” social media policy last March when in a special exemption, it permitted its employees to make personal political statements relating specifically to the Trayvon Martin case.
Initially, on Friday March 23—the same day that President Obama said “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”—ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz maintained that the Network would be enforcing its social media policy:
“We completely understand the strong feelings involved. Our decision is in keeping with our long-standing policy for ESPN content. There are other avenues for our people to represent issues outside of sports beyond ESPN Twitter feeds.”
After the weekend, however, Krulewitz issued a revised statement indicating the network’s reversal:
“It’s a tragic situation that has led to much thoughtful discussion throughout the company. As a result, in this circumstance, we have decided to allow this particular expression of human sympathy.”
One of the most obvious ways ESPN talent such as Trey Wingo, Michael Smith, and Jonathan Abrams expressed their sentiments on social media was by wearing hoodies in their avatars.
At the time, sports sites like USA Today’s Big Lead Sports framed the narrative with its reporting that: “Trayvon Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was killed for no reason by George Zimmerman.” Consequently, along with similar reports in the mainstream news media, the hoodie became a national symbol of solidarity and support for Martin.
While ESPN’s reversal on its Twitter Policy may have warmed the Sports Center set with a feeling of moral superiority and righteousness, the reversal did not sit well with some. The Poynter Institute, the network’s former Ombudsman, made clear its disappointment in ESPN’s flip-flop:
“ESPN’s policy that prohibits its commentators, anchors, reporters and analysts from making personal political statements is a good one because it preserves the individual’s ability to do powerful work that others cannot do. Although we applaud the willingness to wrestle with the social media policy — it should be a living, breathing document — we were disheartened to see ESPN make an exception to the strongly rooted journalism value of independence.”