Reports of ESPN’s demise is an entertainment sports programming network, and it’s corresponding rise as a political organization, have been greatly exaggerated, according to ESPN President John Skipper.
On Friday, Skipper sent out an internal memo to all ESPN employees, reminding them that they are in fact, “not a political organization.”
I want to remind everyone about fundamental principles at ESPN.
ESPN is about sports. Last year, we broadcast over 16,000 sports events. We show highlights and report scores and tell stories and break down plays.
And we talk about sports all day every day. Of course, sports is intertwined with society and culture, so “sticking to sports” is not so simple. When athletes engage on issues or when protests happen in games, we cover, report and comment on that. We are, among other things, the largest, most accomplished and highly resourced sports news organization. We take great pride in our news organization.
We have programs on which we discuss and even debate sports, as well as the issues that intersect with sports. 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.
At the same time, ESPN has values. We are committed to inclusion and an environment of tolerance where everyone in a diverse work force has the equal opportunity to succeed. We consider this human, not political. Consequently, we insist that no one be denigrated for who they are including their gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual identity.
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. That can create a conflict for our public facing talent between their work and their personal points of view. Given this reality, 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.
We also know that ESPN is a special place and that our success is based on you and your colleagues’ work. Let’s not let the public narrative re-write who we are or what we stand for. Let’s not be divided in that pursuit. I will need your support if we are to succeed.
The fact that Skipper had to send this statement in the first place is truly stunning. He’s actually having to remind professional sports personalities, that they are in fact professional sports personalities, and not political activists. No organization of experienced professionals should ever have to remind their people of who they are and what they do. Yet, because ESPN has embraced left-wing activism organizationally, and individually, at every single turn, such a letter is now necessary.
Jemele Hill didn’t feel comfortable sending a tweet calling President Trump a racist, simply because she’s an activist who’s down for the struggle. She felt that level of comfort because she had watched her network give Caitlyn Jenner a courage award, she had watched ESPNW solicit and host videos from anti-Trump rallies, she had watched ESPN post essays celebrating cop killers. Just to name a few.
After watching all that, why wouldn’t Jemele Hill have felt comfortable doing what she did?
ESPN isn’t guilty of creating someone as hateful and spiteful as Jemele Hill. That was likely the result of a combination of unfortunate factors that coalesced long before she ever arrived in Bristol. However, there are dozens, hundreds, even thousands of Jemele Hill’s who work in media. Yet, the one who tweeted explicit hate and slander to the president of the United States, did it while working at ESPN.
Because ESPN made it comfortable for her to do it. They did everything but log-in and send the tweet themselves, and that, is the direct fault of John Skipper and Disney CEO Bob Iger. Now, they’re trying to put the awful, toxic genie back in the bottle before he folds his arms, nods his head, and makes their network disappear.
And it’s too late for that.